Brian Levitt: My body was used in some Jewish ritual

Brian Levitt is a Jewish intactivist living in San Francisco. He describes his own story of the stages of awakening consciousness.

(slightly modified)

This is the story about how I became an intactivist.

The first realization that something was done to me—to my body—was probably around age 9. I had gone with a friend and his father to a steam bathhouse when we were kids, and that was the first time I had seen an “uncircumcised” penis, and I remember coming home and asking my mother about it. She said to me that it was part of a Jewish ritual where they cut the foreskin away, and then [she] proceeded to tell me that [being circumcised is] cleaner and that it [is] better. Trusting my mother, I accepted: OK. It's better! [I] didn't think much more about it; I guess I had thought about it, obviously, [while] masturbating as a kid, like most guys (“What would it have been like?”), but not really giving it any deeper thought than that.

The next time [I became conscious of the issue] was when I moved to San Francisco in the mid [1980s], and wound up having sex with [an intact] guy who was from the Netherlands—and [yet] his father was a doctor, as was mine. [NOTE: I think the implication here is that Brian was confronted with the suspicion that circumcision's medical value is doubtful. It should also be noted that circumcision is uncommon in the Netherlands.] I remember watching him masturbate—now, this was in the early days of AIDS, and sex between 2 men was pretty much [just] mutual masturbation; I remember watching him masturbate and getting this wave of sorrow over me—that something [had been] taken away from me. Obviously, [this feeling has been corroborated by] what I've learned—believe—to be true: [The foreskin is] an erogenous mechanism, which is laden with nerve cells [that] obviously [have] corresponding places in the brain.

I thought of it every now and then, but was quiet about the issue until the early [1990s], when I had taken a human sexuality course at the College of Marin. It was the end of the class, and the [professor] was talking about female genital mutilation, and there was like a minute or 2 left in the class, and the teacher said [mockingly]:

“Some people consider circumcision to be genital mutilation.”

The bell rang, and the class emptied, and I went home stewing; I was thinking about this. I eventually confronted the teacher, and asked him how many penises he had handled, and he said:

“Well, many in anatomy.”

“But they're dead!

He agreed that there would have been a difference, [but] he didn't want to hear hearsay; he wanted valid studies, so I brought what was most up to date:

  • British Journal of Urology.
  • The Dr. Ritter book, [Say No to Circumcision].

Eventually, I swayed him to the point where he said he doesn't talk about circumcision the way he did anymore.

I had a neighbor who knew I [am] Jewish and came up to me very proud that she had taken her child to a Jewish doctor to be circumcised, and I just said:


Obviously, the damage [had already been] done to him as it [had already been done] to me—once it's done, it's done; I didn't push the issue anymore with her, but [I] was complaining to my partner at the time about my experience in class, and he had told me there's a book called:

The Joy of Uncircumcising!

It took me a few weeks to [decide to] go check this book out. I went into the store, found the book, and I found some other books; one was a small book of men who were circumcised as adults, telling their sad [stories] about how they felt [something important was missing after] either [having been] forced in the military or forced by a parent as a teenager to be circumcised[.] Their words confirmed what I had believed about my own body, and I kind of sat on the floor and cried in this bookstore.

As time went on, I became more angry. [Though I was] raised Jewish, I [haven't been] very religious, but I called the rabbi at the gay synagogue, who is a gay person[,] and he wasn't having anything [to do with this discussion]; he wouldn't hear that I believed that I was harmed and mutilated and that my rights were taken away. So, I was getting more angry as the phone call went on, and I said something [about] there [being] no difference between a mohel and Josef Mengele (the concentration camp doctor who used the Jews as guinea pigs), and the rabbi got very upset, saying:

"You must take that back! You must take that back!"

"Definitely not!"

and I hung up. From that phone call, I decided that I was not going to be quiet about this; I plastered the back of my car with anti-circumcision stickers, and put:


in huge block letters on the back of my car. I wouldn't do that today! But, I don't apologize for having used those words; I think that Jews really need to think about this a little more clearly. This was my body that was used in some Jewish ritual.

I guess most importantly, I spoke with my father about this. He was a doctor. He sobbed when I brought this up; I asked him:

“As a Jewish physician, where are the medical ethicists? Are they looking the other way on this issue?”

He just sobbed. He did get it; he does understand that it was wrong, and [so] he gave his name [in public support] to DOC (which is an acronym for Doctors Opposing Circumcision).


  1. As a Jew against circumcision, I take ENORMOUS umbrage to your comparison of doctors paid to preform a service, however controversial that service may be, to a doctor who murdered (key word here) and tortured men, women, and children.

    You are demeaning the anti-circumcision movement in Judaism by using such blatantly antagonistic metaphors, which frankly will prevent you from being taken seriously; if you package your arguments, no matter how rational, in such a repellent package, you will not find success.

    1. I think it's important to note that Brian qualifies his actions:

      "I wouldn't do that today! But, I don't apologize for having used those words; I think that Jews really need to think about this a little more clearly. This was my body that was used in some Jewish ritual."

      So, the point (at least as far as the story is concerned) is not necessarily to equate practitioners of genital cutting to Josef Mengele, but rather to convey the similarly extreme umbrage that Brian has felt; indeed, Brian feels that his body was used—that he was a child exploited (torturously, no doubt) for the perceived benefit of another.

      Brian has successfully inflicted you with his own pain, so that you might better understand his position; however, to take umbrage to having been inflicted with that pain is to shy away from its purpose and to ignore its meaning, which is not so much a fault of Brian's.

      It is a bizarre and unfortunate principle that a person should only find success in conveying his emotions by first burying them under emotionless expression; in fact, it is an immense irony to rebuke a victim for being callous to the feelings of his assailant when describing the transgression and its ramifications.

