Jewish and Deciding about Circumcision
My wife is due to give birth to a son. She is technically Jewish, but has really been an atheist like I am ever since we met. Neither one of us wants to circumcise our baby, because we think it is wrong to put our baby through a religious ceremony when neither of us IN THE SLIGHTEST BIT believe there is a god or that religion is useful. Her parents have some different feelings about this and her dad especially is acting like he will die of heartbreak and be the shame of his family if his grandson doesn't have a proper bris. So, do we just ignore these worries of her parents? Once the baby is in their arms are they going to just go gaga and forget all about how they thought they would feel? Or is this going to cause very long term feelings of guilt and regret? I'm very interested to hear stories from other Jews who made the same decision in the face of a heaping pile of guilt and what the effect was on the long term parental relationships. A. Johnson
''Heaping pile of guilt'' is right! I am the technically Jewish mother in this scenario, I have 2 boys, 6 and 3, and neither are circumcised. When I told my parents originally I thought my mother would faint. TO THIS DAY she still says ''they'll never really be Jewish...'' etc. However, I talked with a Rabbi when I was pregnant who told me that while circumcision is a Jewish mandate, the only actual requirement is that if the mother is Jewish then the children are Jewish. That didn't really convince them, but I still use it as my counter-argument, now 7 years later.
You can have a bris without the snipping, though. Especially in this area, you can find a progressive mohel who can ''go through the motions,'' while you and your family have a great big party with your 8 day old son. They can probably even do it without mentioning god, call it a ''Naming Ceremony'' or something. That way your Father in Law won't be the shame of his family but you don't have to subject your child to something you don't agree with. Everybody loves a party, right?
You're right, though, and my parents are crazy in love with both of their unsnipped grandsons (even if my mother actually refers to them as such). There has been no long term damage done to any of our relationships. Mazel Tov! Jill
Safe to ignore grandparents? Sure -- if they're anything like my Jewish grandparents, and they sure sound like it, this is not the first time they've been trying to tell you what to do and how to do it, and it won't be the last -- probably you've already accommodated them too much in the spirit of ''being nice to the old folks'' and now you are worried they are going to eat you alive. Wish my dad had had the guts to put the smack down on his parents' meddling, and wished my mom had had the guts to put the smack down on dad's wishy-washiness earlier than 30 years later. It's your kid, not the grandparents. If you circumcise or not, that's your business, not theirs, and if they have a problem with it, you could tell them:
1. to pray for you
2. to call someone who cares
3. to write a letter to the editor
4. that you'll think about it.
You have GOT to set some limits now, and this WILL be met with some resistance from the grandparents -- and your spouse, who has grown up with them, and is accustomed to their domineering ways. It'll ruffle some feathers, but their desire to see grandson will win out in the end. On the other hand, if this is a deal-breaker for them, frankly, you'll be glad they don't bother you anymore -- who wants people like that in their lives? Again with the circumcision!
I gave birth to a son 13 years ago, and felt similarly as you and your wife. I thought circumcision was barbaric. The grandparents didn't care, so we didn't do it. Now, I wish we had. It is easier to take care of, and as my kids have gotten older, rituals seem more important, and it doesn't seem worth the strife it will cause the family. It sounds really important to the grandparents in your case, and it represents something powerful for them. Jews have been tremendously persecuted, and the reason they are still around is because people have kept the culture alive with things like circumcision. I also think your son may wish he had been circumcized. I regret not doing it, and perspective changes a lot once you have kids-if it's that important to the grandparents, and there are health reasons to do it (which there are), I advise you to do it. I wish we had. anon
I was in a similar situation to you. I am a total non-believer from a non-believer family, my husband is Jewish. I realize that this technically makes our son not Jewish.
Personally I think circumcision is a good thing, so on the birth of our son (our 1st child) there was no question this was the way to go. I read a lot about different techniques etc. and was really against the traditional at home bris, mainly for sanitary reasons. However my husband REALLY wanted this, and his family even more so. So we tried to set it up. However we found that most Mohel's won't do the full ceremony unless both parents are Jewish. In the end we had Dr. Berberich of the Berkeley Pediatric Medical Group http://www.pedmedgroup.com who is also a Mohel, do it at his office on the 8th day. This seemed to satisfy the Jewish need somewhat and my needs, although I won't say that my husband family have totally forgotten it didn't happen, at least now they don't mention it. This may be a good middle ground for you.
To my mind there is another big issue to a bris, especially if it's your 1st child. There I was just given birth to this wonderful, beautiful boy and all they wanted to talk about was where to have this big party. I mean seriously, your tired, over whelmed with emotion, and trying to look after something that screams at you every 2 hours or so, not to mention that after a circumcision you and the child will not be in the best of sorts. The LAST thing you as a family will want to do it sit at a party for hours, having to be nice to people, who are most likely getting drunk. I would also add that while I'm pro-circumcision, watching your child go through this has to be one of the worst and most traumatic things I've ever had to do. And my husband agrees on this point, he couldn't even watch. Becky
What about having a bris without the cutting? I can't imagine why you would have a circumcision if you really don't want one. He's your baby, and you'll have to wash his penis for several years, not them. Can you imagine feeling mad at your parents every time you gave your baby a bath? Whatever you do, don't give into their pressure. It's not their kid, and it's not your belief system. My son is uncut!
Hi A Johnson, the first thing for you to be aware of is that you and your in-laws are talking about two different things - you are talking religion and they are talking belonging & identity.
You don't have to be a God-believer to be Jewish. Many Jews don't believe in God. For the Jewish world your wife isn't technically Jewish she just Jewish. This is probably what her parents think too.
The bris is the ceremony by which the baby enters into Jewish community. Not performing the act that acknowledges the baby's identity as a Jew may be what is distressing your father-in- law.
This is unlikely to end when they see the baby. In fact in cases that I have seen, it intensifies as time passes. The anxiety and grief can grow, spoken or unspoken. It is not something you can explain away. For a person who sees themselves as a Jew it is breaking the chain of generations.
I'd be happy to talk with you about how you might want to shape your conversation with your in-laws. It won't cost you anything to give it a try. I'm also happy to talk to your in-laws. They need some support and guidance around how to deal with their pain. No doubt they love you both and are looking forward to being grandparents.
