A Jewish Perspective on Circumcision: SF Weekly Talks to Cut Director Eli Ungar-Sargon

Categories: Religion

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Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon
Eli Ungar-Sargon was raised in an Orthodox household, with rabbis in the family and a Talmudic scholar father. But Ungar-Sargon, who dropped out of medical school to pursue a film career, struggled to reconcile Jewish traditions and ethical questions, especially regarding ritual circumcision, or brit milah.

It was Ungar-Sargon's -- who believes circumcision should be banned -- own questions about the religious practice which eventually led him to make his first major documentary, Cut, in 2007. In the wake of San Francisco's controversial initiative to ban circumcision, Bay Area intactivists and The WHOLE Network, a grassroots organization dedicated to providing information on circumcision, are sponsoring a nationwide tour of the film.

Ungar-Sargon chatted with SF Weekly about his film, which will be featured in San Francisco on October 29 at Ninth Street Independent Film Center.

This is a film you made several years ago, but you're touring with it now. Why?

The film had a nice little life and very well received critically, but there wasn't a lot of interest in 2007. We held screenings in a number of places, but the issue didn't have as much traction then as it has gotten over the last year. There's been an intense media attention being paid to circumcision largely due to the ballot initiative in San Francisco. Film festivals started approaching us and asking to show it, and the WHOLE Network was interested in doing a tour.

It seems like your film is a personal story as well, in terms of how you were raised and your personal relationship to Judaism.

The experience that got me thinking about circumcision specifically was when I was a teenager and I was given the honor of being the sandek [person who holds the baby] at someone's bris. I remember holding the baby, the mohel said the blessing, made the cut, and he puts his head down and sucks the wound, comes back up and has blood on his beard.

I just felt there was something very wrong here; it was very disturbing to me. A few years later during medical school, I started to gain an appreciation for scientific perspective and continued my interest in circumcision by investigating some of the claimed health benefits. When I dropped out to be a filmmaker, I thought the subject was interesting and could also be a way of exploring the thing that I'd been struggling with since I was a teen: How do you come to terms with some of the more problematic elements in your religious tradition?


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17 comments
Miriam Pollack
Miriam Pollack

Excellent article.  Eliyahu's film is an artistic,brilliant and highly informative documentary on a subject rarely discussed and poorly understood, even by the doctors and mohelim practicing this ancient practice.

marylanser
marylanser

Very informative film, even if parts were very difficult to watch.

Jennifer
Jennifer

The choice to circumcise, male or female, should be left to the person the genitals are ATTACHED to. No one has the right to make that decision for someone else.

Jennifer
Jennifer

This is a great article. Eli Ungar-Sargon is very well spoken! I love the film. Keep up the good work, babies boy need protection from genital alterations.

s b
s b

I guess this guy is also fine with making abortion illegal?  Because that's a life of another and we're ending it without asking it what it wants.  So, abortion should be illegal under this logic.

Um, yeah.....

Frederick Rhodes
Frederick Rhodes

Every good hunter knows it's better to kill your prey than to wound him and let him go, because he will come back to bite you in the ass when your back is turned.

Kenshin
Kenshin

"So, abortion should be illegal under this logic."Under your logic abortion should already be illegal since female circumcision is illegal. 

jordan681
jordan681

What if he does believe abortion should be made illegal?

What would you tell him *then*?

Um, yeah...

Remember, nobody wants to make circumcision "illegal," just limited to medically necessary procedures. But this is how it is for any other surgery you name.

You might think you're so clever bringing up abortion, but I'm here to tell you that neither side of the abortion debate can consistently defend circumcision.

"My body, my choice" is hypocritical if it only applies to women. Opposing circumcision is in line with defending a person's choice.

And if you're for the child's "right to life," then it only follows that you should be defending the right to his body. How does it make sense that people are against chopping up a child in his mother's womb, but perfectly fine chopping him up once he comes out?

Think OUTSIDE the box for once.

Lbilbo
Lbilbo

You could not be more right. Amen.

Hugh Intactive
Hugh Intactive

Are we NEVER allowed to talk about any other human rights issue than abortion? Whenever they may begin, human rights do not END at birth.

James3d
James3d

Whose "logic" yours? You are trying to detract from the issue, genital cutting of children. 

This is an issue of self determination and body ownership. If you or anyone else are confused about these issues I recommend you view the video "On Abortion and Circumcision" available on YouTube.

let it be
let it be

Circumcision and abortion are completely different issues. Abortion is a common "red herring" that pro-cutting advocates throw in to confuse and distract. Stick to the subject, please.

ml66uk
ml66uk

An excellent film.

Bay Area Intactivists
Bay Area Intactivists

The San Francisco screening of "Cut" will be at 7PM, Saturday, October 29 at Ninth Street Independent Film Center, 145 Ninth Street, San Francisco. The film will be followed by an audience Q&A with special guests Eli Ungar-Sargon, Mark D. Reiss M.D. (Executive Vice President of Doctors Opposing Circumcision and maintainer of Celebrants of Brit Shalom), and  Lisa Braver Moss (author of "The Measure of His Grief"). For more information about the San Francisco screening of "Cut" visit www.bayareaintactivists.org/cu....

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