Jewish Parents are Trading Circumcision for Peaceful Covenant Ceremonies
Salem-News.com Staff Report
“We must envision a Judaism that can welcome all of our children, nonviolently, into the brit b'lee milah, a covenant without circumcision..."
- Miriam Pollack, Circumcision: A Jewish Feminist Perspective
“Giving Up the Brit Milah” – Kahal exhibition at a Baby Fair in Tel Aviv,
(WASHINGTON D.C.) - More and more Jewish parents in the United States are skipping circumcision. Instead, they are holding alternative ceremonies sometimes called Bris Shalom or Brit B’lee Milah (covenant without cutting) ceremonies. Many Jews throughout Europe and the former Soviet Union have stopped circumcising over 100 years ago. Already over 50 Rabbis are performing alternative covenant ceremonies that omit the violent circumcision. These are gaining popularity both in the United States and worldwide.
Here are some of these pioneers in their own words.
“It's been a (long) half month since George's birthday, birthday party and naming ceremony. The week was a little harried, a little different than I'd imagined, but in the end everything worked out beautifully. The fog lifted in San Francisco just in time for George's aunties to make it and in the absence of challah or a mohel, my baby got his Hebrew name just the same.
When I was researching the bris shalom, I found very few resources online for parents who, like us, were trying to welcome and name their son… We found some scripts and sat down together to craft a ceremony with only the meaningful-to-us and none of the extras or concessions. The result was a short, sweet and informal gathering with babies running around, friends and family sharing well wishes, bread and honey and -- most importantly -- an intact baby boy with a brand-spankin'-new Hebrew name.
Here is the script. I realize this won't be a riveting post for most people, but my hope is that someone might stumble across it while researching for their own son's bris shalom, and find a useful bit or support for the somewhat thankless task of naming an intact Jewish boy…”
- Stefanie, The Naming, Very, Very Fine, December 29, 2010
“Sorry to disappoint, but that's the end of our story. Or at least the end of the story of Zachary's bris. There was no circumcision on that day. We had decided not to circumcise our son. Although he enters a world filled with violence, he would enter it without violence done to him. Although he will no doubt suffer many cuts and scrapes during his life, he would not bleed by our hand… We welcomed Zachary into our family on that morning without a circumcision. We decided that we want him to live in a world without violence, so we welcomed him without violence. We decided that we want him to live in world in which he is free to experience the fullness of the pleasures of his body, so we welcomed him with all his fleshy nerves intact. And we decided that we want him to live in a world in which male entitlement is a waning memory, and in which women and men are seen--in both ritual and in reality--as full equals and partners. So we welcomed him equally, his mother and I, in the time-honored way that desert cultures have always welcomed strangers to their tents: We washed his feet.”
- Kimmel, Michael S. 2001. The Kindest Un-Cut. Tikkun 16(3): 43.
"I should like to suggest to my fellow Jews that perhaps the time has come to redeem the foreskin itself, rather than sacrifice it. Surely some substitute might be found for this rite... that would be preferable to this assault upon and mutilation of a newborn infant..."
- Professor George Wald, M.D, Harvard University Professor, Nobel Laureate in Physiology and Medicine
“What is most satisfying to me is knowing that I have helped a number of parents, particularly Jewish parents, come to the conclusion that they can be good Jews and leave their baby intact.… This is one of the most important decisions you will ever make on behalf of your baby. If you choose to circumcise, it can never be undone. If you choose not to, he can make the choice later in life. To Jewish parents, I would remind them that their child is Jewish if the mother is Jewish, according to Jewish law. If they raise him in a Jewish home and give him a dynamic, joyful Jewish education, this child will embrace his Jewish identity with love and commitment.”
- Miriam Pollack, Defying Convention: An Interview With Miriam Pollack, Beyond the Bris, July 27, 2011
“The truth is that we don’t fully understand the psychological consequences of infant circumcision. We can point at things like the interruption of breast feeding cycles and the like, but beyond that, it’s hard to say with any degree of certainty. Ronald Goldman Ph.D. has done some work on this and believes that the psychological effects are profound. One thing that I think is clear is that infant circumcision is more dangerous than adult circumcision. Infants are far more susceptible to infectious disease than adults. I am in favor of abandoning the practice of *infant* circumcision. What a person does to his own penis when he reaches the age of consent is not my concern. From a Jewish perspective, I have argued that the religious cost of abandoning infant circumcision is not as high as people think.”
- Eli Ungar-Sargon, My Debate with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Comments, Jewschool, July 27th, 2011
“When you take the religion out of circumcision, and really look at what the procedure actually involves, it is easy to see why more and more people are choosing to leave their sons intact. I thank my lucky stars for the Internet and the information it provided me on circumcision (as well as a million other mommy related questions). The Internet has allowed me to question the status quo; to find out why things are the way they are. A privilege our foremothers did not have. For me, the mere thought of giving birth to my precious baby at home without any medical intervention and then cutting off a part of his body eight days later just seemed absurd. I told myself that if G-d created my son with a foreskin, then he was going to keep it.”
- Stacey Greenberg, My Son: The Little Jew with a Foreskin, Mothering Magazine
“I knew we weren’t the first Jewish parents to keep our child intact; what did everyone else do? The internet provided a few examples of Bris shalom ceremonies… Since our Bris shalom, I’ve run across others in the same predicament; I’ve had conversations about whether or not we made the right choice (we did), if my son is “actually Jewish” (he is), and if we would make the same choice again (we would). The only thing I would change is my own hesitation. If there’s anything the past year and a half of parenting has taught me, it’s to trust the instincts that keep my child safe and happy.… And when our son inevitably holds us accountable, as kids seem wont to do, I look forward to saying, “We thought you were already perfect,” rather than “It seemed like the thing to do.”