I'm transitioning between offices so you can email me if you like at dawn [at] BuildingJewishBridges.org Dawn
We are Jewish and consciously chose NOT to circumcise our son. We didn't have the misfortune of having a family member freak out about that, although my dear old grandfather complained. PLEASE make this decision based on what is in your heart and your wife's heart.
For the record, we are involved in the Jewish community and are temple members. While most of the members' boys are circumcised, there are a handful who are not (HOORAY!), and I know LOTS of Jewish and part-Jewish families outside of shul who are uncut. So your little guy and his Jewish foreskin will NOT be alone! In favor of Jewish foreskin
We didn't circumcise our son, despite his dad's family's active jewish identity. Here's the thing, it all depends on the family members -- if you've got a really rigid grandparent, they could continue to make a really big deal out of it -- up to, an including, cutting you off. We knew (based on the tolerance shown to their wayward son in the past) that it might bother them but they'd continue to engage fully.
None of this argues for caving in to really manipulative relatives -- they'll never stop after winning one issue.
What we did was frame it that we were leaving it for the grandson to decide (and grandma does say, from time to time, that maybe he'll decide to get circumcised...
Next, we never left him with them when he'd need to have a diaper changed and never left him naked in front of them (this may not be practical in all situations).
And, we did other things, like teaching him by three to ask the Passover questions in Hebrew (google it - they have it sounded out) to give them something else to focus on. Getting books about Jewish holidays, so he was knowledgable, etc. goyisha mama
Completely forgetting the religious aspect of circumcision, there are several other valid reasons for circumcision of baby boys. Serious researchers in Aids transmission issues have found that circumcised men have a much lower rate of contacting HIV than uncircumcised men. It is felt that difficulties in keeping the foreskin absolutely clear of (I am not absolutely sure of the spelling) smegla may play a role. There are now long waiting lists to have the procedure done in many African communities where boys are not usually circumcised as babies or young boys. The long-term (ie. wives, girl friends) sexual partners of straight, circumcised men have a considerably lower rate of cervical cancer than those of uncircumcised men. If you decide on circumcision, be sure to check references. Channan Feld of Berkeley, who is an orthodox moyel (a person who performs circumcision), is probably the best around. If he doesn't do non-religious circumcisions, he might be able to recommend someone good who does. Grandparent
I am a Jewish mother of a happy uncircumcised 2 yo. We have 3 more friends with boys who decided not to circumcise. This debate between you and grandparents is probably the first and not last about how to raise your child. But you are the parents of this child and therefore, you get to make the decisions, as painful they may be to the grandparents. My parents-in-law found out about the fact almost a year later and were pretty shocked and sad, but they survived. For many secular Jews this is the one thing that they never question. For us, messing up with our son's genitalia without permission was invasive and painful more than what it meant to our Jewishness. And the bottom line is that not circumcising is reversible, circumcision is not.
I would recommend though, not to approach this issue by stating you are ignoring the grandparents opinion, but by explaining how you respect their opinion, understand their pain, but choose to act otherwise because of your own beliefs. When you state that you are respecting them, you can ask for the same respect. They might not give it back, but then it's their choice. And as for the practicality of the issue - no one in the extended family has to know about this. Usually, if people don't talk about this, it does not come up. There is really no place to feel shame, because probably no one in the grandparents' circle will know about this - when will the have an opportunity to carefully check your son's penis anyways? The bottom line is that the grandparents need to grow up into their role as observers and not decision makers, as tough as it may be. Hope you don't circumcise, Jewish mom
I didn't want to circumcize my son either, and my parents had a fit about it. My son's father and I had agreed to raise him Jewish, so that wasn't the issue (I am Jewish and his father is not). What we did was have a naming ceremony on the 8th day. The rabbi came to our house and filled out the Jewish birth certificate with the baby's Hebrew names, we all ate and drank a little, and we all, including my parents, were very happy. My son is now 9 and in Hebrew school and is just as jewish as if he were circumcised, as far as I'm concerned.
I do not know your in laws, but I know why your father-in-law feels the way he does. The reason is because, whether right or wrong, this is what Jews do, and they have been doing it this way for thousands of years. There are a million things that you can do to be religious, but even for secular and cultural Jews, circumcision is the norm. For Jewish boys, it really begins and ends here. If you can have a shotgun Bar Mitzvah at 13, that would be even better, but a Bris is really expected. Not having a Bris is basically unheard of. This is the covenant that Abraham kept with G_d, and it is not taken lightly. Once again, I do not know your in-laws, but I assume that they will go ga ga over their new grandson. But, they may also harbor a grudge against you and your wife for the rest of their lives. I can't say how that will play out. I also believe that it would be very wrong to do something for the sake of the grandparents if you can't stand to live with it. Not sure I was much help here. Good Luck
Hello all, My husband and I are in a real bind. I am Jewish caucasian and he is Korean-American and of Catholic origin (but not practicing). We had a Jewish wedding and enjoy sharing many Jewish rituals and holidays together. Our trouble now is that we cannot agree on whether to circumcize our son or not. In truth, I am myself not in agreement with the practice, but feel strongly about a) giving my son a range of options in terms of his own spiritual choices later on by starting him off in life as circumcized, and b) providing him with a strong sense of Jewish physical identity when he is around other Jews in his community - he will already look physically different from most Jewish kids, and I don't want him to be constantly teased about not being circumcized. My husband feels that we should not be engaging in a practice out of pressure to conform, just to avoid teasing. I'm really wondering if anyone has experience with older Jewsih kids, teens, or young adults who were not circumcized. Here in the Bay Area, might it be less common to be uncircumcized? Should we be basing our decision on the fear of being ostracized, even if we don't believe in the practice? Thanks for your thoughts, Esther
Boy do I know how difficult a decision this is for you! I wrote a post a little over a year ago on just this exact subject, I'm sure you can find it in the archives, but I thought I'd respond anyways. I had so much trouble dealing with my family on this issue, well, mostly my mother, who was putting a lot of pressure on me to circumcise my son. I had so many mixed feelings about it, and my husband is not Jewish, but put the decision totally up to me, because he knew how loaded the issue is in the Jewish community. I ultimately decided not to circumcise my son, and I wrote a long letter to my mother explaining why I had come to that decision. I just couldn't do it to my son, knowing there was no medical reason for it, and it is now stated to be the parent's decision. I think that it's mostly a 50/50 thing here in the Bay area. I also think there are lots of Jewish families these days opting to keep their sons intact. ACtually, I got about 20 posts in response to mine over a year ago from families who had made the same decision, and I'm sure it's even more prevalent now. There is a lot of good information on the Jews Against Circumcision website, and I enjoyed the book ''Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective'' by Ronald Goldman, Ph.D. Also, we had a Bris Hayim ceremony at our house, which is basically the bris without the circumcision part, officiated by Rabbi Familant who practices somewhere on the Penninsula. I don't have his info on me but if you want it I can email it to you. Feel free to email me if you want further information on this, as well. Do lots of research, but ultimately it is a very personal decision. I know how hard it it, believe me! Best of luck and Mazel Tov!! Erin
Something in what you wrote really stood out for me ''[I] feel strongly about...giving my son a range of options in terms of his own spiritual choices..'' If giving your son options is of concern to you, how about giving him the option to choose circumcision when he's older, and can make the choice? He can always get a circumcision later, if he's feeling ostracized and he feels that circumcision is important to him, but circumcision is irreversable once it's done. Why not wait and see how he feels when he's 8 or 10 (or older?) and can make that choice for himself, knowing what is involved? Besides, how much time (and how soon) is he going to be naked around other boys? I don't have a son, so maybe I'm missing something around that point? I am in the ''don't circumcise'' camp, which is probably obvious. However, I hope I addressed your question sensitively, and didn't come across as accusatory. Good luck with your decision
Our opinion from the long term perspective was this: most people don't have a problem with a man with a circumcised penis but some people, for religious reasons, feel it is a must. If your son falls in love with one of those people, he's in a for a painful emotional and physical ride.
