From an Orthodox perspective, it is absolutely necessary. The only exceptions I know are limitted to health concerns. E.G., Circumcisions must be delayed if the baby is not yet robust enough to witshtand the procedure
In the case of a hemophiliac, the Bris is postponed indefinitely due to the danger of bleeding.
Sources: My primary reference is Rambam Mishneh Torah Hilchot Milah
Yes. The exceptions primarily involve only postponements, such as if a child is ill and a physician postpones it (Yoreh De’ah 262:2).
I sense from your question, however, that you may have some concerns. Certainly the brit milah (ritual circumcision) does make many feel squeamish and anxious. After all, it pertains to a very sensitive and symbolic part of the male anatomy!
Or perhaps you are concerned about some of current streams of criticism and controversy over male circumcision (e.g., potential physical and psychological harm). It’s true – there are critics from both medical and human rights organizations. There are also, however, circumcision advocates from both medical and human rights organizations. In fact, according to a 2007 study by the World Health Organization, circumcision is “proven beyond a reasonable doubt” to reduce the risk of HIV infection and AIDS.
I’m afraid though, that if you are looking for absolute assurance from science and medicine that circumcision is either totally good or totally bad for boys, you will not find it. You will surely find some evidence for health benefits and you will also find some who claim it to subject barbaric mutilation upon autonomous babies who will be permanently scarred for life. I genuinely do not wish to belittle this debate, as I believe it is important to seek the truth. But, I must admit, for the vast majority of us Jews who are circumcised, I would venture to say that this controversy is “much ado about nothing.” Circumcised Jewish men are as physically and psychologically well-adjusted to life as any other men.
All we really have to guide us here is history. Historically, circumcision, although it does not “make” a boy Jewish, has been the primary distinguishing feature between Jews and non-Jews. And from very early in history, non-Jews have accused Jews of being barbaric and repulsive for circumcising our boys. In fact, century after century, Greek (Antiochus from the story of the Maccabees), Roman, and Christian rulers have renounced and outlawed the rite, continuing with Catholic rulers throughout the Middle Ages. (e.g., the Catholic Visigothic Code of Spain). There is little doubt that these responses to circumcision both were informed by and furthered anti-Semitic vitriol.
Personally, I have attended hundreds of ritual circumcision ceremonies of friends, relatives, and members of my community. I have also watched those boys grow up and I can attest to the positive power and meaning of the ritual. It unequivocally binds together everyone in attendance – to each other, to the parents of the child, and to the child himself. Sure, sometimes moms get a bit squeamish and there are a couple of days of healing ahead. Yet millions upon millions of Jews have participated in this mitzvah and will continue to do so. And, the truth is, circumcision is simply an essential part of ensuring a whole Jewish identity, both for the individual as well as for the Jewish people as a whole.
However, this is not without controversy. Medical opinion has varied over the years as to whether there is any medical benefit to circumcision. A pamphlet from Kaiser Permanente lays out the medical pros and cons of circumcision. You can find it at http://www.permanente.net/homepage/kaiser/pdf/3558.pdf .
Bottom line – while the Reform movement encourages and expects that baby boys will be circumcised, ultimately the final decision has to reside with the parents as to what is right for them and their child. For more information on the circumcision controversy, pro and con, see the websites of the following organizations:
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