Circumscripture

I love my foreskin

Bumper stickers being sold in support of the circumcision ban in Germany. Translation: “I love my foreskin”

Following some particularly gruesome complications from a circumcision performed on a four year-old Muslim boy in Germany, his doctor was pressed with charges of bodily harm. After some time in court, the doctor was acquitted having not broken any law, which posed a new question: Is circumcision an ethical procedure? In Germany most babies are not circumcised. But many Jewish and Muslim parents choose to circumcise their boys for religious reasons, and the Muslim family who was having their four year-old circumcised was just trying to do the right thing. But are these good enough reasons to modify (some would say mutilate) your infant’s genitals?

For Muslims, it’s an issue of cleanliness. It is essential that Muslims purify and are as clean as possible before prayer. Most Muslims wash their hands (whenever possible), and wear clean clothes that cover the body before prayer. It is thought that circumcision can contribute to the cleanliness, as removing the foreskin would prevent dirt and urine from getting trapped in it. Although the Qur’an does not mention this, the Hadith (the collected word of the Prophet Muhammad) does say that circumcision is necessary for males and recommended for females. But with today’s modern conveniences and high standards of personal hygiene (daily bathing, indoor plumbing, etc), does this cleanliness argument really hold up? The rest of the uncircumcised world seems to be getting along without any major problems.

Jewish boys are traditionally circumcised 8 days after their birth at a Brit Milah ceremony
photo by Cheskel Dovid

For Jews, circumcision is also performed out of tradition. In Genesis 17:9-14, God tells Abraham that all men in his family should be circumcised as a token of the covenant of their relationship with God. Those members who are not trimmed have broken the covenant and should be cut off from the community of God. This usually happens in a ceremony called Brit milah, 8 days after a Jewish baby boy is born. This is traditionally when the boy’s name is also announced, having been a secret until then. If a family chooses not to have their boy circumcised, they will probably not be excommunicated from the congregation. And since most guys don’t advertise their foreskin status to the world, they will not likely encounter any discrimination amongst their peers within or outside of their religious community.

Germany is not the first to consider circumcision legislation. A year ago in San Francisco, a potential ban on circumcision in the city was “snipped” from the ballot, after officials determined that it would be unlawful to locally regulate medical procedures. Although it sparked some good debates, it would have been a waste of resources to put it to public vote.

The countries with higher concentrations of Jews and Muslims tend to have higher rates of circumcision

For most of the world, circumcision isn’t even a question. The majority of men in the US are circumcised, though not so much for religious reasons. Religion aside, there are strong arguments for and against circumcision for health reasons (that’s another lengthy debate; I’ll let you do your own research). With American parents, many of the reasons I’ve heard go something along the lines of, “Well your dad was circumcised, so we thought you should be too.” Could this also be applied to having your infant daughter’s ears pierced? Essentially you’re paying money to permanently alter your child’s body, and it’s certainly painful for your child. But there’s no telling if 20 years down the road they will be thankful for having this traumatic procedure done before they could remember it, or if they’ll really just wish they had some foreskin.

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Food and Religion

Food plays an important role in many religions; ideologies followed for centuries are still valued and practiced today. All over the world, people choose what and how to eat depending on their religious beliefs.  According to foodafactoflife.org.uk, the role of food in religion includes a means of communicating with God through blessings or saying thanks, demonstrating faith through following dietary guidelines, and developing discipline through fasting. Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism are just a few faiths in which food plays a significant role.
Growing up in a Jewish family, I have experienced first-hand the importance and significance of food. Our large family gatherings were associated with a wide variety of food. My grandmother used to joke that I was not allowed to leave anything on my plate at dinner. Although I do not follow a Kosher diet, I am still accustomed to traditional Jewish foods. The bagel, oh yes the bagel, originated in Poland and is often associated with the Jewish people. Challah, a braided egg bread, is also a traditional Jewish bread. Yom Kippur or The Day of Atonement is the most holy day of the Jewish calendar. Jewish people traditionally fast from sunrise to sunset. In my family, we would always gather at my grandparent’s house for “Break Fast”. There would be bagels, lox, whitefish, challah, chicken, and chopped liver. Typically Jewish cuisine isn’t the healthiest so as my brother and I got older, and health became more important, we would shift recipes around. I have not found any classic Jewish deli’s in London, however there is one bagel shop in Brick Lane.
The Islamic faith also provides specific dietary guidelines; forbidden foods are outlined in the Koran. Foods that are allowed to be consumed are called halal and those that are prohibited are called haram. Similar to the Jewish Kosher guidelines, beef, lamb and chicken are only allowed if the animal has been killed using the halal method. Muslims are allowed to consume meat slaughtered by Jews as well because the Kosher butchering process is similar to the halal process. Foods considered haram are pork, blood and alcohol. BBC.co.uk states that Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar in which Muslims refrain from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset. While studying in London, I was pleased to find such a diverse community. There are restaurants all over London that offer halal cuisine.
Hindus follow the dietary belief of ahisma, or non-injury to living creatures. The cow is held in high regard and is a symbol of abundance which is why Hindus do not eat beef. Strict Hindus follow a vegetarian diet. Fasting occurs in Hinduism as well. Fasting on special occasions demonstrates ones respect to personal Gods.
There are numerous religious areas in London with varieties of food. Brick Lane is the heart of the city’s Bangladeshi-Sylheti community and is famous for the Indian food and curry houses. I have been to Brick Lane three times and the cultural diversity is eye-opening. If you want delicious Indian food then Brick Lane is the place to go.
Two years ago I took a class at Cal Poly called “Food and Nutrition: Customs and Culture“. The class focused on traditional and contemporary food customs. It was so interesting learning about how food plays important roles in different cultures. Understanding the traditional food customs has been very beneficial because London is such a cultural and religiously diverse area. I have been able to dine at a wide variety of restaurants and utilize proper dining etiquette for each. Understanding the role of rood in cultural and religious practices is necessary in order to respect the different religious communities.