Hi, my son is 9 and like you, I am Jewish, my husband is not and we are raising him Jewish. Our son is not circumcised. We are members of Kehilla Community Synogogue and I know of at least 2 other boys my sons age who are also not circumcised in the congregation. Also I am pretty sure our rabbi officiates at baby namings without circumcision. So I think here in the Bay Area your son will be in good company. I did feel some pangs about not following the tradition but decided that this was one of the traditions I disagreed with (along with other Jewish traditions which I won't go into!) and that I want to pass along a kind of Judaism that has to do with questioning and renewing tradition not formulaicly following it. So far my son feels clearly Jewish. Good luck with your decision. jewish mom
You are not in agreement with the practice of circumcision and neither is your husband. That is a big thing to think about! No wait, it's not. You're already in agreement. :)
As far as pressure to conform, I agree with your husband on this one, but even more so since it's not about conforming to fashion trends or changeable things, but about something that is essentially a permanent choice.
As far as giving him choices (which you brought up), if you leave him intact, he can later make the choice to chop, but he gets no choice if you chop at birth.
Being teased about his penis seems REALLY unlikely to me, unless I'm way out of touch with society these days. In what day-to-day experiences will he be showing his genitals to others?? Is this something schoolboys do?
I have noticed that beliefs around circumcision are a lot different these days than when we were babies. People seem much more open to either way, where previously there was a predominance to circumcise. I am guessing that when he reaches sexual maturity, there will not be a stigma associated with having an intact penis, and there may be just as many boys intact as there are boys circumcised. I am guessing him being ostracized is an imagined fear.
It is always possible to circumcise later, should he want this. I know someone who was circumcised at age 19. I don't think it's possible to get the skin back, however, if cut at birth. I don't think you should base the decision on peer pressure or teasing. It's too personal of a choice to let those things influence it. You have to make the decision based on what you feel is right (whichever way that is). Your strong feelings of Jewish physical identity will of course influence this, although I know that you are Jewish if your mother is, therefore he will already have the proper lineage stuff, regardless that he is bi-racial. anon
My situation as a Jewish woman adopting a 9-month old Hispanic baby boy who came to me uncircumcised is a different from yours, but my father's wisdom is still very relevant. As he ages, my dad has become more observant and has been taking talmud studies for the past 8 years or so just out of curiosity and a desire to understand things better. He told me that Moses wasn't circumcised (remember his mother floated him down the river to be recovered by an Egyptian woman who raised him as her own?) and Moses's Jewish wife offered a ritual animal foreskin of some kind to mark his Jewish covenant with God. This was perfectly acceptable to God at the time, and my dad sees no reason to believe that my son would be any less Jewish in God's eyes or in our community's eyes than any other boy. Turns out there are many Jewish men advocating for non- circumcised covenant. See if you can read almost any issue of the Jewish magazine Tikkun for the ongoing conversation.
My son is now six, by the way, and came to me just the other day saying that I had forgotten to have his penis cut off when he was a baby. We talked about the foreskin and why some boys have it cut off and some don't (his non-Jewish dad and all his Jewish male cousins are circumcised, so he knows the difference), and he seemed perfectly content to be intact. I don't know long-term how he'll deal, but my dad's story about Moses has helped me out of more than one conversation with others in my family!
May your son be healthy and bring many blessings to you and your family. Happy Mom of Happy Son
If you are intending to raise your child jewishly, he will have an easier time if he's circumcised. For religious (conservative, modern orthodox) jews it's still a bottom line. There's only one boy that I'm aware of in my daughter's group of jewish friends (preschool, supplementary religious school) who isn't circumcised. I have a daughter so didn't have to make this decision, but from the circumcisions of friends' babies it has not seemed particularly hard on the baby(hard on the parents, though).
My sons are 19 and 22 and they were both circumsized. Their father is a non-practicing Jew (I'm not Jewish) and they have a very Jewish-sounding last name. They identify as Jews even though they never attended synagogue nor were they bar mitvahed. They have reported no problems or misgivings about being circumcised, nor have we, the parents. The very few times we have talked about their being circumcised they told me that some of their friends are, some aren't, what's the big deal.
The one idea I had about your question, though, was if your son grows up in a more Jewish culture than my sons did, and falls in love with a religious Jew. As it happened, my oldest son went away to college in a more conservative state, and fell in love with a very orthodox Jewish girl. I liked her a lot and thought their relationship was a good one. They were together for 3 years. She told him from the start that he would have to convert to Judaism if their relationship was to get more serious (because I, the mom, am not Jewish so therefore he isn't either). He ended up making the decision that conversion was something he was not willing to do. If he hadn't been circumcised, I have no doubt this would also have been a condition for his girlfriend. And knowing my son, I'm sure this would have been a deal-breaker. In my experience, teens and young men are not exactly wildly enthusaistic about the idea of adult circumcision. So, it's just something to think about. I never had any expectation that my sons would marry Jews -- it's fine if they do and fine if they don't. But if you do have this desire for your son, then it might be worth it to think about what happens when he's in his 20's and in love with a young woman like my son's girlfriend. Not a Jewish Mother
From your message, it sounds like you are concerned about leaving options open for your son. From that perspective, not circumcising him leaves the most options open - after all, he can always have it done later if he wants, but on the other hand, there is no way for him to undo it later. anon.
