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Feb-16-2014 17:28printcomments

Choosing Not to Circumcise - Last Frontier of Jewish Inclusion?

How can synagogues make their members — and prospective members — feel more welcome?

Parents washed their son's feet (Brit Rechitzah) as a symbolic sign of Jewish covenant and welcoming, rather than circumcising him.
At this Bris Shalom, the parents washed their son's feet (Brit Rechitzah) as a symbolic sign of Jewish covenant and welcoming, rather than circumcising him. Other aspects of the service involved honoring of the parents and grandparents and giving the son his Hebrew name.

(SAN FRANCISCO) - Some synagogues send a message of inclusion, stating on their websites that they welcome gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews, Jews of color, disabled Jews and interfaith families. But there’s one Jewish minority that’s rarely, if ever, mentioned: the growing number of Jewish parents who choose not to circumcise their newborn sons.

Although circumcision is but one ritual choice, it would be easy for a family to get the idea that congregational Judaism expects — or demands — circumcision. Even the most liberal synagogues don’t say on their websites that keeping one’s baby boy intact (not circumcised) is a valid option.

Yet my research indicates that noncircumcising families are welcome in many synagogue communities. I asked senior Rabbi Yoel Kahn at Congregation Beth El, a large Reform congregation in Berkeley, whether such families are welcome at his synagogue. “Certainly,” he said. Rabbis also answered “yes” to that question at Temple Sinai in Oakland, Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco and Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills. In fact, every local Reform synagogue that responded to my questionnaire said yes.

But might this be a reflection of life in the bubble of Bay Area liberalism? I checked with rabbis around the country to find out whether they, too, welcome families opting out of circumcision.

Ronne Friedman, senior rabbi of Temple Israel of Boston, a large Reform congregation, affirmed the inclusion of such families. “Yes, [they’re] welcome to join … we would only address the question with a family if they raised it with us.”

At Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis, founding Rabbi Susan Talve said such families are welcome. So did senior rabbi Ron Segal of Atlanta’s Temple Sinai, a Reform congregation whose website says it leans toward the traditional.

Not only are noncircumcising families welcome in much of the Jewish community, many congregational rabbis are quietly performing brit shalom naming ceremonies for intact baby boys.

What congregational rabbis may not realize is how many circumcision-averse Jewish families they aren’t serving, prospective synagogue members at a perfect moment of their lives in which to consider affiliation. The opportunity is lost because parents questioning circumcision would rather not brave a conversation with someone they believe may give them a hard time about their decision.

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