|San Francisco CIty Hall. Photo by Jay Graham
Having caught on in much of the West for centuries, male circumcision is taken for granted in most communities. But for Jews, the circumcision of our sons is a time for celebration, often bringing together family and loved ones to reaffirm the covenant between God and the Jews in the same method practiced since Abraham. Starting in 2009, however, this rite faced a challenge from Massachusetts. A national anti-circumcision movement, propelled by so-called “intactivists,” proposed to the Massachusetts State House legislation that would have banned circumcision. They were successful in compelling public testimony on the subject, but the legislation fell flat immediately. Learning from this, the anti-circumcision movement set their eyes on San Francisco, California, home to a robust, democratic process of placing proposed legislation on the local ballot for public vote. In October, 2010, the anti-circumcision activists launched a campaign to gather signatures to place on the San Francisco municipal ballot a measure that would criminalize those who perform circumcision, making it a crime punishable by up to a year in County jail and a fine of $1,000. If it were to pass, this measure would create a de facto ban on circumcision within the City and County of San Francisco. The San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council took notice.
The JCRC faced a dilemma. This could clearly be a problem for the Jewish community, but at this stage, it was just another proposed law in a State that allows for voter-initiated propositions. It was not yet clear if there was momentum behind the proposed measure, and the JCRC didn’t want to fuel the issue, so they decided to avoid creating a media worthy campaign. Then, in the spring of 2011, the petition had gathered enough signatures to be placed on the ballot in the coming election. Should the JCRC continue to ignore it, or undertake a massive and likely costly campaign to defeat it?
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