Saturday, June 11, 2011

On San Fran-sicko and Circumcision

San Francisco burns after the 1906 earthquake

It's no coincidence that San Francisco, CA, the decades-old capital of sexual lawlessness, is the first U.S. city in which circumcision will appear on the ballot in November. Although experts doubt the bill will survive a public vote, the anti-circumcision movement has picked up momentum in past weeks, and with it, its cousin, anti-Semitism has not forsaken an opportunity to lash out yet again in the guise of liberalism.

According to Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the foreskin represents the complete immersion of the human spirit in sexual desire, to the extent that this desire then eclipses higher realms of a person's being. According to Rav Kook, the question of circumcision concerns whether sexuality can be harnessed as an essential component of a full-fledged human being, or whether the human experience can be detached from its supernal root and left to rot in decaying bodily desire.

The following is a translation by Yaacov David Shulman at The original passage appears on p. 300-301 of Rav Kook's Orot HaKodesh (Lights of Holiness), Volume 3. 
The precious reason for circumcision, which decreases sexual desire, encompasses broad principles of wisdom. The covenant-"to be a God to you and to your children after you"-offers knowledge of God's oneness, which is connected to circumcision. The covenant and circumcision are intimately intertwined.
"From his flesh does a man see God." If you have the power to harness all the abilities of your soul and all your drives to an enlightened and ethical goal, you will see unity in your internal world. The unity of the outer world will become increasingly clear to you. But if your abilities are splintered, if you cannot conceive of overall control of your drives and desires, you will conclude that the entire world, like you, is splintered, and that no unity can be found in existence.
Sexual desire in its essence-and in related expressions, physical, imaginative and spiritual-comprises the basis of all drives. If you experience sexuality in a way that your exalted spirit can rise to it and surround it, can unify it with all the wealth of human abilities (physical and spiritual), leading it to one integrated ethical and supernal goal, then that unity, in its power, is revealed. the revelation of Godly unity will appear in your flesh.

The total immersion of the human spirit in sexual desire to such a degree that the ideals and ethics in its realm are silenced has brought about the substance of the foreskin. This pathological state expresses itself physically as a powerful sexual drive that has left the realm of ideals and the transmission of the ultimate ethics.

Pessimism corresponds to ethical decline. It gives urgency to the divorce of sexual desire from idealism: since existence in general is such a great evil, how can the procreation of miserable creatures be ideal? This doctrine teaches that the sexual drive is not rooted in idealism, but merely demonstrates the eruption of desire.

How different is the outlook of general goodness, of optimism: "God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good." This view permits idealism to extend even over the sexual drive.
The nature of flesh and the inclination of one's heart can descend to the degraded state of the foreskin. But with circumcision, you rectify the holy covenant and stride on an exalted path. All your abilities are directed toward a goal that is all-inclusive, ideal and holy. From your flesh will you see God. You will sanctify the Holy One of Israel, the one God.
Often those who oppose circumcision, although they are usually atheists, challenge supporters: If God wanted circumcision, why did he not create babies that way? The rabbis anticipated this question and wrote the following in Midrash Tanchuma (Tazria, 5):
Turnus Rufus the wicked asked Rabbi Akiva: "Whose deeds are better—Those of God or those of humans?" Rabbi Akiva answered, "Those of humans are better."...Turnus Rufus asked, "Why do you circumcise yourselves?" [Rabbi Akiva] replied, “I knew you would ask me about that, which is why I pre-empted and told you that things made by humans are better than things made by God.” Rabbi Akiva then brought Turnus Rufus two items: stalks of wheat and baked rolls. Rabbi Akiva said: "These [the stalks of wheat] are the deeds of God, and these [the baked rolls] are the deeds of humans. Are these [baked rolls] not more beautiful?
It's worth noting that the Rambam disputes the notion that circumcision reveals a lacking in God's creation, and emphasizes that circumcision comes to fix something on the human end of the spectrum, by curbing sexual desire. Either way, the above passages remind us that circumcision has always been revolutionary, and the debate over it brings up a society's deepest convictions concerning creation and the responsibility humans are given to take part in the creation of the next generation - the bridge between humanity and eternity. Circumcision involves a level of temimus - wholeness and simplicity of the Jewish soul before its Creator, both our best weapon and our culprit in the face of enemies of the Jewish people and the spirit of sinfulness and impurity polluting the otherwise relatively clean air of San Fran-sicko.

Keep in mind: Even though hatred towards anything related to God is flung at the Jews these days (and always, for that matter), the anti-religion tone of the bill and the media surrounding it nationwide are in effect a reaction to Christian ethics concerning sexuality, and their modern-day conflation with Judaism. As demonstrated in Rav Kook's passage above, Judaism affirms life and in this affirmation affirms sexuality. In recognizing the power of this drive in human nature, it seeks to provide boundaries and guidelines to ensure it does not eclipse all parts of one's life and of a society, so as to not nullify its own purpose - re-creation.

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