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Does Judaism Endorse Female Genital Cutting? No, But…

In an effort to prevent female genital cutting, the American Academy of Pediatrics last week released a policy statement endorsing the use of a “ritual nick” on a female baby’s genitals. Doing so, the Academy writes, could “save some girls from undergoing disfiguring and life-threatening procedures in their native country.” The cutting, which is also called “female genital mutilation” — or by its euphemism “female circumcision” — often includes the excision of the clitoris and part of the labia. One of the report’s authors, in an interview with Salon’s Tracy Clark-Flory, compared the “nick” to an ear piercing; that is, blood would be drawn, but the skin would not be removed.

Although this cutting is most prevalent as part of tribal rituals in Africa and among Muslims in the Middle East, the Academy’s report states that it “has been documented in individuals from many religions, including Christians, Muslims, and Jews.”

But is female genital cutting really practiced among Jews?

For the most part, no, writes Harvard Professor Shaye J.D. Cohen in “Why Aren’t Jewish Women Circumcised?: Gender and Covenant in Judaism” (University of California Press, 2005):

Aside from the Beta Israel of Ethiopia (the so-called Falashas) … no Jewish community, in either ancient, medieval or modern times, is known to have practiced female circumcision. … The practice of the Beta Israel is simply part of general Ethiopian culture, in which female circumcision is widely practiced, and is not a relic of some long-lost Jewish tradition.

In this article Hebrew University’s Shalva Weil, the president of the Society for the Study of Ethiopian Jewry, writes that while female genital cutting “was normative among Beta Israel women,” the Ethiopian Jewish community has largely abandoned the practice since moving en masse to Israel in the 1990s.

So too has Israel’s Bedouin community, where female genital cutting, once common, has been all but eradicated, according to this recent study out of Ben-Gurion University.

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