I am Jewish, and we decided not to circumcise our son. We got some grief about it from my parents, but made the decision all the same. I think that, at least around here, circumcision is no longer a strong indicator of Jewish identity - I think 3/4 of the boys I know that are my son's age are not circumcised (some Jewish, some not). Our son is only 3 right now, so I don't think he has even noticed the difference, but when he asks, we'll just tell him that some people choose to do it and some don't, that we chose not to do it because we didn't like the idea of it, but if in the future he wants to have it done, he can and we'll support him. I feel like my son's Jewish identity will be based on feeling comfortable in a community and knowing the prayers and rituals, rather than on who is circumcised and who is not. Jen
I want to post a correction to a previous response. Someone wrote that her father had told her, ''Moses's Jewish wife offered a ritual animal foreskin of some kind to mark his Jewish covenant with God.'' The passage in question is Exodus 4:24-26 and it reads: ''At a night lodging on the way, God met him [presumably Moses] and sought to kill him. Zipporah [Moses' wife] took a flint and cut off the foreskin of her son and she touched it to his [Moses'] legs and she said, 'You are a bloody bridegroom to me!' When he [God] left him [Moses] alone, she said, 'A bloody bridegroom in regard to the circumcision'''
I've researched this passage as a grad student in Jewish Studies and presented two papers at national conferences on it. The sources debate who it was that gets circumcized, even considering that ''her son'' refers to Moses himself (rather than the recently born Eliezer, although since Egyptian royalty was circumcized this is unlikely) and there are a number of different explanations offered as to why the circumcision wasn't done in the first place (have time for a few stories?). I don't recall ever seeing anything about an ''animal foreskin'' being a ''substitute''. I welcome a reference to such an interpretation, but it sounds to me like either the poster or her father are confusing the substitution of a ram in the story of the binding of Isaac with this story. It's pretty clear that _someone_ isn't circumcised, that God threatens Moses' life because of it, and that God is appeased by the blood of the circumcison.
This is all a digression from the original question, but I wanted to point it out because I see a number of claims about Judaism, ''historical circumcision'', and the like from the no-circ folks that are either not accurate, or theories that are passed off as fact.
There are many liberal Jews in this area who have chosen not to circumcise. There are many Russian Jews and some European Jews who aren't circumcised. Kids don't have the same hang-ups around the issue as we grown-ups do. We circumcised our sons because it had meaning for us, and we made a commitment to make it meaningful for our sons. If it is not meaningful to you, if you can't make the commitment to have it be meaningful to your son, then don't. My sons know they are circumcised because they are Jewish. They know that some Jewish boys aren't in the same way that many of the Jews we know (including their grandparents) don't keep Kosher (we do). They also know that some non-Jewish boys are circumsized because there are _some_ parents and _some_ doctors who _believe_ is is healthier.
Hello to all! I am a soon-to-be mother of a boy who was raised in a Jewish home, attended a conservative congregation growing up, had a bat mitzvah, but in general my family is not very religious. As an adult, I only practice Judaism on the major holidays, and mostly attend services at Jewish renewal congregations, but am not a member anywhere. My husband is not Jewish, yet does not practice any other form of organized religion. We both consider ourselves spiritual people, and pull from many different spiritual traditions in our lives to add meaning and tradition. We would like to expose our son to his Jewish heritage, as well as other forms of spirituality. The issue of circumcision has been a major one for me for the past several months, since I found out the child I am carrying is a boy. I have several friends (non-jews) who had boys and did not circumcise them, and I am very aware of the medical arguments for and against circumcision. I think that if I didn't have any pressure either way, I'd probably decide not to circumcise my son, because I don't think I could put him through that for the sole reason that he is Jewish. However, what I didn't prepare for is the strong pressure I am getting from my mother, who will not stop telling me that it is very important to her that we have our son circumcised. She doesn't even care if we have a bris, she just wants us to get him circumcised, because if we don't, he would be the only male in the family who is not. I guess what I need is some advice from other Jewish parents who decided not to circumcise their sons, if they had ''alternative'' ceremonies in leui of a normal bris, and how they may have dealt with family pressures and general comments about their decisions. I'm having a hard time even imagining how to tell my mother/family if I decide not to circumcise my son, even though that is where I am leaning right now. Any advice is greatly appreciated!! Jewish Mom-to-be
I am Jewish, and we chose not to circumcise our son. For us, the family pressure didn't last too long. My parents were sceptical but are generally very good about being hands-off since they know that our parenting style is way different than what they would do. What I was really surprised at was that my sister was ADAMANT that we HAD to circumcise. We held firm, and told her (in a non-confrontational way) that we thought it would be cruel, and that the research did not support it being medically beneficial. She backed off eventually and doesn't mention it.
On the bigger issue of family pressure about parenting decisions... we definitely get it from both sides, about various issues (my parents don't understand that we don't want our son to have EVERY toy in the world, my husband's mom thinks I'm doing my toddler a disservice by still breastfeeding). We are just firm - this is what we want to do, and thanks for the advice but we're doing it differently. Jen
I don't know if this constitutes advice or not, but I'm jewish, my husband has some jewish heritage, his mother converted, and I chose not to circumcise my son. I did get tearful pleas and some reprimand, much advice and some initial regret - being across the continent and having caller i.d. assisted in softening the blows. I suppose if it hadn't been a personal characteristic of mine to bunk tradition, it would have been more difficult. I know several other Bay Area jews that didn't circumsize their sons. I think it's more common than you think. I'm sure there are naming rituals outside of the traditional offerings, perhaps someone on the network will offer some up. I don't feel that my son is less of a jew, than his circumcised cousins. He has been exposed to the tradition and has more passion for all of it than any of us. He is not yet 4 and sang the 4 questions this passover. anon
I am a Jewish woman raised in a fairly nonobservant household. My partner is a completely assimilated Jewish man whose mother didn't identify as Jewish at the time he was born and didn't circumcise him. We chose not to circumcise our son despite pretty heavy pressure at the time from some family members, including my mother-in-law (!), who felt that he ''wouldn't be Jewish'' unless circumcised. We told critics that we would agree to disagree with them, that we were the people who were supposed to make the decisions like this, and that if he really wanted to have a circumcision later he could get one himself (with anesthetic!). When he was 3 weeks old we had a naming ceremony where we explained his name and everyone held the baby and said a wish for him, and it felt wonderful to have our community gather and help launch our son.
