Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Obligation of Nations in the Enforcement of Human Rights

Interesting points have been raised regarding the obligation of nations in the performance of human rights policing. The argument has been made that it is the duty of nations to interfere when other nations ‘abuse human rights’. The question, of course, is who determines when an abuse exists and when to interfere. Not so easy, especially when it involves the destruction of the lives of soldiers of the invading ‘rights-oriented’ nation.

Let’s analyze a worst-case scenario:

There is a slaughter of a certain minority by a government. Should another nation involve itself in the active termination of this activity using military force? If so, we must explain to the military and its families that our only mission is to end the annihilation of the innocents. OK, but what if our policies fail and the annihilation continues? How long do we pursue our purely humanitarian ends? How many deaths of our soldiers will we tolerate? How long do we remain, and at what expense, in order to insure that the slaughter is controlled. Will we be satisfied to say “All right, we tried, but we can’t do anything more,” and just leave?

Easy to say – “Lets get the bad guys” but not so easy to actually bring about!

Now how about other abuses, abuses that may equal or even surpass killing. Abuses such as:

1) The inappropriate confinement of citizens for political purposes.
2) The inhumane and secret torture of prisoners or other citizens.
3) The application of ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment, such as the severing of hands or feet, the enucleation of eyes, or even, perhaps, the taking of a human life.
4) Enforced limitation of women’s rights including the subjugation of a wife to her husband.
5) Enforced genital mutilation and the abasement of girls and women.
6) Limited rights and freedoms for people to determine their own destinies, including such laws as compulsory birth control, limited travel, enforced abortion, infanticide, opportunities for only a particular class with enforced relegation to poverty, disease, and despair for others.
7) Denial of basic human needs – shelter, clean air, food, basic medical care.
8) Enforced apartheid.
9) Slavery and the sexual slavery of women and children.
10) Trial without a jury of peers.
11) How about enforced circumcision of males?
Many more ‘abuses’ I’m sure. But before we act – act only in the interest of compassion and to ‘do what is right’ and absent any concern of national interest, we have to carefully weigh, VERY carefully weigh, the criteria to apply for our involvement in the affairs of others

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Reform Judaism Requires the Acceptance of Female Ritual Circumcision

Reform Judaism prides itself in its gender-neutral approach to Jewish tradtion. The separation of male and female roles and the denial to females of traditional male roles in synagogue and Jewish life is unacceptable – and rightly so. Jewish women may become rabbis, cantors, contribute to a “minyan” – read Torah – you name it, they can do it. We now have Bar Mitzvahs and Bat Mitzvahs! God is no longer a male, but has no sexual identity.

The sole remaining, uniquely male ‘requirement’ or ‘tradition’, completely closed to women, is circumcision. Circumcision is arguably THE most important of all the Jewish traditions. This convenant that God is said to have concluded with Abraham resulted in Abraham’s self-circumcision and that of his male children. It heralded the tradtion that the Jewish father circumcise his male children. Only this covenant binds and endorses the Jewish boy’s connection to God. B’rith Milah on the eighth day of life is to go forward without fail (precluding illness). Nothing takes precedence over this rite – it is so important a tradition. If day eight falls on Yom Kippur, the B’rith is to take place. If it falls on the day of the father’s scheduled funeral – the B’rith takes precedence. All Jewish denominations require circumcision for uncircumcised male converts

But women are denied this covenant with God. They are to have naming ceremonies – some sort of substitute B’rith. What is that all about? Why not circumcision? Or if girls needn’t have one, why must boys? Why can’t the male choose to forego this procedure, or parents choose to not to circumcise their sons?

Circumcision should be available to all – males and females. Female circumcision has been given a bad rap. When we think of this act, we are conditioned to think in terms of “genital mutilation.” Well, in a sense, all circumcisions are a form of “genital mutilation” if they are performed for non-medical indications.

The African tribal practice of female circumcision generally includes clitoridectomy as well as vaginal infibulation (closing the vaginal orifice almost completely). It may also include labiectomy. The procedure is performed in unsterile conditions by poorly trained practitioners under very primitive conditions. We may criticize the lack of proper technique, but should not criticize the procedure itself. If that is what a particular tribal tradition demands – so be it. Who are we to be critics of the idea itself, after all we practice male circumcision, which is analogous, at least in its traditional purpose, in our “tribe.”

Female circumcision need not involve the above-mentioned procedures. The process could be analogous to the male circumcision – i.e. partial removal of the female prepuce (foreskin). The clitoris is the female analog of the penis and has a prepuce as well. Partial removal would be easily and quickly performed by the trained practitioner – especially in newborns when the clitoris is relatively large.

Now, I believe, entitlement does not mean requirement. Parents should not be obliged to have their children circumcised – whether they be daughters or sons! Circumcision, unless carried out under anesthesia (which is never the case when practiced ceremonially) is very painful, and has no medical purpose in infancy. There can be complications as well. There is some indication that it may be advantageous to mature men in limited circumstances, but under no circumstances would this be an indication for circumcision in a newborn. A family history of breast cancer does not require the removal of the breasts in a young girl. A decision for his circumcision can be made by a mature man later in life, as can the decision for mastectomy by the mature woman.

Isn’t it hypocritical for us, as Reform Jews, to deny a right (rite) to a girl that is a right (rite) for a boy? Of course it is! It has to be! Girls, too, have an entitlement to a covenant with God!

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

What to do in Darfur??

Many are demanding action to stop the ‘genocide’ (I use the term very generically here) in Darfur. Of course the government of Sudan, controlled by a dictator, is opposed to any intervention, and the slaughter continues. The Western World seems to agree that actions in Darfur are a violation of human rights. What should be done if the violence continues without response from the government or the rebels.

Should the U.S. invade Sudan to bring a stop to the slaughter? How many soldiers should be committed to this action. Should this include an attack on Khartoum, the seat of government, if necessary. What if we get bogged down in strange territory with strange battles in a land we do not understand. What if our soldiers are being killed, or captured and beheaded? How many deaths are acceptable to accomplish this task. How long should we stay?

If things really get bad, should be leave before the ‘mission is accomplished?’ Should we commit only a certain number of troops for only a certain period of time, spending only a certain amount of dollars?

Sound familiar?