My Unexpected Journey to Bris Shalom
As a Jew I grew up thinking circumcision was normal. All of my younger cousins and the sons of family friends were circumcised. All of the children I babysat for were circumcised. The sound of a wailing baby at a Bris was something familiar – as was the apparently peacefully sleeping baby afterward. In fact, the first time I saw an intact baby boy I thought he looked strange.
When I was a teenager, my father started complaining about circumcision. He would say things like “I don’t understand why, in a world full of pain, we choose to put our baby boys through even more pain.” It was only when I was pregnant with my son and had a serious conversation with my father about circumcision that I discovered he would not have wanted to cut a son of his own. He said to me, "There is enough pain in this world, why would anyone want to inflict pain on a newborn baby so that pain is all he knows of life."
Although I grew up as a conservative Jew, learned to read Hebrew, had a Bat Mitzvah, and even kept kosher for a while, I gradually became a more secular Jew. I discovered a reconstructionist synagogue in Miami and loved the Rabbi’s philosophy that “Judaism is like you grandmother’s attic – you take things down and try them for a while. You keep what works in your life and put the rest back.”
Then, I moved to Gainesville and met my husband. A non-Jew, a heathen, an atheist. Yet he has more integrity and a stronger moral base than many of the very religious people I know. He also has his foreskin. When our relationship became serious we talked about how we would raise our children. Although he was totally on board with raising our children as reconstructionist or reformed Jews, he was adamant that they be left intact. I was fine with that, but I also really wanted to be able to honor deceased relatives through the Jewish tradition of giving a Hebrew name if we had a son. I just hoped we wouldn’t have a son.
We got pregnant after five years of marriage. I prayed for a daughter so that I wouldn’t have to face criticism from my family or search for a Rabbi who would do a baby naming without a Bris Milah. We had a baby boy. I called the Rabbi at the reconstructionist synagogue I had gone to in Miami and discussed our decision not to circumcise and our desire to have a baby naming ceremony. He agreed to do a naming ceremony for our son. We went to Miami when Devin was 3 months old and had a beautiful baby naming ceremony with most of my family and many family friends in attendance. To my surprise nobody criticized our decision to keep Devin intact.
It was only months after we had made our decision that I began researching circumcision. The videos of circumcisions looked like torture and made me sick. I think I was impacted even more by my research because I had never even considered not circumcising my son until I met my husband. I made the decision to keep Devin intact so he would look like his father (as if a child’s penis could ever look like an adult’s) and to eliminate what I thought was a slim chance of circumcision complications or penile injury. How little I knew! Complications and death from circumcision are actually common and the procedure alone is penile injury. I wonder what would have happened to my son had my in-laws not made the decision to keep my husband intact. Would I have unknowingly mutilated my son so that he could look like his mutilated father? It frightens me to admit that I probably would have. My awareness of the luck of our decision to keep our son whole makes me even more dedicated to spreading my story and promoting Bris Shalom so that other children will be spared.
Here’s what I’ve learned about Bris Shalom since then:
http://www.jewsagainstcircumcision.org/ is the primary website I've used to get information about Judaism and circumcision. There is debate among biblical scholars about whether circumcision was even part of Abraham's covenant w/ God. Here's an article on that http://salem-news.com/articles/november172010/genesis-deciphered-hn.php Even if it was part of the covenant, the Hebrew term Millah (as in Bris Milah) means to snip or clip, not to remove or amputate. There is a different word in Hebrew that has that meaning. Here is an article on how Bris Milah evolved from just a small slit to allow a few drops of blood to fall (like a pinprick) to snipping off only the part of the foreskin that hung past the end of the glans (so there was no forcible separation of foreskin from glans) to the modern Bris Millah that looks much like a typical circumcision as performed by a doctor http://www.cirp.org/library/history/peron2/. IMO even if you are a religious Jew, your child is not. He will have to make the choice to as an adult whether to abide by the mitzvoh or not. I am a reconstructionist, secular Jew. My son, Devin is nothing yet. He is just a child. If he chooses to be a conservative or orthadox Jew in the future that will be his choice and he can have a Bris Milah at that time. His body, his choice. Here is a collection of articles and websites related to Jews who choose to keep their sons intact http://www.drmomma.org/2009/06/circumcision-jewish-fathers-making.html Here is a facebook page for Jewish parents who plan to or have kept their sons intact http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=141962229156708&ref=ts
Written & contributed by