Index of Memetic Materials
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T R A D I T I O N A L (not S A M E - S E X) M A R R I A G E
A N D C I R C U M C I S I O N
These are two institutions which are under fire these days. The Jews and the heterosexuals like to think that they would like to happily continue practicing them, but other groups either want to start alternatively want to start or stop openly practicing them. The Jews have been practicing circumcision for millennia and the heterosexuals have been practicing different-sex marriage for as long or even slightly longer.
It's in their DNA.
You could even make the argument that circumcision is in Jewish DNA, in their book, in the Talmud, and that their long-time faithful practice of copying and recopying that book and exercising its practices is what has kept them together as a people with a shared identity over time spans that have wiped out and dispersed almost all other people who have ever existed and even across and through the oppressions of The Roman Empire's Diaspora and Nazi Germany's Shoab (Holocaust), to name a few. Down to the copying of the DNA, the Hebrew Talmud is not only a story, it is also a code. The Hebrew alphabet (or Alef-Tov) can also be thought of as a number system, so the Old Testament, or Talmud, can also be thought of as a big mathematical expression, or an organized code, and as such, is more resistant to errors in copying than a simple unremarkable text might be. It exists on multiple levels, and if you disturb or corrupt one of those levels, even in a seemingly innocuous way, it will be felt and probably look like nonsense at some other level, and so be easily detected. For instance, for example, supposedly the passage where Adam first meets Eve in the Garden, the words and letters are all also numbers, so a whole verse or passage would add up to a certain value, and that a cross-check with the value of a neighboring related passage, kind of like a checksum in information theory.
By the way, my understanding is that the Q'ran (Koran) is a big long poem in Arabic, so it has similar properties, i.e., change something and it immediately becomes noticeable.
However, if this is truly a description of what the Talmud, the Hebrew language, and the relationship of the Jewish people to them, then you can see how much like natural DNA it is. Layers and layers of systems for catching copying errors. Study the book "religiously", every passage has a literal value and also a numeric value, as well as others. It's an interesting experience to go to The Museum of The Book in Jerusalem and see the original Dead Sea Scrolls version of The Book of Isaiah which are displayed in the original scroll unfurled all the way around the large circular building and to be told that the version of that part of the Talmud was unchanged between what was being read and copied at the time of the discovery of the scrolls and when they were originally written some 3,000 years previously.
That's some good copying.
It's kind of like the experience of being told that cows, green peas, starfish, and human beings all share a certain gene. Like the Book of Isaiah, and like the Jewish people over the millennia, those species "decided" that keeping that one gene, which may have been good for making a certain protein or taking part in making producing some body part, who can guess which, that starfish, green peas, cows, and humans all have in common and all reckon they need and think is really important. And that's why it's still around, and maybe that's why the Jewish people are still around. They kept copying their book, very faithfully, and they kept practicing it and passing it on to the next generation, and here they are, like many, many peoples and cultures and many, man, genes and extinct animal species...aren't.
The Jews also practice different-sex marriage or cis-sex marriage, and some Jewish kings also practiced polygamous, or in this case, polygynous (multiple wives, one husband) marriage. You could wonder how many other people there were in the Garden of Eden before The Fall, and whether they don't feature prominently because they didn't play an important part in the story or because they weren't there at all. Was there some kind of prelapsarian norm of tribal marriage or open marriage that was blessed by G-d, but that since that, after The Fall, that covenant was broken anyway so it didn't matter to us anymore? Who knows? That's a point I'll come back to later.
So, among others, Jewish tradition could be thought to be coming under threat by movements to both abolish circumcision and to establish same-sex marriage. The Jews are a small sect. They are ancient, but small. Their faithfulness to their cultural DNA is perhaps unparalleled, and it is probably the secret to their longevity as a people, but it probably also keeps them small in number, and makes them vulnerable, both because of the fact of that smallness, but also of that will to cleave to their own traditions and not give in to outside pressures, often considerable. The Empires of the West have traditionally not been very friendly over the past couple of millennia, to say the least, but the Jews have weathered it nonetheless. The Empires of the Far East, however, have sometimes been tolerant, even friendly, but that's probably another story. The worlds empires, the United States of America included, has traditionally not been friendly, to say the least. They have used the Jews where it suited them, but have otherwise been at least passive-aggressively and often openly hostile.
