Update on the Circumcision Ban from Rabbi Julie Pelc Adler, :Director of the Berit Mila Program of Reform Judaism and NOAM at HUC-JIR - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
Skip to main content

Update on the Circumcision Ban from Rabbi Julie Pelc Adler, :Director of the Berit Mila Program of Reform Judaism and NOAM at HUC-JIR

Main Content
Thursday, July 7, 2011

Rabbi Julie Pelc Adler, Director of the Brit Milah Program of Reform Judaism and the National Organization of American Mohalim at HUC-JIR's Jack H. Skirball Campus in Los Angeles, writes:

It’s an interesting time to be the Director of the Brit Milah Program of Reform Judaism.  Since the program’s inception, more than 300 new mohalim have been trained and certified to perform circumcisions in North America and throughout the world.  In the years since the program began and throughout Jewish history there have been movements aimed to limit or abolish the rite of berit mila.

Throughout history, Jews continued the tradition of circumcision even with the threat of death as a consequence for doing so: the Chanukah story centers around the fight for religious freedom and our determination to protect our religious rights and rites.  For millennia, circumcision of boys on the 8th day has been a religious practice central to the continuation of our covenant with God.  Our ancestors performed berit mila under the threat of the Romans, Spanish Inquisition and Nazi Germany.  And, while it is difficult to believe that Jews will stop circumcision because of a San Francisco referendum, we must face this new threat with the same faith and determination as exhibited by our predecessors.

San Francisco has always been on the forefront in many important Civil Rights movements.  It is important to note that the anti-circumcision movement is not one of them.  People of all religions, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds have sought new lives in San Francisco to advance the very frontiers of liberty-- including religious liberty.  The proposed ordinance targets a well-established religious practice of Jews and Muslims and denies parents a right to make a fundamental decision about the religious, cultural, and ethnic upbringing of their children. It is not only un-American, it is profoundly un-San Franciscan.

For years, suggestions of an underlying anti-Semitism have been repressed and kept below the radar screen of the anti-circumcision movement.  The recent comic book depictions by Matthew Hess brought any latent anti-Semitism to the forefront of their cause.

In the United States, about 2/3 of all men and boys are circumcised.  According to noted Los Angeles based urologist and mohel, Dr. Samuel Kunin, “America is a country that circumcises. It is interesting to note in my practice I see many first and second generation Latinos and Asians that now choose to circumcise.

“What the anti-circers have done is call attention to themselves, and undoubtedly will enlist the support and backing of those few who are on the fringe of their faith or looking for an excuse not to circumcise themselves or their children.  For people like myself, Dr. Ed Schoen, and others who have been taking on the anti-circers for decades, this is just another chapter in an ongoing saga that will not go away. They will not stop us and we will not be able to keep them from trying”.

Kunin points out that, “no medical or religious community has ever suggested or mandated that everyone must be circumcised.  I wish they would return the favor.  Over the years my efforts have been directed towards not only being pro-circumcision but striving to improve circumcision techniques: this is an area where reasonable people could find common ground”.

To get involved in the cause:

Click here to read the Committee for Parental Choice and Religious Freedom Contributor Fact Sheet.

Click here to make a contribution to The Committee of Parental Choice and Religious Freedom.

Click here to sign the endorsement: I Stand In Coalition to Oppose a Ban on Circumcision.



The Brit Milah Program began in 1984 as the collaborative effort of Dr. David James and, Rabbi Lewis Barth, Ph.D., with Dr. Deborah Cohen being certified as the first Reform mohelet in that same year.  As increasing number of liberal Jews were choosing berit mila for their sons, it became clear that an alternative to the classic moyel was needed to meet the needs Reform and liberal Jews.  Rabbi Barth and Dr. James envisioned mohalim who would do more than arrive at a home, utter a few prayers, circumcise, then leave – they would seek to make the ritual of berit mila a relevant and beautiful ceremony for the families they served.  The Brit Milah Program of Reform Judaism seeks to make make the age old practice of berit mila, available to Jewish families as a meaningful and relevant Jewish life-cycle ritual. www.beritmila.org


In 1988, the National Organization of American Mohalim (NOAM) was founded to serve the professional organization for Mohalim/ot certified by the Brit Milah Board of Reform Judaism with its main focus to provide the continuing education opportunities on an assortment of topics ranging from liturgy to outreach.  During its 25 years of existence the Brit Milah Program of Reform Judaism has certified more than 300 mohalim, and our mohalim have helped to create meaningful experiences for thousands of families, often times helping these families connect or reconnect with Judaism and Jewish institutions. The Brit Milah Program of Reform Judaism hopes that through its efforts, Brit Milah will welcome entire families into a life enriched by Judaism.

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu