Foreskin Man: Peeling Back the Mystery

Product of a real, live anti-Semite
A vigilant reader has informed me that I was entirely wrong in supposing that Foreskin Man, the comic put out by San Francisco circumcision opponents, was someone’s bad idea of meta-humor. The artist, Matthew Hess, is a real person of real German ancestry — not, as I had hoped, a Jewish prankster who named himself after a Nazi for a lark.

Debra Saunders of the San Francisco Chronicle interviewed Hess. The interview is brief, but still revealing:

UPDATE:I spoke with Matthew Hess of Foreskinman.com this morning. I asked him if the comic is anti-Semitic. He answered, “A lot of people have said that, but we’re not trying to be anti-Semitic. We’re trying to be pro-human rights.”

The “next issue will deal with a different kind of circumcision.”

And he gave me permission to post material from the site.

Not anit-Semitic, but pro-human rights, huh? Well, now we know anti-circumcision activists can be just as mealy-mouthed as any other activists. I also have to wonder just what other kind of circumcision Foreskin Man is going to tackle in the next issue. Having taken down Monster Mohel, will he go after the Malevolent Mullah?

My reader made a point which I think valid. He said I had dismissed evidence that failed to jibe with the picture of the world I’d formed already. I had figured that anti-Semitism — at least of the overt, Nazi-like kind that Hess is plugging — was confined to the margins of America’s political dialogue. Sure, some far-leftists’ support for Palestine might evolve into a hatred of the so-called Israel lobby, but they’d have little to gain by banning circumcision. Sure, Jesse Jackson and Cornel West might pop off at the Jews every once in a while, but they would not expect any Aryan to avenge them; they’ve got serious Aryan issues of their own.

When I read that Hess and his friends call themselves “inactivists,” my heart broke a little. That’s clever, damn it. Urbanites who are clever enough to come up with a name like that and geeky enough to draw passable comics have no business disliking Jews. If anything, they should BE Jews. But now I realize I’m stuck in the New York of my childhood. It’s whole ugly new ball game out there.

My reader also warns of a new breed of anti-Semite I couldn’t have dreamed up in a million years:

In this instance, I think it’s yet a third kind of acceptable anti-Semitism, a little-known one yet one that is persistent especially in California: Gay activist anti-Semitism. A certain subset of gays are strong “uncut” proponents and want all penises to have foreskins because they prefer them that way, and so try to force the world to comply; when they get the biggest pushback from Jewish groups, their frustration turns to hatred.

I have no idea if he’s right. (I certainly don’t pretend to know anything about Matthew Hess’s sexual orientation.) But if he is — wow. Isn’t anti-Semitism supple? Isn’t it versatile? It slices, it dices, it makes Julienne fries! Historically, it’s proven able to provide a solution and an explanation for anything, even mediocre sex. Speaking from the Jewish side of my family, I quote the Scots: Whae’s like us? Damn few, an’ they’re a’ deid.

UPDATE: It’s occurred to me that some readers may not understand what’s so anti-Semitic about Hess’s portrayal of Monster Mohel and his band of no-goodniks. In a way, that’s a good thing — it suggests ancient slanders and stereotypes have fallen so far out of common use as to look new. Well, sorry to break it to everyone, but there’s nothing new under the sun — especially not the act of depicting Jews as ugly, hook-nosed ruthless monsters who harm children.

Here’s a poster from Der Ewiger Jude, or the Eternal Jew, a 1940 Nazi propaganda film:

Here’s one from Jud Suss, or Suss the Jew, which came out the same year:

I wish I could say these stereotyped images began with the Nazis, but they didn’t; they’re much older. Here’s a fresco from St. Paul’s church in Sandomierz, Poland:

The Nazis weren't that original.

No, they’re not circumcising the kid; they’re about to kill him and pour his blood into their Passover matzoh. Will Hess be able to top that in his next issue? We’ll just have to wait and see.

UPDATE: For an object lesson in how propagandists use distorted images to demonize their enemies, here’s an engraving of Joseph Suss Oppenheimer, the man whose life formed the basis of the movie Jud Suss:

Doesn’t look very foreign or very threatening, does he?

  • http://none Steven

    I should say Suderman (among others) says it best on THIS issue, not geopolitical disputes. Critical thinking leads inevitably to sharing some beliefs while disagreeing strenuously on others.

    Hard for some, it seems. lol.

  • Dan Jersey

    Ok gay here and circumcised. And Catholic. All I can say is that being baptized, sent to catholic schools, being shriven, communed and confirmed – in general: being raised Catholic-has affected me much more (for better or worse) than being circumcised. I doubt that being circumcised (or not) is not going to make much difference as to whether or not I end up truly blissful in the final analysis.
    (Btw in 1968 my dad who was German paid the doctor $25 for his services. I still have the bill.)
    I have to admit that Hess’ cartoon is so bat-pooh crazy that at first I thought it was metahumor. No I correct myself -I was sincerely hoping it was metahumor. It was much easier to believe that the cartoon was just outrageous self deprecating humor than to realize it was actually an anti-semitic rant in technicolor. I am glad Max “misinterpreted” the comic. Rightly or wrongly inspired I really enjoyed his original posting.
    Now Max why don’t you write something about being a nudist and Catholic or a Catholic Nudist. Aside from raising your hits it’s bound to twist some nickers! Keep up the good work!

  • elmo

    @Susan: Wow, you are so moral, yet you use phrases such as “bitch slapping”? I guess you think it makes you sound tough and principled but it makes you and your argument seem brittle and sad.

    Btw, that you place circumcision on the same level as female gential mutiliation (which is more comparable to lopping off the entire penis than removing foreskin), shows you don’t understand the difference between a foreskin and a clitoris.

    If you are raising your sons Jewish than you should know, at the very least, that the Covenant of Circumcision is the basic command of Judaism from God to Abraham, (even a non-Jew knows that). I will leave it to the rabbis and theologians to determine whether one can forego circumcision while claiming to be Jewish (attending seders, doesn’t count, I’m betting, anymore than attending Easter Vigils makes one a Catholic. I’ve been to seders myself). But, you haven’t answered my question in any meaningful way. Are you ok with this anti-circumcision law effectively banning the Jewish faith?

  • pst314

    “Here’s one from Jud Suss, or Suss the Jew, which came out the same year”

    That’s actually Jud süß, and süß or süss means sweet, which is puzzling. Was the title ironic?

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    I’m not sure what the intention was behind the name, pst314, but the film, “Jud Suss” is Nazi propaganda, and highly anti-semetic.

  • Max Lindenman

    It’s also a surname — so are variations like “Sussman” and “Susskind.” The villain of the film, Joseph Suss Oppenheimer, was an historical person, a Jew who served as a financial adviser to a German princeling back in the eigtheenth century, and was executed for various kinds of corruption. Someone in the Reich thought his story would make great propaganda, but they decided to go the extra mile and make him a sexual harasser on top of it.

    Judging b contempoary engravings, he didn’t look — or dress — anything like the stereotyped film depiction. (The actor who played him, naturally, was a gentile.) He dressed like a typical gentleman of the rococco era, with a wig and ruffles and satin breeches. In that sense, the Nazis may have done his memory a small favor; for them, orthodox garb evoked evil, but to my eye it’s not half so ridiculous as those Louis XIV getups.

  • Joshua S.

    I can’t believe you people are SERIOUSLY attempting to minimize Male Genital Mutilation!

    What would be Anti-Semitic is to allow Jews to continue to sexually assault their male children. Simply because they believe it’s their right. When in reality, A newborn HAS no religion. Nobody has the right to permanently disfiguring that child’s genitals simply because he was unfortunately born to parents who believe that penis mutilation is a covenant with a bloodthirsty god. It would be anti-semitic to NOT protect these baby boys from such barbaric and unnecessary deprivation of an amazing body part.

    The campaign to outlaw Male Genital Mutilation is merely to enforce equal protection of the law. Which the 14th Amendment guarantees.

    Creating a law that protects the genitals of females, from even the most mild forms of genital cutting. While allowing males to be mutilated to any degree desired. Is completely sexist.

  • http://www.circinfo.net Prof. Brian Morris

    A subgroup of the gay community practice “docking”, a sexual practice that requires the foreskin. Naturally such men would want to ensure that an adequate supply of boys with foreskins are coming up through the ranks, where a proportion will have an orientation towards males. Why don’t those who wish to outlaw male circumcision be honest enough to admit the REAL reason for their campaign? And by the way, “docking” is regarded on gay health websites as unsafe sex, as it exposes the vulnerable mucosal inner lining of the foreskin to infection by HIV, to name just some of the medical hazards posed by the foreskin (see: http://www.circinfo.net for an extensive account).
    Brian J. Morris, PhD DSc
    Professor of Molecular Medical Sciences

  • Clark

    Joshua: “I can’t believe you people are SERIOUSLY attempting to minimize Male Genital Mutilation!”

    This post was about a patently anti-Semitic cartoon. It was quickly subject to a raft of comments switching the subject to circumcision. What was thus minimized is anti-Semitism.

    (You also seem to have no problem minimizing the life-experience of the many millions and overwhelming majority of circumcised men who are A-OK with their condition.)

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Yes, I’m rather shocked by the number of people who are apparently a-OK with anti-semetism, as long as it’s used to campaign against circumcision.

    Oy.

  • Aimee

    @Rhinestone Suderman: you could not be more correct. This is nauseating. I find the tendency by so many posters to minimize anti-Semitisim–or worse, JUSTIFY it–both shocking and saddening. Your point about the connection to what’s happening with Israel–and today’s events just ratcheted things up, didn’t they?–is absolutely spot on. I can’t believe how many people are sticking their heads in the sand.

  • Orly21

    Brian Morris? Is this the very same Brian Morris who links to like 8 different websites that eroticize circumcision on his “circ info” website? The very same Brian Morris who has been involved in CircList and Gilgal Society, both of which publish circumcision-based porn? Readers, are you interested in finding out who this Prof. Brian Morris is? Google his name and “circleaks.” Seriously, Brian. Projecting your own sick disgusting filth on others. Let’s circumcise all the little boys they’ll want to “dock” if they happen to turn out gay. Are you actually serious. You’re a sick, disgusting man, do you know that, Brian Morris? Why can’t you stop fantacizing about what little boys grow up to do with their penises? Say some men do grow up to get into “docking.” So? Is it really any of your business? So should we remove the labia in women too since rubbing up against each other feels good for lesbian women? Really, what is it your business what others do with their organs? Why do you care? This is the whole point of the law; a boy’s organs belong to him. Part of what is taught in elementary school is that you keep your hands to yourself. Didn’t you learn that? You call yourself a professor. Absolutely disgusting.

  • Orly21

    To those who are complaining about “religious freedom” and “parental choice,” and the government “coming into our lives,” let me remind you; if all that parents did with their children were OK by the mere virtue that they are parents, then there wouldn’t be any need for child protective services. Here’s a list of things you can’t do to a child or you’ll get taken to jail and court: Tattooing your child. Injecting botox into your child (a law was just passed in NJ regarding this). You can’t deny your child medical help in the name of your religion anymore in Oregon; a law was just passed. “Religious freedoms” anyone? You can’t slash your child’s head on the holy day of Ashura. And, you can’t circumcise your daughter. Sure, some might say “they’re not the same.” But this just means you’re being wilfully ignorant, or wilfully deceitful; not all female cutting is the same. Some of it is minimal; you can’t even draw a couple of drops of blood here because it’s considered abuse. Not even if it’s for “religious” purposes.

    The fact of the matter is that there is already a federal ban on female circumcision, and there is no exception for “religious,” “traditional” or “cultural” reasons. Female circumcision is a custom in certain African tribes, and it is observed as “Sunnah” by Muslims all over the world, including different countries in Africa, Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. The federal ban criminalizes female circumcision in any way, shape or form, and it infringes on the “parental rights” and “religious freedoms” of people from these countries, and yet nobody seems to mind.

  • Orly21

    Because circumcision is a religious blood ritual central to Jewish identity, the proposal of this ban is already being pawned off as a deliberate act of anti-Semitism. This accusation might hold water, IF the ban specifically banned Jews from circumcising their children. I must remind readers that in America circumcision isn’t exclusive to Jews. Only about 3% of all circumcisions that happen in this country are Jewish brisim performed by mohelim; the rest are secular circumcisions performed at hospitals.

    The comic is a bit out of wack, true. But that’s a separate issue; let’s come back to the whole reason people are behind the ban.

  • Orly21

    Here’s the bottom line: How far do we care about “freedom of religion?” Or even “parenal rights?” Do we care for them across the board? Or do we care for only thos rites and traditions that we’re comfortable with? Why do we call “anti-Semitism” when people attack circumcision, but nobody seems to mind that we go all the way to Africa, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore to decry parents that practice their “religious freedoms” and “parental rights” in their own countries?

    The foreskin is not a birth defect. Nor is it a congenital deformity or a genetic anomaly akin to a 6th finger or a cleft. The foreskin is normal, healthy tissue found in all males at birth.

    Circumcision in healthy boys is the destruction of normal, healthy tissue. It permanently alters the appearance and mechanics of the penis, and it puts a child at risk of infection, disfigurment, complete ablation and even death.

    Thanks to research and modern medicine, we now have better, more effective, less-invasive ways to prevent disease, so that circumcision is not needed anymore (actually, it was never needed).

    Unless there is a medical or clinical indication, the circumcision of healthy, non-consenting individuals is by very definition infant genital mutilation. It is child abuse and a violation of basic human rights, and doctors have no business performing it in healthy, non-consenting individuals, much less giving his parents any kind of “choice.”

    “You’re entitled to your own opinion,” some people might say.

    OK, but let’s also remember that “female circumcision is worse” is also quote unquote “opinion.”

    Your “opinion” against mine.

    For better or for worse, the law already infringes on “religious freedoms” and “parental choice.”

    Once parent’s “freedom” is another parent’s crime.

    We have a two-track system here. There’s a doublestandard and it’s time to call it out.

    Either “religious freedoms” and “parental choice” apply across the board, or they do not.

    Either all children deserve the same protection under the law as per the 14th ammendment, or it’s a load of bull.

  • Orly21

    It always amazes me how circumcision advocates think they’re being so smart to bring up the abortion debate.

    They always have to ask something along the lines of “You don’t want the state telling you what to do with your body, yet you support government intervention when it comes to child circumcision?”

    It seems the crux of the argument escapes them; banning male infant circumcision IS about choice, and it IS about the right to a person’s body; his body, his choice.

    The abortion debate is a red herring. The fact is neither side can consistently defend circumcision. It is inconsistent to defend a child’s “right to life,” but not the right to his own genitals. It is also hypocritical argue “my body, my choice” for just women. Circumcision, is a personal choice, and at such, it belongs to the person whose penis is in question.

    For the record, I’m pro-life. I think it’s hypocritical to be pro-life and pro-circumcision at the same time. Why is it not OK to cut up a child in his mother’s womb, but perfectly fine to cut off part of his penis when he comes out?

    “Parental rights, religious freedoms,” some may say.

    But why do these change when the sex of the child is female? Could we say, “cultural double-standard” anybody?

  • TJ

    Geez, post much?

    How about vaccination? We inoculate children without their consent even though there are rare cases of severe, sometimes fatal, side-effects.

    Are you saying we should not vaccinate our kids because of “choice”?

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Orly, which is worse?

    To remove a baby boy’s foreskin, or to deny him life altogether?

    I think it’s actually the intactivists who have stepped in it here; they argue that, since the child can’t consent to circumcision, it shouldn’t be done.

    Well, a child can’t consent to an abortion, either.

    And, no, as has been explained, male circumcision is nothing like female genital mutilation.

    It’s also quite clever how the anti-circumcision people are trying to distract us from the anti-semetism in this brochure.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    And, banning circumcision is, by its very nature, anti-semetic, since it forbids Jews to practice their faith, and forces them to either break the law, or move to some other part of the country (ghettos, anybody?) where circumcision is still allowed, at least for the moment.

    Whether all the “Intactivists” intend this, or not, doesn’t matter; the effect will be to make Jews pariahs, and to make certain areas “Judenrein.”

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    And, oh, yeah, Orly—nice way to answer Brian Morris, by screaming abuse at him, rather than trying to refute him by facts or logic.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Actually, I’d always heard that circumcision prevents infection; what proof do you have that it actually causes infections, and (good heavens!) death?

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    And Aimee, #61, thanks!

  • elmo

    Still waiting for an intactivist who claims not to be anti-Semitic to tell me if they are comfortable with anti-circumcision laws even if it means banning the Jewish faith.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    I’m still waiting for that too, Elmo.

    (Sound of crickets chirping.)

    This has all been attempted before. Time to study up on Antiochus IV, the Macabees and Hellenism.

  • Clark

    I am reminded of the three stages of Jew-hatred attributed to Emil Fackenheim:
    -You cannot live among us as Jews.
    -You cannot live among us.
    -You cannot live.

  • http://jneilschulman.rationalreview.com J. Neil Schulman

    Kelev wrote, “I’m a Jewish member of the Gay community. This comic is not ‘anti-Semitic.’ It’s anti-mohel, and anti anyone who cuts unconsenting boys’ penises.”

    Considering a mohel performs the circumcision on an eight-day-old boy, I’m wondering just how consent might be obtained. Is is anything like Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where the Mohel asks the baby boy for consent and leans down for the answer and announces whether or not he got consent to snip?

