Brit mila (circumcision) in Jerusalem
Brit mila (circumcision) in Jerusalem Israel news photo: Flash 90

Non-Jewish rulers over the centuries have tried to stop Jews from religious circumcision. Now they are encouraging the procedure for themselves. U.S. public health officials said this week it is considering encouraging circumcision to help strop the spread of the HIV virus that causes AIDS.

A formal proposal may be published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by the end of the year, The New York Times reported this week.

The Torah commands Jews to conduct the ritual circumcision – brit mila – as performed by Abraham on his eight-day-old son Yitzchak (Isaac). It is a basic tenet of Judaism, and non-Jews from the times of the ancient Greeks to the recent Soviet Union banned the practice in an attempt to eradicate the Jewish religion.

American health experts now are considering whether to conduct surgeries on heterosexual men following studies in Africa that show that circumcised men are more immune to AIDS. However, circumcision offers little protection to men who are homosexuals, a practice that the Torah prohibits. Jewish tradition, long before AIDS was known, teaches that homosexuality can cause severe physical problems.

Many public health officials believe that performing circumcision on baby boys might lower their risk to the virus in later years. Opponents claim that the surgery is performed without the baby’s consent.

Circumcision has become accepted in Western society, but the number of uncircumcised boys has grown in recent years, especially among black and Hispanics.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, which has said that routine circumcision “is not essential to the child’s current well-being,” is revising its guidelines towards encouraging the practice, which Jews have performed for 3,500 years.

In Uganda, health officials last year recommended that soldiers be circumcised in order to prevent the spread of AIDS, a policy that would represent a complete turnaround from the times that countries prohibited Jews from being circumcised.

The ancient Roman emperor Hadrian banned circumcision, a move that may have prompted the Jewish revolt under the guidance of Bar Kokhba.

Several countries today ban circumcision except for religious reasons. However, Denmark's National Council for Children, in a move primarily targeting Jews, proposed a bill to ban circumcision to boys under the age of 15.

It argued that the procedure causes “irreversible damage to a child's body before he is given the chance to object."