I did ask a rabbi (Reconstructionist) about it later and she said of course males can be Jewish even if uncircumcised. It has been helpful to have that information sometimes in responding to comments. As far as the family stuff, it was hard, but when we decided the same thing about our second son the naysayers didn't bother us. And all the relatives love the boys.
Good luck with your decision.
been there, more or less
i was circumcised as an infant without my permission, and so i'm solidly in the camp that says don't do it. however, being jewish is the one and only valid exception i can think of. how about allowing your son to make his own decision, perhaps around the time of his bar mitzvah? i would suggest that it becomes a much more meaningful and symbolic event if he chooses it for himself. non-religious conformity doesn't sound like a good reason to deprive your son of his body as it was created, and it's not like the window of opportunity closes if you wait. it can always be done, but it can never be undone. just remind your mom know that his foreskin belongs to him and not to her or even you. ts
I know that Sara Shendelman at Chochmat HaLev does really lovely Jewish baby naming ceremonies and is glad to do them for a boy (with no circumcision) as well as a girl. Friends of mine who thought they were having a boy found that this plan appeased the parents who wanted a bris. Although if what bugs your mom is only the physical part, who knows. Another thing she could consider is that he can always have one later (another thing entirely, but common in other places) if he wants to. We did decide to circumcise, and I'd be happy to talk to you about why if you are interested (i feel very good about our decision)-- but ultimately you really need to go with your gut feeling about it-- and that's sounding like a no. Just remember to be calm and loving when you talk to your mom! shosha
I could have written your message 5 1/2 years ago, except I didn't know until birth whether I was having a boy or a girl. Though I certainly had an earful from my parents ahead of time, they couldn't pressure me that much without knowing the sex of the baby. (That and the fact that they were 3000 miles away, and I could just hang up the phone!) Their arguments about having a Bris just didn't hold up for me, plus on the West coast about 70% of baby boys are NOT circumcised, so I knew he would hardly be an oddball growing up with an uncircumcised penis.
I decided ahead of time to arrange to have a baby naming ceremony, in our home, on the eighth day after the birth. I was in grad school at the time (not in the Bay Area), and not a member of a temple, but I got the name of a rabbi who was accostomed to dealing with interfaith couples. He came to the house, did a nice ceremony with a few friends and my parents, and gave us a beautiful certificate with our son's Hebrew name. My parents made a donation to his temple, and all were happy.
My parents ended up being very happy with the naming ceremony (and they got their ''bris-fix'' with my sister's two boys in the last three years), and frankly I think they were surprised that there could be a religious ceremony without the bris -- with three daughters, they'd never had a naming ceremony for any of us.
My advice is, do what feels right for you. Five years later, my parents havn't mentioned anything to me about it since, and my son is so far unaware that he is the only known uncircumcised member of my family for generations. Tara
Congratulations on thinking through this matter. I just want to say that because your son will be Jewish, being born of a Jewish mother, there is no medical reason to circumcise a newborn. I am glad that you are considering your son's needs. The needs of family members about what they want you to do is not as important as what you need to do as a parent of your own child. I have 5 Jewish women friends who have 6 sons between them, all intact (not circumcised). That was a choice they made, some against the wishes of their families. One is a physician, one is a registered nurse. The alternate to a bris is called a Brit Millah, a ''ceremony without cutting.'' I wish you luck and a healthy baby. You can get more information from www.jewsagainstcircumcision.org
Ironically, it was my husband's Jewish (but not religious) parents who were fully supportive of our decision not to circumcize, and my mother who was raised Episcopalian, was the one who objected, saying she thought intact penises ''look funny.''
Essentially, the decision is yours and your husband's. When you change your son's diaper, will you be feeling guilty when you are reminded of his circumcision or will you be happily reaffirming your decision not to circumcize? And as for your mother's saying that he will be the only one in the family left intact, well, someone's got to be first, right?
This is probably only the first of many issues where your parents' views will be different from yours and you will have to make a decision and stick to it. Good luck in your resolve. anon
I have a 5 year old Jewish boy (father not Jewish) who is not circumcised. It was a very difficult decision for us as well. My partner was very opposed to circumcision and I was concerned that my child would not feel Jewish if this ''holy covenant'' was not made (and of course, every Jewish boy is circumcised.) I decided that my son's relationship to Judiasm was the most important thing to me and his being circumcised did not determine his identification as Jewish. Certainly, many Jewish men are circumscised and feel no attachment to otheir heritage.
So, we have raised our son with Judiasm, but without circumcsion. We did have a beautiful bris, he attended the Jewish Community Center preschool and Camp Kee Tov in the summer. He is now participating in a weekly religious/Hebrew school class. He is well rooted in his Jewishness and has not yet figured out that his penis looks any different than many of his friends or his father's. When and if he does ask, I will feel comfortable explaining our reasons for our decision.
My only lingering concern is if he someday has a Jewish sexual partner for whom circumcision is important. My hope is that more and more Jewish families will opt to leave their sons intact and there will be a normalizing effect. s
My husband is Jewish and I am not, but am committed to raising our son as a Jew (I am not affiliated, and consider myself an agnostic, but with connections to many spiritual traditions). I did not want my son circumcised (for many reasons, the pain, loss of sensitivity, his rights of sovereinty over his own body), but my husband did. We had a very hard time coming to a decision, but decided finally not to circumcise. One text that really helped with our decision was ''Covenant of Blood'' by Lawrence Hoffman. It is not a pro or anti-circumcision book but a scholarly text on the public meaning of circumcision within judaism, with a lengthy historical discussion on the origins and scriptual justification for circumcision. I highly recommend reading it. The pressure from the family was intense, but having read the book helped my feel confident putting forth my position (it is written by a prominent Jewish rabbi and scholar, well respected). We wanted to do something in lieu of a bris, but hadn't made any solid plans before the birth. After the birth I felt intensely that I wanted my son to have an eighth day covenantal ceremony that didn't involve cutting, but instead substituted some metaphor for the cutting, just as the cutting of the foreskin seemed to have been substituted for an animal sacrifice early in the days of the temple. We scrambled to find a rabbi who would do this (rabbi meryam, who attends Chochmat HaLev, I think - if you want her email post again and I will try and find it for you), and the ceremony was absolutely beautiful, very profound. My husband and I both felt that the core of the ceremony is a welcoming into the covenant, and it was so wonderful to be able to participate in it without dreading what was coming. The ceremony ended with the rabbi cutting a ribbon that was tied around my son's chest. Either way you go there are options within Judaism that will support you. But I am very happy with the choice we made. anon
Both my husband and I are Jews who were raised in households with a strong cultural sense of Jewish heritage but very little religious observance. As adults,we observe more Jewish holidays than we did as children, but for us they are cultural, not religious celebrations (our spirituality lies elsewhere). When our son was born, we decided not to circumcise him, both because we didn't see any reason to (I'm sure you're familiar with the arguments against, so I won't reprise them here)and because it seemed weird to perform such a huge and irrevocable act on behalf of a religion that we didn't feel much spiritual kinship with.
