In S.F. circumcision ban battle, unusual tactics on both sides

June 27, 2011

The fight over San Francisco’s ballot measure seeking to ban circumcision for male minors in that city is getting a little weird.

On one side, you’ve got a small group of religious Jews using Facebook to invite people to San Francisco’s Union Square on November 9. In the event that the ballot measure passes, the organizers plan to hold a public bris, or Jewish ritual circumcision, as a form of protest. The organizers haven’t yet identified a baby.

On the other side is an anonymous, dedicated publicist of all things opposed to circumcision. Despite repeated requests, this individual won’t reveal his or her name to anyone—not even to the very intactivists whose work he (or she) publicizes.

To be sure, individuals and organizations on both sides of this debate have been pushing their agendas in all kinds of ways ever since San Francisco announced last month that the measure—- which would ban circumcision of any male under the age of 18 for any reason other than a medical emergency—had qualified for the November 2011 ballot.

Opponents of the ban have talked about introducing legislation in the California State Assembly and the House of Representatives, and last week a group of plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in the hopes of keeping the measure off the November ballot entirely.

On the intactivist, side, the Bay Area Intactivists participated in yesterday’s Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco to promote their cause, according to a Facebook page. And who can forget “Foreskin Man,” the comic book by intactivist Matthew Hess, which was roundly critiqued as anti-Semitic?

Even so, Heshy Rosenwasser thinks his idea of what to do if the ballot measure passes—hold a public ritual circumcision of the first Jewish baby boy born in or around San Francisco on or after Nov. 2—breaks new ground.

“I’m not familiar with any case in which a bris was held as a protest,” Rosenwasser said. “I think this may be the first time that would be done.”

“Obviously, I’m hoping that it doesn’t come to that,” Rosenwasser said, noting that the announcement of the event (which can also be found on his blog) said that legal campaign tactics to defeat the ballot measure—letter-writing, lobbying, petitioning, rallying, and voting—were preferable to his proposal for ritual civil disobedience.

Rosenwasser, 45, is a musician and father of two girls. He lived in Los Angeles until last month, when he moved back to Brooklyn, N.Y. Together with another Brooklynite, who goes by Yitz Ritz, Rosenwasser sent out a Facebook invitation (see photo) to more than 1,000 people. The page quickly became the site of intense criticism of the practice by intactivists, which is of central religious importance to Muslims as well as Jews.

The Facebook invite has since been made private, and as of this afternoon, 103 people were listed as attending.

If Rosenwasser and Ritz propose taking an event that is usually private and making it public in the form of protest, Networker2011 takes the act of public relations—which is almost always done by an identifiable person with a name and a phone number—and attempts to do it anonymously.

Networker2011 first emailed members of the Jewish Journal editorial staff on May 31 with a story suggestion about American Jews opposing circumcision. This nameless PR agent later followed up with names, emails and phone numbers for eight “outspoken” Jews against circumcision.

Included on the list was Rebecca Wald, creator of the blog “Beyond the Bris.”

“This person—I believe it is a man—is sending out press releases on my behalf,” Wald said of Networker2011. Wald said she asked “on more than one occasion” about Networker2011’s identity, but to no avail.

“He is a devoted follower of Beyond the Bris,” Wald said, “and for whatever reason, he wants to remain anonymous—- even to me.”

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