In the land before children, my husband and I had many a circumcision debate over dinner and drinks with friends. I always humored him as he made the comparison between circumcision and female genital mutilation, secretly knowing that I would trump his concerns with my Judaism card. He had agreed to a Jewish wedding and a Jewish household, and well, Jews circumcised their boys. End of story.
I?m not the most religious Jew ever, and my friends and husband have often wondered how I can even call myself a Jew. (Obviously they are not Jewish!) I can only say that being Jewish is just something I am, whether I attend synagogue on a regular basis or remember Shabbat or eat BBQ or whatever. I am a Jew. And there are certain things that even a reform Jew holds dear and circumcision is one of them. It symbolizes our covenant with God. It is what has identified us, at least those of us with penises, throughout the centuries. Circumcision is not something that a ?good? Jew questions. It is a given.
Once I actually became pregnant, I assumed I was having a girl. I, like many Jewish mothers before me, wanted a girl in part because I didn?t want to deal with the circumcision issue. Debating it over drinks and actually doing it are two completely different things. As my belly grew, so did my suspicion that I was having a boy. (Of course we could have found out for sure, but again I humored my husband?s wish not to know until the birth.) Around 30 weeks into my pregnancy, I decided I better deal with the circumcision issue. All discussions with my husband ended in a stalemate. I decided to schedule a meeting with a rabbi so we could gang up on him.
The rabbi who married us had since retired, so I had my choice of three other rabbis: A forty-ish up-and-comer with three girls in their teens, a female in her thirties with a one year old son, and a new guy I didn?t know much about. I went with the female, Rabbi Cohen. I figured she could speak from personal experience and that the issues would be fresh in her mind.
Between the time I made the appointment with the rabbi and the time we were actually scheduled to go, I got an email from my friend who is a practicing midwife in California begging me to reconsider my decision. I don?t know if she witnessed a recent circumcision or what, but she was adamant. I went through the Jewish rigmarole with her and she responded with a link to Nocirc.org and specifically said to look at the information on Judaism and circumcision.
What I found shocked me. There were stories of Jews from all over the United States who had decided not to circumcise their children. Not only were they talking about it, they were making it seem ok. And most importantly, they were still accepted in the Jewish community. I couldn?t believe it. For the first time, I let myself really consider not circumcising my son. I also let myself read the circumcision boards at Mothering.com (which are decidedly anti-circumcision). I even found a few Jewish moms there who had kept their sons intact. I did a lot of soul searching and a lot of typing.
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 mummy related questions). The Internet has allowed me to question the status quoto 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 God created my son with a foreskin, then he was going to keep it.
My husband was both thrilled and annoyed by my change of heart. Thrilled that I had ?seen the light,? but annoyed that it wasn?t due to anything he had said. He was placated by the fact that I was now much more in agreement with him on the non-religious reasons to leave a child intact. However, I still felt like we should talk to the rabbi and ask that she perform a naming ceremony, not a bris, on the eighth day of our child?s life, even if it was a boy.
In the reform tradition, there is a concerted effort to treat the sexes equally. At Temple Israel our prayer books are gender neutral and the prominent women in the Old Testament are mentioned just as often as the men. In the spirit of equality, reform rabbis started doing naming ceremonies for girls to welcome them into the Jewish community in the same way that a boy is welcomed into the community after he has a bris, or circumcision. I have to say that I am glad that in the quest for equality they decided circumcising girls was not the answer, but I believe that all boys and girls should remain intact upon entering the Jewish community.
Our meeting with Rabbi Cohen definitely did not go as I had expected. For some reason, armed with my newfound information, I expected her to immediately admit that circumcision was barbaric and not necessary for all Jewish boys. Instead, she told us how beautiful her son?s bris was, and how quickly and easily he healed. Undeterred, I shared with her the information I had downloaded from the Internet. I also told her of our plans to have a homebirth and our desire to raise our children as ?naturally? as possible. I?m pretty sure she thought we were hippie freaks, but she played along. It all came down to one sticking point: The Jewish law that states that a child born of a Jewish mother is Jewish no matter what. (The law does not rely on circumcision to establish a Jewish identity because there is a caveat that states if a Jew loses a child due to complications from circumcision, future children are not required to be circumcised.) Rabbi Cohen thumbed through a few books, did an Internet search or two, and finally said, ?Ok. I?ll do a naming ceremony, no problem.? It really was that easy. However, when I offered to speak to anyone else she might come across with similar desires, she made it clear that this wasn?t something she planned to advertise or encourage.
On April 21, 2002, I gave birth to a healthy boy at home. Eight days later we rounded up every Jew we knew and had Rabbi Cohen perform a naming ceremony. We chose Shlomo Nitzan (?Peace Bud?) as our son?s Hebrew name and by the end of the ceremony there wasn?t a dry eye in the room. Rabbi Cohen told our friends and family that she felt that Warren and I would be great parents because we cared enough about our child to research difficult issues and carefully consider everything before deciding what was best for our family. I couldn?t have asked for more.