  • Ghengis415

    Since this story broke I’ve talked to several straight men who don’t believe in circumcision, but to date I have yet to run across anyone outside of the gay (male) community that supports making circumcision illegal – the minority that supports this measure are strangely quiet about their sexual orientation and motives…

    I think its healthy and perfectly fine to debate the issue, but at the same time, this is not a voter issue, the ballot measure is a flagrant violation of the 1st Amendment, and above all that, I think its really sad that, living in the most tolerant city in the world, this group can’t return the same respect and courtesy for other people’s beliefs and values – if you don’t believe in circumcision, don’t get your kids circumcised; but don’t tell me what to do with my children.

  • Peter Silverman

    I’m Jewish, and circumcision seems like a bad idea to me. I wouldn’t favor making it illegal since I think parents should have a lot of latitude in raising their kids. I think that comics, offensive or not, are a way to express views, and that’s okay even if the the views make fun of other people, incuding Matthew Hess making fun of people and people making fun of him.

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  • http://www.howtotrainyourpuppy.com/ Carley Beauchaine

    Thanks for taking a few minutes to line all this out for all of us. This kind of posting was incredibly helpful to me.

  • Floris van holland

    I personally am very grateful that I was never circumcised, I think it is much nicer feeling, especially for masturbation! I pity my circumcised brothers!

    If a male had to make a conscious choice to be circumcised as an adult, I am sure only very few would choose it. No European man ever does. So yes, like female circumcision it diminishes sexual pleasure.

    Health is not an argument, as any European doctor can assure you.

    Come on my American brothers, don’t let them take the pleasure away from you! Keep your organs intact and proud!

    Ban circumcision of little boys! And Jews or Muslims can show how much they value their faith by making a conscious decision to sacrifice sexual pleasure for their faith when they are adults.

    A good website to get informed about the functions and sexual pleasure of the foreskin:
    http://www.noharmm.org/anatomy.htm

  • Ed Margolis

    The comic parody, Smegna Man Gets Circumcised, (published at Smegmaman.com) is a lot funnier; has a great plot; and passes along sound information about the medical and cosmetic benefits of the procedure– and, in the end, the villains meet a very appropriate end.

    Ed Margolis

  • Sparky_wood

    *sigh*…Jewish boys need to be circumcised on the eighth day after their births. So, in effect, you’re still pushing anti-semitism because this goes against the Jewish faith, at least for those of us observant in the faith.

    When I started reading about all of this I have to tell you that it just made me very sad. Very sad indeed.

  • Sparky_wood

    Agreed

  • Davidiscool24

    This is an old post I know, but, it amazes me you can get people defending these anti-Semitic moronic cartoons, we’re living in the 21st century, nor Nazi Germany or the Middle Ages (if we could time travel, and place “monster Mohel” in Nazi Germany, it wouldn’t look out of place at all).

    I also love how the morons seem to think male circumcision is the “same” as female mutilation, they are totally different categories. The fact is a circumcised male can enjoy sex, and have a normal life, a mutilated female cannot enjoy sex.

    The people who are targeting circumcision just want to distract from the real Human Rights violations going on in the world – Tibet, Darfur, Iraq, the plight of many indigenous groups in South America and elsewhere, the Coptic Christians of Egypt, etc – the horrors those groups face are the true Human Rights violations, but, I guess the, mainly, American anti-circumcision nutjobs don’t care about them, it’s far more convenient and easier to pick on Jews (afterall, the world has been doing that for thousands of years). It is funny, though, that it seems to be Jews being demonized by the movement, when Muslims, Native Americans, Aboriginal Australians, and many others also circumcise (and, I will fully defend each of those groups to practice their Traditions, despite the threat of destruction their Traditions face).

    I’ve never seen any qualified Human Rights lawyer make a case against male circumcision, I have seen plenty of moronic and idiotic websites and blogs, spewing out their BS, trying to get people to think they’re opinions (and, that’s all they are) are “facts”, and, the essential argument always devolves into a moral one, never a scientific one (it’s always “but, it’s a violation of a baby boy’s rights” or some such drivel).

    Seriously, for those who are members of the Foreskin Cult (who seem to believe the Foreskin possesses magical powers and grants you amazing sexual prowess just by virtue of having it), get yourselves out of there, and actually a get a real life.

    BTW, I’m a graduate in Human Rights, I’m also not Jewish or circumcised at all (and I’m not American either, I’m from the UK).

    David.