What amazed us was the huge fits thrown by both our mothers, who even objected to the fact that we posted a picture of our diaperless baby on our website, revealing his uncircumcised penis to the world (a friend who is anti-circ congratulated us for making an anti-circ ''statement'' by posting the picture -- we'd just thought it was a cute photo.) Even our pediatrician, a Jew, got into the act, demanding to know what would happen if our son decided he wanted to be a rabbi. A close friend, who, as a doctor, counsels her patients that she sees circumcision as elective surgery with all the attendant risks, ended up circumcising her own son because of the pressure that came from both sets of Jewish grandparents, none of whom even make it to temple on High Holidays. She cried all the way through the bris. So the pressure you're getting sounds pretty typical.
All I can tell you is, as unhappy as both grandmothers were at the time, it blew over pretty fast, and by the time they held my son in their arms for the first time, the state of his penis was pretty far from their minds. I've picked and chosen among every other aspect of Judaism, so I feel fine about having charted my own course on this one. And my son (now 5)has never once asked why his penis looks different from his dad's. I encourage you to make the choice that feels right to you -- this won't be the first time that your mom expresses disappointment or disapproval over some parenting choice you make, believe me. But in the end, you're the mom, and if you're doubtful about whether you made the right choice, you'll enjoy the bris about as much as my doctor friend did. A Jew Who Didn't Circumcise
While we ended up caving into the pressure and circumcising both of our sons, we did it with much misgiving and refused to celebrate the circumcision. We had them both circumcised in the hospital with no ceremony and instead celebrated their birth and entry into the community in an alternative ''brit'' ceremony in our back yard with our friends and family. ''Brit milaS (known also as ''bris'') literally means the covenant of circumcision. In the letter we wrote to each of them - and which we read aloud to our guests - we explained than in our experience, too much emphasis has been placed on the circumcision and too little on the covenant. Thus, in keeping with our attempts to re-examine traditions which have become Rtaken for grantedS, we articulated a covenant between each of our sons and his world, which included us, his extended family, his community and the world at large. (If you would like a copy of the covenant we wrote, email me and i'll send you one.)
It was also amazing for us to articulate, first to each other, and then to those close to us, our principles and ideology of being parents and raising people in this world. It was a very short but, if I may say so myself, a beautiful and very touching ceremony (that also seemed to be the opinion of those who attended). But most importantly it was a way for us to retain what we felt was valuable in our tradition (the idea of a special covenant between a newborn and his world) while infusing it with content that reflected our own values and was unique to who we are.
It also made the bitter pill of caving into the circumcision easier to swallow.
Much joy and happiness to you. ben
I am Jewish and my husband is not. We chose to not circumsize our son and I have to say I have very mixed feelings. It was incredibly difficult to separate out my true feelings from the feelings of disappointing various family members. I had many sleepless nights about it and it has taken a few years for me to accept our decision. these were some of my concerns at the time: While I know the trend in places like Berkeley is not circumsizing, that may not be true everywhere else in California and what if we move? Or what if he decides that he wants to practise in a more religious way and will then face the decision about whether to have it done. Also, I worried about his acceptance among boys if he went to Jewish camp or school. Ultimately those worries faded away but they do lurk in the back of my mind since our son is only 4 and we haven't had to face those situations.
Before we decided I spoke with the rabbi at Temple Sinai in Oakland and asked whether or not our son would be considered jewish if he was uncircumsized. The rabbi told me that while he would be Jewish, he would not be able to be buried in a Jewish cememtary because he would not have been consecrated to God. I decided I could live with that. There's obviously more to it than that in terms of the religious aspects and you may need to pursue that in a deeper way to figure out how much it means to you.
And then there's the whole family side of the decision. It came as a complete surprise to me who in my family had a hard time with it. I grew up in a pretty atheistic and non-practicing family, from grandparents on down. We celebrated Passover and Channukah with very little religious context. Only my younger cousins had bar/bat mitzvahs. It made it easier that my mom was supportive (and continues to send me articles supporting the decision). And the relatives who were critical, I listened to and since then we've never talked about it (my dad & grandparents). I do feel a bit awkward when my son prances around naked when they're around, but I figure it's their issue and not mine now. over the regrets
For me, it boils down to giving your child the choice to be who he wants as an adult. Adult circumcision is extremely painful. If you circumcise your son, he can choose a religious life or not (there is no orthodox or conservative wings that I know that will accept a person without this covenant). If you do not circumcise your son, you've made the choice for him for the rest of his life: he can never subscribe to an orthodox religion. For me, the choice was easy: I didn't want to force my son to live MY life after he was an adult (we are not orthodox). Given that there were no true adverse issues related to it, I went with the circumcision. Now he can do what he wants. Oy!
Hi, I recently had the same decision to make leading up to the birth of our son. I'm from a very similar background as yours (conservative synagogue, bat mitzvah, etc) and married to a non-Jew. We did not know the sex of our child but figuring it was a 50/50 chance that we'd have a boy we discussed the circumcision issue extensively before the birth. If I had been married to a Jew I probably would have circumcised without really giving it much thought but my husband was very much against the idea. I came to agree that I did not want to alter my son right after his birth, and for us, this was very much the right decision. I feel that just as I pick and choose what Jewish practices I adhere to (I don't keep kosher, but I celebrate the major holidays) while continuing to consider myself Jewish, my son can be a Jew without being circumcised. We avoided the issue with my folks by not mentioning the topic until he was born, but in retrospect I probably would have addressed the issue earlier and saved myself from having to explain why we were not having a bris in a post partum fog 2 hours after the birth. In the end it was my husband who had a long, frank discussion with my parent on the subject, explaining our decision, allowing them to express their concerns and ultimately making them realize that circumcision is not a forgone conclusion anymore, no matter what your religious background.