Back to marriage and circumcision. These are two things that a lot of peoples, the Jews included, consider to be part of their DNA. Changing them, stopping them, letting other people stop them or change them in some absurd way, is apparently unthinkable. We would have no identity left if we allowed that! For the Jews, perhaps especially, changing things like that, maybe even a little, "does not compute", to take a sci-fi metaphor, or like an accountant, the books simply wouldn't balance, like if somebody suggested adding a third ledger account, turn T-tables into M-tables or something. It doesn't make any sense, it shows that you don't understand my life and my way of doing things and my culture, and you're probably just crazy. Adding an account into some third table? Well, you might as well say that we should let men marry men and women marry women and stop cutting the foreskins off of infants, if you're going to say something like that! Nothing would make any sense at all anymore!
The point I wanted to make is that goyim (gentiles) started cutting their baby boy's penises around 1870 in England and the United States, and they're still doing it today. It is not a religious tradition, it's supposedly a medical tradition, almost like vaccination, endorsed by the government. In fact, the CDC and the American Pediatrics Association have come out endorsing it, so it has official approval, it's not just personal choice. In the same time frame, different-sex marriage has been upgraded from a religious practice to a government institution, too, complete with government payouts and guaranteed benefits and so forth.
In the case of circumcision, a religious practice was adopted en masse as a secular, pseudo-medical social practice by the majority society, and now that society is fighting, through the so-called intactivist and other movements, to end the practice. In Britain they ended it right after World War II (with Public Health -- it didn't make sense to pay for it any more), but things never seem to be so easy in the United States. Here Congress made female circumcision (which was practiced through the 1950s) illegal in Title 19 (1), and they may have to do the same thing with male circumcision if all sides dig in their heels and refuse to budge until Congress or the Supreme Court or, G-d forbid, some kind of social unrest or Second Civil War comes along and forces them to change. None of these outcomes is good for people like the Jews. I can't help thinking that goyim are going to quit circumcising in the rest of the English-speaking world, whether the Jews keep doing it or not, and the best way that I can see is to do like the British did and quietly admit that there was no good reason for it and stop without a big fuss. Like QEII said, Keep Your Foreskin and Carry On. Any other outcome seems to put the Jews at risk. The Jews circumcise their babies to uphold the Covenant between G-d and Abraham, and that is at least a reason.
The reason the goyim do it doesn't seem to be anywhere near as good, and it keeps shifting every decade or so. It's prevents masturbation (which is probably all that it really ever did), you'll go insane if you don't, it's good hygiene, it prevents AIDS, and so on. Whether I'm protecting my baby son from AIDS by cutting or not cutting the hood around the end of his penis off is a question that may be answered by science (and the answer seems to be that I won't be), but no so for the Jews. Whether their Covenant with G-d may be upheld even if they stop circumcising is a question only they themselves can answer. In a country that respects religious freedom, they should be able to answer it for themselves.
For the sake of convenience, religious freedom is destroyed. It's convenience for paper-pushing purposes to give benefits to someone's spouse and children, and it's convenient to sweep religious practices like the Jewish traditions under the rug.
If the goyim can't agree peacefully to stop circumcision and it comes to legal battles, and on a legal, human rights basis, it seems that the intactivists have the high ground (don't try it, Anakin!), the Jews will be swept into the compass of this polemic again as a misunderstood minority religion and the stage will be set. I have heard rabbis say, "Why would you do this? It is painful and horrible! We do it because we have to. Anyone who would otherwise do it should be put into prison!" Maybe they should say that sort of thing more loudly.
This brings us back to different-sex marriage. With circumcision we see an originally purely religious practice being adopted by the secular society and government for widespread general use, and marriage has followed a similar course where government benefits are paid out, government forms all accommodate marriage, if it exists, and the practice is actively supported through tax breaks and other such. And it is defined as between exactly one man and exactly one woman (and cis-gendered man and woman are the only choices). All the forms and data bases and rules and laws are designed around this concept. In effect, the government has legally defined what marriage is, codified it, and taken that away from churches and synagogues.
In a sense, public institutions have usurped and seized control over the definition of this "institution," which was originally overseen by religions (2). Now that they have it, they can change what the definition of it is, i.e., sanction tribal marriage, gay marriage, and the protest goes up that "that's not what marriage is supposed to be like!" That's a bit like saying, "that's not what public transportation is supposed to be like!" Since public transportation is, well, "public," and therefore run by the government or some organization established for that purpose, it's by definition not run by individuals, religions, or whomever. So when marriage becomes run by, licensed by, administered by, policed by (3) the government, it defines what it is.
Maybe it's worth examining how these two things are set up.
(1) I need to fact-check this one.
(2) An interesting example is how the Federal Government of the USA intervened and forced the Mormon people of Utah to break up their polygamous families. Religion versus Government squaring off on marriage, for good or ill.
(3) Collection of child support and so on.