- Pamela, Intact and Jewish, Natural Parents Network, July 14th, 2011
“In December I launched Beyond the Bris, a web-based project that is putting real faces and voices to the Jewish movement against infant circumcision. It is an open and dynamic forum where likeminded Jewish people can come together. We share our ideas with one another and visitors to the project in whatever ways feel right to us. This includes original music, poetry and art. I couldn’t be happier with the terrific response I’ve been getting from Jews in America, Israel and elsewhere who agree that children are entitled to keep their whole sex organs… I think the positive Jewish response to the Beyond the Bris project and to the efforts in California speaks tremendously of the Jewish people; that we are willing to seriously consider this issue even when it means challenging thousands of years of tradition.”
- Rebecca Wald, J.D., Questioning circumcision
The Jewish Reporter, July 23, 2011
“I wish I hadn’t been circumcised. I could show you studies that I believe demonstrate the deleterious effects of the procedure on infants, the costs to the adults that had the procedure done earlier in life, and the falsity of the supposed health benefits of circumcision, but I won’t. There are dedicated organizations that can convey that information far better than I could. What I have to offer you is my personal experience... I grew up going to shul [synagogue], celebrating the holidays, going to Sunday School, having a Bar Mitzvah [the Jewish coming-of-age, at 13 for boys], and even going to a Jewish Day School, yet today I am in almost complete control over the extent to which Jewish culture and Jewish religion play a role in my daily life. The exception is circumcision…”
- Shea Levy, To the Mohel Who Cut Me
BeyondTheBris.com, June 4, 2011
“We must envision a Judaism that can welcome all of our children, nonviolently, into the brit b'lee milah, a covenant without circumcision. We need to support and affirm men's struggle to revise the old notion of masculinity which is rooted in fear of women. We invite men to explore ways to ritualize and celebrate masculinity and the critical passages of male bonding in ways that are life-affirming, nonviolent and protective of the sacred wholeness of men. Only in these ways will we begin the restoration of the holy and establish tikkun, healing, between the sexes.
Ultimately, we all must know that it is not possible to violate or suppress the sexuality of one gender without doing harm to the other. Opposing circumcision is men's work; but it is also most profoundly, women's work. Our babies know and we know: it begins with us.”
- Miriam Pollack, Circumcision: A Jewish Feminist Perspective
Jewish Women Speak Out, p. 171-185, Canopy Press, 1995.
"I'm continuing to struggle with the whole issue of circumcision and my Jewish identity and circumcision as a part of Judaism... Just like so many parts of the scriptures are homophobic, misogynistic, racist, classist. We're letting all those go away, all those really frightening passages about stoning adulteresses to death and so forth. Most people, Jews and Muslims, I suppose, don't take those seriously anymore and it's easy. There's no question. They don't struggle with it. It's just ink on a page. It just becomes a story, an allegory of the past, and they might not even think about whether that did ever happen, but it’s passed from history into mythology. So, I'm hoping and affirming that circumcision will also pass into mythology."
- Tina Kimmel, PhD, MSW, MPH, Director of NOCIRC, East Bay Area
Maternal Child Health Epidemiologist, co-founder of Jews for the Rights of the Child.
“Voices within the progressive Jewish community have been struggling with their practice of ritual circumcision for over 170 years, since the beginnings of Reform Judaism. Some of circumcision’s biggest public critics have been Jews.
Alternative bris shalom (covenant of peace) ceremonies have been performed by Jews to meet the symbolic and communal obligations of the traditional ritual by welcoming newborns into the Jewish community without the pain, trauma, bodily violation, and risks associated with the surgery.”
- Norm Cohen, What About Religious Circumcision?, NOCIRC of Michigan
"The code of the Jewish law is called "halacha" (the way). Within the Code, there is a provision that if a mother loses a son because of circumcision, she is NOT obligated to circumcise her next son. I extrapolate from this, the inter-connection of my human family, that enough deaths and maiming have occurred because of circumcision. Therefore - circumcision is no longer a requisite! Just as we no longer practice the animal sacrifices in the traditional temple, so let us not sacrifice an important piece of our mammal in the temple of tradition."
- Rabbi Nathan Segal, Rabbi of Shabbos Shul, One Rabbis' Thoughts on Circumcision
Jewish Groups for Genital Integrity
Jews Against Circumcision
Jews for the Rights of the Child
Bris Shalom Officiants by Mark D. Reiss, M.D.
Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective by Ron Goldman, Ph.D.
Jewish Intactivist Media
Beyond the Bris: Jewish Parenting Blog
Cut: Slicing Through the Myths of Circumcision - A Film by Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon
Covenant/Naming Texts for Jewish Parents who choose not to circumcise.
Our Son's Bris Shalom, or Welcoming Covenant By Brenda Platt
Brit Shalom-Covenant of Wholeness
Bris Shalom Ceremony by Norm Cohen
Sample Non-Cutting Naming Ceremony #1
Sample Non-Cutting Naming Ceremony #2
The Naming at Very, Very Fine
Related Articles of Interest
Jewish Voices: The Current Judaic Movement to End Circumcision: Part 1
Jewish Voices: The Current Judaic Movement to End Circumcision: Part 2
Jews Speak Out in Favor of Banning Circumcision on Minors
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