My advice - if you don't want to circumcise - don't. Your parents will get used to the idea & will soon move on to giving you their other (unwanted?) parenting advice. Good luck and congratulations. anon
I recommend going to a series of discussions about circumcision at the Berkeley Jewish Community Center on Tuesday, June 1 & Wednesday, June 9 7:30pm
The Circumcision Debate: For centuries Brit Milah, ritual circumcision had been the ultimate affirmation of Jewish identity, but recently a growing number of Jews are leaving their sons uncircumcised. As part of this on-going dialogue we are presenting two workshops exploring the arguments for and against circumcision.
Tuesday, June 1, 2004 7:30 Circumcision: The Covenant of Brit Milah Join Rabbi/ Mohel Chanan Feld and Rabbi Yehuda Ferris for an exploration of the covenant, tradition and medical relevance of circumcision as a powerful and enduring Jewish life cycle event.
Wednesday, June 9,7:30 Circumcision? Questions, Concerns and Alternatives Growing number of Jews view circumcision as a part of Jewish law that they can no longer accept. Join Rabbi Kai Eckstein and Dr. Mark Reiss for an informative discussion focusing on questions about ritual circumcision and an alternative naming ceremony Brit Shalom - designed to bring baby boys into the covenant.
BRJCC 1414 Walnut ST Berkeley,CA For information call: (510) 848-0237x112or www.brjcc.org
I've been there! I don't know how helpful my experience will be for you, because I didn't have the issue of pressure from my family, but I'm posting because I want you to know that there are lots of other people who've been on the fence - sometimes it seems like there are only people who are solidly on one side or the other on this issue.
I have never agonized over anything in my life so much as this choice. (Of course, it didn't help to be postpartum and suffering crazy hormone swings...) Before my son was born, I had decided to circumcise him. I am Jewish; my husband is not; my Jewishness pretty much consists of celebrating Passover every year, and I wanted very much to link my son with his Jewish history, and have his birth be the beginning of being more connected myself.
And then he was born. And I began to doubt. I called everyone I knew, and a whole lot of people I didn't, and talked it over for hours. I cried and cried and cried. My choice changed every day. The party was planned, our friends were invited, the rabbi was scheduled. Exactly twelve hours before the rabbi would've come (the last time I could reach him) I called him off, holding my breath to keep from crying on the phone. My husband stayed up all night and wrote the most beautiful ritual I had ever seen, incorporating all the things that I'd wanted to get from the circumcision -- connection to family and Jewish history, welcoming into the community, making pledges to each other, giving him a Hebrew name -- and in the morning we performed it with all our friends, who had bravely gathered not knowing whether they were attending a bris or a non-bris. It was one of the happiest days of my life and I have never once regretted our choice after that night-before. (My son is now three and a half.)
You will have to make your own choice, and I am behind you completely either way. If you happen to choose the same way we did, and would like to know more about the ceremony we did, I'd be happy to share it with you. (Our midwife took a copy and I believe makes it available to clients of hers who are struggling with the same difficult choice -- see, you are not alone!) alyson
Are there Jewish and/or interfaith couples out there who have struggled with the circumcision issue? We would be interested in hearing about your decision making process. Were you initially opposed to the idea, but ended up doing it? What factors particuarly influenced your decision? Did you decide not to circumcise your Jewish son? If so, did you encounter resistance from your family and/or religious community? Please do not send general arguments either against or for circumcision for Jews, as we have studied and thought about the issue extensively. We have also read the website postings, and at this point are most interested in hearing from other Jewish families who have had a difficult time with this major decision. Anon.
We are an ''Interfaith'' marriage and did circumsize our son via a bris with the amazing Chanan Feld. I use quotation marks around ''Interfaith'' because I am a Jew by choice and my husband, while admitedly Jew-ish, is not. I felt strongly that as a convert I am under particular duty to observe basic Jewish covenants, circumcision being particularly important. My husband supported my decision, even though he himself is not circumsized (he even actively participated in the bris as I sat blubbering in the bedroom). Almost three years later, my son has made zero remarks about any differences in appearance between his penis and his daddy's, and when he does, a simple, ''You're Jewish and Daddy's not,'' will probably suffice. Good luck in whatever you decide. Julie T.
I appreciate your asking for feedback about this; as you well know, feelings run very strongly on both sides of the issue. My partner and I are both Jewish and very involved in our synagogue, and we did not circumcise our son. In addition to the frequently cited issue about doing unnecessary violence to an 8 day-old boy, we did not want to participate in sustaining the tradition of having a powerful, historic tribal ritual for welcoming boys only. As you know, for those of us who are strongly Jewish identified and affiliated, this is a very big decision to make. We understand that there will be consequences throughout our son's life, and we are prepared to deal with them. But what outweighs that by far is that, ironically, it feels like we did something powerfully covenantal with our son - committing ourselves to not doing violence against him, to accepting and treasuring him the way he was created, and to not compromising our basic beliefs at the beginning of his life. The sign of that covenant is the intact-ness of his body, and it is a daily reminder of the covenant we've made. I wish you well in making - and coming to peace with - this difficult decision. Avi
I'm Jewish and my husband is not although he has agreed to having our children raised Jewish. We definitely went through a very intense decision process around circumcision when I was pregnant with our first child, who turned out to be a girl.
My husband is circumcised but did not feel that his son should necessarily be circumcised. In fact, he started out feeling very strongly that we should not circumcise. I, being Jewish, and knowing that my parents would be probably be devestated if we didn't have our son circumcised, was very torn. I felt that I needed other reasons to feel that it was a justifiable procedure.
We started out emailing each other articles (with snide comments prefacing them!) at work. I was sending pro-circumcision articles and he was sending con. This went on for a while and then we started to have more emotional conversations about it. He had been to a couple brit milah's for my nephews and didn't enjoy the experience, to say the least. I was having feelings of guilt, obligation etc. We ended up deciding to have the circumcision in the hospital and then having a symbolic bris/baby naming at a later time. As I mentioned before, we had a girl.
