Genital Integrity is a basic human right.

A educational blog about routine infant circumcision and intactivism.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Beautiful Brit Shalom story from a MDC Momma, shared here with permission:

Brit Shalom- A Covenant of Peace
Hi all... I am 33 yo old mom to 13 yo Zachary and 16 mo Julian. I was raised in a very traditional Jewish family- I attended hebrew day school, hebrew high, had a bat mitzvah, went to synagogue every Saturday, celebrated Shabbat every Friday..... so, when I had my first son, I didn't consider NOT circumcising him and had a brit milah in which he was circumcised.

When I was pregnant with my 2nd child, I prayed that I would have a girl because I knew that I would NOT circumcise this child and didn't want to deal with the issue of circumcision with my family. Needless to say, I had a boy. I am at a point in my life where I strongly reject any organized religion but embrace god/goddess/spirit/humanity. My parents, however, are very traditional and feel very strongly about the "tradition" of circumcision. My dad sat down with me and explained, in great detail, how important circumcision was to him, and why he felt it played such an important role in Judaism. In response to that conversation, I did a lot of research and prepared the following presentation for him, called Brit Shalom, or Covenant of Peace. I am very happy to say that I am so PROUD of how well my dad responded, how he respected me and my decision, and especially that he held my son in his Talis during Julian's Welcoming Ceremony, in which he was NOT circumcised. I love you dad

A Covenant of Peace

According to Jewish law (halakha):

Most Jews never question circumcision and believe it is anti-Semitic to do so. Judaism is, however, a religion of questioning. It is not similar to Christianity where the epitome of faith is blind faith without questioning.

Gil Mann, a Jewish Columnist comments:
“Questions about faith are not unique. They are very Jewish. For thousands of years, Jews have struggled with many of the same questions. Questioning about God is very much part of our tradition. We’re called People of Israel. The word Israel in Hebrew means wrestler or struggler with God. So if you struggle with questions about God, you’re living up to your namesake.”

A Jewish prayer book, Gates of Prayer, contains a meditation called “Doubt”.
“Cherish your doubts, for doubt is the handmaiden of truth. Doubt is the key to the door of knowledge. It is the servant of discovery. A belief which may not be questioned binds us to error, for there is incompleteness and imperfection in every belief. Doubt is the touchstone of truth. It is an acid which eats away the false… Those who would silence doubt are filled with fear. The house of their spirit is built on shifting sands. But they that fear not doubt, and know its use, are founded on a rock. They shall walk in the light of growing knowledge. The work of their hands shall endure. Therefore, let us not fear doubt, but let us rejoice in its help; it is to the wise as a staff is to the blind. Doubt is the handmaiden of truth.”

Many parents insist on the Brit Mila because it is commanded in the Torah. However, they overlook many other laws that were commanded as well. The 613 mitzvot contain many regarding animal sacrifice which is no longer practiced today. There are also the mitzvot against imprinting any marks on one’s body or making cutting in one’s flesh. Cutting off part of a baby’s genitals flies in the face of these mitvot.

Exodus and Leviticus both set forth harsh laws as well, many which have been abandoned.

• He who strikes his mother or father shall be put to death (Exodus 21:15)

• He who insults his father or his mother shall be put to death (Exodus 21:17)

• If a man commits adultery with a married woman, committing adultery with another man’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death (Leviticus 20:10)

Other examples which are expected to be followed meticulously include:

• Once a tree is planted, its fruit must not be eaten for 5 years (Leviticus 19:23)

• You shall not put on a cloth from a mixture of 2 kinds of materials (Leviticus 19:19)

Leviticus 18:19 demands “Do not come near a woman during her period of uncleanliness to uncover her nakedness. Leviticus 20:18 states “If a man lies with a woman in her infirmity and uncovers her nakedness, he has laid bare her flow and she has exposed her blood flow; both of them shall be cut off from among their people.”

Many of these laws have been disregarded by contemporary Jews. Typically, only Orthodox Jews follow laws regarding menstrual purity, which, like brit milah, are commanded in the 613 mitzvot. In fact, Unlike the Sabbath and kashrut, the laws of family purity are virtually unknown to non-Orthodox Jews. It is, however, important to note the similarity between the consequences of both not circumcising and having intercourse with a menstruating woman. One who fails to circumcise the flesh of his skin “shall be cut off from his kin” where as one comes in contact with menstrual blood as well as the menstruating woman “shall be cut off from among their people.” Whereas the family purity laws have been abandoned by the majority of Jews, the circumcision law, however, has not even though their consequences are extremely similar.

While many circumcise because it is commanded in the Torah, the procedure they are doing is not actually biblical. Jewish babies today do not undergo the same procedure Abraham & Jacob did. Originally, only the small piece of foreskin that hung over the glands was cut which actually left the majority of the foreskin intact.

Rabbis sought to prevent Jews from hiding their circumcisions and therefore their Jewish identity by drastically altering the required procedure for brit milah.

In about 140 CE, Jewish law was altered so that radical circumcisions called Periah must be performed. Periah consists of the complete stripping and shearing of the foreskin. While many turn to the Torah as proof that the brit is required, the brit that is performed today is not the same as what God required of Abraham. Prior to 140 CE, circumcision was much milder and only removed a sliver of the foreskin. Metzitzah- sucking the baby’s blood from the wound- was a long standing and essential part of the ceremony until about the end of the 19th century.

In Genesis, circumcision is referred to as “the covenant between me and you and your offspring to follow which you shall keep.” However, a covenant is a mutual pledge, which an 8 day old infant is too young to understand. Therefore, by entering a child into that covenant they are taking away the child’s free will, and he is not allowed to decide for himself how to act.

