Columns - 2011

    Legislating Cutbacks

    by Doug Brook
    Southern Jewish Life columnist

    San Francisco has long been a key battleground for progressive social change, the most recent example being the Giants beating all odds by winning the 2010 World Series just to make it cool to wear orange.

    But like a prom date who had too much of the spiked punch, one man has gone too far. Matthew Hess got a proposition on the November ballot in San Francisco to ban all circumcision within city limits for any guys under age 18 except in medical emergencies.

    Hess is the head of the sponsoring group, which is based in San Diego where San Francisco politics matter greatly since it's just a short nine-hour drive away. He also had an effort going in Santa Monica, but its supporters pulled out very early, almost immediately after getting their campaign up.

    Nonetheless, Hess rallied hard to get enough local, impressionable anti-oppressionist signatures to qualify for the election. While Hess and his intactivists (yes, that's what they call themselves) claim it's a question of medical concern, barbarism, and gender equality, it's obviously largely impacting on Jews and Muslims, who have more skin in this game than anyone.

    Hess believes there's a double-standard in that female circumcision, better known and better described as mutilation, is illegal but that male circumcision, better known and better described as not-mutilation, is condoned. He thinks it's an important issue of gender equality that must finally come to the fore.

    Hess has produced three "Foreskin Man" comic books to flesh out his case. The Anti-Defamation League has condemned this series, which features the villain Monster Mohel. In his latest installment Hess ignored the ADL's concerns, thinking they're just being snippy.

    But no matter how you slice it, this has become a significant social debate, and it's growing. A legal battle is underway to remove it from the ballot, because California statutes bar local laws restricting medical professionals from carrying out medical procedures. Discussions among Jewish and other community leaders are underway to determine, if the judicial approach fails, what else to do to tip the scales.

    Male circumcision is the most widely performed medical procedure nationwide. Not only is it as safe as almost any other medical procedure, it's actually a cut above the rest.

    Recent clippings, from local newspapers, have had headlines including, "Religion tips off battle," "Do You Make the Cut?" and others, shamelessly trying to be clever just to make a dollar in the increasingly stiff competition of the newspaper industry.

    Numerous media outlets and websites have provided their usual penetrating analysis, with coverage as far-reaching as The Jerusalem Post. A random, in-depth sampling shows that, sometimes in verbose and sometimes in clipped terms, through thick and thin, the initiative just doesn't cut it.

    For thousands of years, the Jewish people have been through close shaves like this. But when it happens in a self-proclaimed haven of enlightenment it hits below the belt. If this initiative stays on the ballot, and especially if it passes, the shear magnitude of the precedents it would set could overwhelm.

    So the hope in the City by the Bay, and the cities by the City, is that they'll straighten this thing out, and nip this movement in the bud before religious freedom gets truncated by it.

    Additionally, some religious authorities are concerned that, if brisses are made illegal, when would be the first time that a Jewish boy can legally, ritually be allowed his first taste of wine. If Hess was basing his approach on banning the forcing of newborn boys to taste Manischewitz during a bris, he might have a leg to stand on, albeit a short one.

    At this point it's too early to see who'll win this race by a length, and who will come up limp. The initiative might be yanked or go under the knife. Either way, the long and short of it is that, once again, those who espouse working for social progress are pushing an agenda that gives the Jewish community the shaft.

    Doug Brook is a writer in Silicon Valley who also thought of the twenty-nine dirtier jokes that you've collectively considered, but his mother reads this so cut him some slack. For more information, past columns, other writings, and more, visit For exclusive online content, become a fan at

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.