3 months ago we had our second child, a son. Without much discussion this time, we had our son circumcised in the hospital when he was a day old. I've had lots of feelings around it and would be happy to share them with you if you're interested. Please let me know. It's certainly a very difficult decision and also a very permanent one. I'm still very torn but honestly think that we would probably make the same decision again.
Best of luck. Nancy
After much thought, research and discussion, we decided not to circumcise our son.
After all our learning it felt to us that the practice was archaic. Even our Rabbi agreed that our son could have a covenant with god in other ways.
I was surprised at many people's reaction. Only one family member, who is actively Jewish gave us any slack. She just believed strongly that we must do the bris.
The others who gave us a hard time were not even actively Jewish, They sometimes do a little something for the holidays, but have little commitment. We pretty much pushed the comments aside by stating we did what our pediatrician, Rabbi and ourselves believe is right. Eventually they gave up.
We were concerned about the issue of looking different ''down there'' but found many of our friends sons and even our closet young cousin are not circumcised.
This is a tough decision. I hope you are able to discover what you think is right and to go with it.
Best to you in your decision. Wendy
We are a Jewish couple expecting a son in May, so I have also given some thought to this question and will be interested in what others have to say. We have decided not to circumcise. It was a fairly difficult decision, which has been met with some resistance from my family. My husband and I are barely-practicing Jews from familiies with very secular tendencies. It seems that there isn't a huge commitment in our families to *practicing* Judaism, though both sides are very identified as Jewish and very interested in Judaism as cultural and ethnic heritage. I figure that if our families do so little to practice Judaism, why should we do something we feel is extreme to demonstrate our (or our son's) affiliation? When my parents bring up the covenant with God as a reason to do it, it sounds pretty ridiculous, given their lack of demonstration of a belief in God in any other area of their lives...
The most compelling arguments against, for me, are:
* I don't have much respect for tradition for tradition's sake. I'd rather be among those to stop an unhealthy or ill-advised tradition.
* It's not important to us that the boy's penis resemble his father's (I don't get this argument at all)
* It seems to me more and more parents are choosing not to circumcise, so being different from one's peers won't be a big issue for boys born now, if it ever was. I haven't encountered or read about anyone who says as an older boy or teen or adult he had a hard time because he wasn't circumcised and thus different from his peers--why are people so concerned about this? I do think about my son going someday to a predominantly Jewish summer camp or something, and maybe being aware of being different, but is this a reason to remove an integral part of his sex organ?
* It seems like a traumatic and painful thing to put a newborn through
* There are risks involved in doing the circumcision; some do get botched, with horrific and life-altering results
* My son can make a choice to be circumcised later if he wants, but could never choose to have his foreskin back if circumcised
I'll be very interested to see what others say. I have also been curious about other Jews choosing not to circumcise. Thanks for bringing this up. Anon.
My husband and I are both Jewish. Circumcision was a huge issue for us, and we discussed the topic evening after evening, with all sorts of friends, all angles and arguments.
We were greatly relieved when our first child turned out to be a girl and we could let it rest. Our second (almost two now) is not. My husband was always against circumcision: he felt it to be barbaric and unnecessary. I think it helped that he'd been around when his brother made the decision some years earlier not to circumcise his son (this helped the family, his side at least, be accepting, if not approving). I was much more ambivalent, agreeing, basically, that it seemed unnecessary, but also having some lingering sense that circumcison was the correct Jewish way to go. It was also the norm for me: all the penises I'd ever met had been snipped and that's how I expected him to be. In the end, we decided not to. For me, I finally came around, because it seemed the forward-looking, more humane way to go. Now, by the way, it seems like much less of a big deal. Keep in mind that either way is just fine for your son. Good luck! Eve
I always just assumed that because we were Jewish, if we had a boy he would be circumcised. It was only when I actually decided to become pregnant that I started to question it and I just couldn't get the idea of a \x93painful and unnecessary medical procedure\x94 out of my head. As I began (a little bit nervously) to talk to other Jewish parents (some a lot more observant than us), I found less judgment and more support than I expected both from those who chose to circumcise and those who didn't. My family expressed disapproval, around the time of my son's birth and \x93naming ceremony,\x94 but it just hasn't some up since then. I worry a little when he's with a lot of other Jewish kids (e.g. at summer camp) if he'll be teased or just asked about it, but that hasn't happened (yet). I was also fortunate because, my husband ultimately agreed with me. I have never regretted it and while I want to let other Jewish parents know that it's a possibility (so they don't feel like they're the only ones, like I did), I'm careful not to proselytize. Good luck. Anon
I am a Jewish woman married to an African American man. We decided not to circumcise our son. For me, it was a gut level feeling. I knew that it would be something I'd regret if I did, but I researched the topic anyway. I found some good information on the internet, as well as the book ''Questioning Circumcision, a Jewish Perspective'' by Ronald Goldman. Although none of what I read changed my mind in any way, I just wanted to make sure my opinion was more informed.
What I initially felt was that if we didn't do it, our son would be the only uncircumcised little Jewish boy out there, but I didn't want my perception of isolation or differece to be the motivationg factor in my descision. But now I think that there are many of us, we just don't know each other. Let me say that I'm a fairly secular Jew and I don't belong to a temple. Fortunately, my family easily accepted our decision, but I definitely brought it up before he was born so we could talk about it.
My opinion is that all traditions are changing and growing, even this one. I think it is important to question one's culture and traditions and not just blindly follow along. We actively debate every other aspect of Judaism, so why is this etched in stone? I'm proud of our descision and know it was right for us. I have yet to encounter anything negative from anyone, and if I do, I'll find another group of Jews to hang out with.
a Jewish mom with a Jewish son
I've enjoyed this respectful discussion! My wife and I decided to circumsise both of our sons, also after much thought. In some sense we saw it as a ritual of recognition that our boys cannot re-make their own past, and that their inheritance - good and bad - cannot be denied. The issue of whether a Jew can/could ''pass'' (as a non-Jew) is of huge historical and philosophical significance.
That said, if we had felt that medical arguments against circumcision were stronger - and some interpret evidence differently - we wouldn't have done it.
Lastly, I would also recommend that those who do choose to circumcise consider Chanan Feld! He did our older boy, but our younger one was circumcised in the hospital with us present over a week after birth it was a far lengthier procedure, and definitely much more unpleasant! Dan