      While it is true that for some, Brian's expression of his feelings produces more heat than light, it is also true that, as Christopher Hitchens has retorted, you can't produce light without heat; in particular, you can't show a person his ugliness without distressing him.

  2. It's true that anyone who would sexually torture a baby is no better than a concentration camp guard - "I was just doing my job" is not a valid excuse. But I agree with Derekh that we should approach this issue very carefully, because a lot of people are emotionally attached to circumcision for one reason or another. Notice the gentleman in this film WASN'T converted by a negative message like "Mohels = Mengele". He was converted by a positive message: "The joy of uncircumcizing".

    1. As a point of philosophy, I disagree that there was any "conversion" on Brian's part. Rather, there was only an increasing consciousness of reality, one that was merely delayed by an early, deliberate effort on the part of his mother acting as an agent of cultural indoctrination (and in the mode of psychological self-preservation for herself, no doubt).

      More to the point, the book The Joy of Uncircumcising has numerous exerpts of men telling their sad stories and expressing their negative emotions. Indeed, negative messages are what seem to have hastened Brian's understanding:

      "... one was a small book of men who were circumcised as adults, telling their sad [stories] about how they felt [something important was missing after] either [having been] forced in the military or forced by a parent as a teenager to be circumcised[.] Their words confirmed what I had believed about my own body, and I kind of sat on the floor and cried in this bookstore.

      As time went on, I became more angry..."

      So, negative messages can be an important way to expose the negative nature of reality. Then, positive messages are an excellent complement to reinforce hope that a situation can become better and that you yourself can do something to improve it.

  3. I feel exactly like brian :

    Child mutilators should mutilated by their victims !!!

  4. I want to destroy the circumcisers life the same way that they have destroyed mine !

    I want to become their worst nightmare !

    1. It's extremely important that you let people know how angry and hurt you feel; cutters like to say that no man ever complains, when in fact we both know that they do!

      Nevertheless, your emotions will do nothing but destroy yourself if you don't learn to channel them constructively. Consider the wise words of Jonathon Conte:

      "I suffered some incredibly [emotionally‑low] periods during the next few years, where I struggled with a feeling of incompleteness both physically and sexually. I struggled with trying to understand how something like this could have been done to me—how I could have been the victim of such a heinous thing when the people who allowed it to happen to me should have been the ones looking out for me.


      "… I didn't have anybody to talk about this with. I felt very isolated. I felt hopeless. I felt that what had been done to me was so deeply impacting that [the thought of it] was an incredible burden for me to bear, and I didn't know how to deal with it, so I kept it bottled up for many years…

      "… As I began to do more research about circumcision, I discovered the Intactivist Movement, and [I] began to understand that I [am] not alone and that in fact, many other men [have felt] the same way that I had felt growing up as a child.


      "Intactivism is a way for me to channel the negative emotions that I feel about what was done to me into something positive—something that can help to make things better for men in the future. So, one of the reasons that I find myself so heavily involved in the movement is that I don't know how else to use these emotions that are inside of me—emotions that I'm going to be dealing with, I suspect, for the rest of my life."

    2. Thanks for your answer and your support , especially since an UNCUT intactivist told me ( six month ago ) to be less emotional in my comments and to focus only on objective facts ! That's easy for him to say , as he doesn't have any negative feelings , he's intact !

      I live in Europe and here , most men are intact , so I feel mutilated AND like a freak in the locker room !

      Most people here don't know very much about circumcision , but they don't care , they are just very happy it didn't happen to them !

      A lot of my comments on other sites are censored , even if I censored myself in the first place to not sound too agressive .

      When stupid women ( american , jewish or muslim ) write how much better a circumcised penis looks , and I write that , as a circumcised man , I think it's ugly , I've been censored several times !

      Once I wrote that because some men don't like being circumcised , it would be a good idea to let everybody choose when they are adults : censored again !

      When some talk about their "religious freedom" to circumcise their children that should be respected , and I answer that religions who demand their followers to mutilate non consenting children desserve absolutely no respect : I'm censored !

      When some "health sites" promote infant circumcision for better hygiene , I copy/paste texts about the functions of the foreskin and the harms of curcumcision : censored !

      And when they recommend circumcision as a cure for phimosis , I put a link for "glansie" : of course : censored !

      The site where I was the most censored was " The Punch " , 14 times !

      I made several comments about how I feel about MY circumcision , they were all censored except one !

      But all the circumcised men who claim that they are fine , even proud and content to be circumcised , they are not censored !

      Some mutilationist had put a link to the pro circ site “circinfo” , so I answered by putting a link to “infocirc” and the slogan “Circumcision is a slight against human rights, dignity, respect, and personal liberty.” ; well , I was censored , he wasn’t !!!

      He also put a text about all the ” medical benefits of circumcision” , so I answered him by putting a text about the financial benefits doctors and industries are making with circumcision , and about surgical and non-surgical foreskin reconstruction , and about support groups for circumcised men … guess what , I was censored again !!!

      I just can’t believe that people who KNOW about the life-long pain non-consented circumcision can inflict to some victims , INSIST about promoting this despicable practice , and in the same time are censoring the victims !!

      They are the MONSTERS , but I'm the one who is censored !

      Because telling the truth about circumutilation , to save others from suffering the way I have suffered is politically incorrect ?

      Or is it the greed of the people who make money with cutting babys ?

      Or is it the denial some circumcised men are in , who want everybody to be circumcised like them ?!

      The more I'm confronted with mutilationists who are spreading their lies , and the more my comments about my personal experience are censored , the more angry I get !

      I agree with you , these people must know :

      1) how angry circumcised men can get , and

      2) how many angry men are out there !