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Circumcision and the Rabbi

I finally had 2 seconds to speak with the Rabbi last night after our first adult education class and I was less than pleased about the outcome. In fact, I cried the moment he turned away and continued all the way home.

My consolation comments to myself: He's just a man. And he's wrong.

The situation: Clients who are Jewish or who want to be Jewish, yet won't circumcise their boys on ethical reasons and how they cannot find Temples to join or even feel welcomed at. (dangling preposisition, I know) So, this new Rabbi, so progressive! so wonderful about how so many laws are outdated and should have been tossed out long ago! I thought, for sure, he would be on my side on this issue. I was more sadly mistaken than I could have imagined.

His arguments: It is the most important covenant with God along with Shabbat in the home. It doesn't hurt the baby. There are no dangers in it. Moms don't have to watch. It's worse in the thinking about it than in the doing it. Babies cry when their blankets are removed... the same as crying with circumcision. The babies that continue crying are rare and probably have colic or something. It isn't the same as female circumcision. Why would someone let the child make the decision since parents sometimes have to make the decisions like not touching a hot stove?

My retorts: Just because a culture accepts something doesn't mean it is morally correct... as in the case of female circumcision. If moms don't want to watch, why make the baby go through it themselves? Babies cry much more with circumcision than with jostling of blankets. Babies that keep crying hurt; they are not colicky. Body modification is a whole 'nother animal than a hot stove. Babies penises have been cut off by the process... and there is infection.

I couldn't believe how sad I was talking about this with him. I had to shove my tears back (why?) during the whole talk.

When I spoke about penises falling off he made comments about not finding butchers to do the ceremony and then proceeded to tell me about a mohel here in San Diego that was so bad the Rabbis gathered together and ordered him to stop or they were taking him to court. I was so stunned I couldn't eek out the WHAT ABOUT THOSE POOR BABIES HE MUTILATED BEFORE YOU TOLD HIM TO STOP?!?! And he spoke about butchers more than once. I look forward to speaking up in the future about it; I doubt this is the last we will speak about the issue.

I told him my partner and I would not circumcise a boy if we had another... that one of our son's was circumcised and one was not.

He said he would be glad to speak with those that hadn't circumcised their boys... telling them how horrible it is to be raised Jewish only to be ready for their marriage in the Temple and to not be allowed because they really truly were not Jewish by having an intact penis. I told him that none of these people I know have anything to say to him.

I told him we would have to agree to disagree. He said he hoped this issue wouldn't remove us from the membership.

And it is then that I reminded myself of his humanity and his fallability and that my reality is just as valid (if not more so) than his on this issue. That I, too, am a Rabbi in my life.

It just makes me so very sad.

wiping tears still

And this on my first son's 22nd birthday. How I wish I had never had him cut. I learned so much from him.

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Reader Comments (5)

*weeping with you*... those poor little boys... :(

October 20, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterDynamic Doula

:( so sad. I have a hard time talking to people about circ when it's religious based.

I actually had someone tell me that my anti-circ stance was anti-semitic.


October 21, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterSage Femme

You aren't going to like what I have to say about this.
Now, I am not for medical circumcision and am sorry that my first son was circumcized; my other four sons are not. From a natural human perspective I see no reason to cut off part of a baby boy's penis.

But religion isn't something which comes from only a natural human standpoint. It exists at the point of intersection of the human with the divine. Judaism is one of those religions in which the divine is transcendent, not immanent. God is very much "other" . His ways are not our ways.

It seems clear to me that God made circumcision the sign of his covenant with the Jews because it is a sacrifice, because it involves an intimate part of a man, even because it involves some pain and some blood. Belonging to God's people is supposed to have a cost. And God is God. Hear and obey, oh Israel!

But from your later posts using the expression "Goddess" I think you have left Judaism behind. I just wanted to say that the Rabbi wasn't just being stubborn; he really couldn't say anything else and still be a Jew.

In my opinion as a serious Christian this is the case anyway.
They of course believe that we Christians believe a blasphemy as awful as "goddess"-that God became a man, an idea offensive to the transcendence and otherness of God. The high priest rent his garments.

I just wanted to say that the Rabbi is right within his framework, and if you tried to change Judaism according to your lights, it would no longer be Judaism, in my opinion.

Susan Peterson

August 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Peterson

And yes, (Sarah and) I did leave Judaism. Two main reasons: the circumcision issue and the homophobic attitude (well, that's the wrong term, actually, but that's the term our culture has ascribed to people who don't accept homosexuals in their surroundings/lives).

I should write about this... it's a good story.

August 17, 2010 | Registered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

There is a movement of Jews who are questioning circumcision, and working to end this abuse of children. The movement ranges from the Orthodox to the secular, and includes mothers, fathers, scholars, historians, medical professionals, activists, and intellectuals.

Jewish Groups for Genital Integrity

* Jews Against Circumcision http://www.jewsagainstcircumcision.org/

* Brit Shalom Celebrants by Mark D. Reiss, M.D. http://www.circumstitions.com/Jewish-shalom.html

* The Current Judaic Movement to End Circumcision: Part 1

The Kindest Un-Cut Feminism, Judaism, and My Son’s Foreskin by Professor Michael S. Kimmel

Jewish Intactivist Miriam Pollack has some great commentary on Foreskin Man in this recent interview.

Jews Speak Out in Favor of Banning Circumcision on Minors

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