“The Jewish view is that humans have the free moral will to choose the Good and this free moral will can be more powerful than the evil inclination. Indeed, Jewish ethics required the idea than humans decide for themselves how to act (“The Difference Between Judaism & Christianity”).

Advocating Circumcision Today (ACT), a Jewish organization states “another form of sacrifice by circumcision is the self-sacrifice involved. Many mitzvoth require sacrifice, sometimes even fasting and abstinence from food and drink. The greatest sacrifice, however, is that of a part of the body.” The brit milah, however, is not a self sacrifice.

Two of the greatest strengths of Judaism are its rationality and its commitment to learning and scholarship. Another is the tradition of gemilut Chasidim, acts of loving kindness, and the prohibition of deliberately causing pain.

This concept of sacrifice is in opposition with the Torah. Jewish law also forbids causing Tsa’ar Ba’alei Chaim, or pain in living things. However, circumcision is very painful. A sop of wine or even modern anesthesia during the operation is no solution to the pain problem. The wound continues to sting whenever urine enters it until it heals- 10 to 14 days later.

Gil Man writes “A bris is the oldest ritual in Judaism. For countless generations, our people have followed this tradition and wouldn’t want to be the person to break the chain. However, Judaism advocates an attempt to repair the world, tikun olam, which is a central purpose of Judaism. Much of the pain in the world is a result of repeating old harmful patterns of behavior by breaking a chain of pain; foregoing circumcision contributes to our healing. As we heal from our pain, we will be better able to reach our ethical and spiritual potential. Certainly tradition keeps Judaism alive but so does inquiry, dialogue, and well thought out alteration.”

Even in Israel there are Jewish organizations that oppose brit milah. One non-profit organization in Israel working to stop circumcision took its case to the High Court of Justice in 1998 and maintained in its petition that “in a modern democratic society there is no place for the barbaric ceremony which mauls a child who does not have any say in the matter”. The movement is largely made up of Reform parents, but it is visible in other areas as well. Moshe Rothenberg is a Conservative Jew living in an observant Jewish community in Brooklyn, yet he did not circumcise his son. The Af-milah newsletter is an Israeli newsletter dedicated to ending brit milah. Those who question and refuse to have a brit milah aren’t doing it because they have assimilated or because they are anti-Semitic, but feel this way after careful study of Jewish texts and observances.

Whether or not it conflicts with other Jewish principles, circumcision is still considered a quintessential Jewish act, a symbol of the covenant between God and the Jewish people and a primary emblem of Jewish identity. Questioning circumcision, however, is also a Jewish tradition. Thus, a decision not to circumcise an infant, but to observe the covenant through a symbolic ceremony instead of a traditional one, can also be a Jewish decision which follows with traditional Judaism. Parents who refuse are not merely disregarding a Jewish tradition, but are embracing the Jewish tradition of questioning and understanding.

Circumcision is a poor way to introduce a newborn male into the world and into the Jewish community. In addition, it completely excludes females from participating in a sacred ritual (thank God). From the start it relegates females as being less important than males as historically there has been no equivalent ceremony to welcome newborn Jewish female babies. That Judaism is a very patriarchal religion is no secret and that little boys are given such prominence in Jewish life and ritual is not surprising. For Jewish feminists, a brit milah is a girl’s first major experience of exclusion. The exclusion continues: women are often excluded from meaningful participation in religious life. Women may be called “Queen” or may be put on a pedestal but an Orthodox man still thanks God every morning for not having been created a woman.

Circumcision cannot be claimed as a symbol of Jewish identity. By Jewish law, any child born to a Jewish mother is a Jew. Furthermore, Judaism did not invent circumcision. According to anthropologists, the practice was well established in Egypt over 6,000 years ago. Muslims also circumcise and 60% of non-Jews in the U.S. are circumcised. Therefore, how can circumcision be claimed as either the source of Jewish identity or of its strength?

Many people invoke the power of “tradition”. Yet no-one would deny that some traditions, such as slavery, segregation, and female circumcisions are bad traditions that should be changed.

“A voice from heaven should be ignored if it is not on the side of justice”
- Isaac Bashevis Singer

One might reasonably ask why it is that the vast majority of Jews who show no particular attachment to the details of the Jewish covenant so tenaciously defend this particular commandment. Many committed Jews, especially women who feel that they have been left out of meaningful participation of religious life, are creating new rituals and adding to, subtracting from, or enriching existing ones.

Many parents are seeking an alternative to circumcision while still welcoming him into the covenant of Abraham. Several alternative bris ceremonies have been created which fulfill the spiritual and communal obligations without its traumatic effects. These ceremonies lovingly welcome a Jewish boy into the community while maintaining his bodily integrity and his human rights.

Norm Cohen, director of NOCIRC, has written an alternative bris ceremony to use which holds very closely to the traditional ceremony. “We’re working within the Jewish faith and the concepts of Judaism to make it more humane.”

Some Jews may question alternative rituals, but according to Rabbi Eugene Cohen, 80% of American Jewish circumcisions already do not meet the ritual standards. In addition, the religious ritual should be performed with the “appropriate mindset”. But this cannot be forced. Many Jews circumcise their sons with great emotional conflict, reluctance and regret. “The alternative ritual allows for congruence of intention, attitude, action and feeling.”

In the name of Ahavat Yisrael- love of Jews, love of all people, love of God- we must not do anything hurtful to another human being, including and especially our children. It is essential to evaluate an idea not solely based on its conformity with the Torah, but also in light of its agreement with reason and experience. I raise questions about Jewish circumcision with the understanding that these questions and doubts can cause feelings of grief. I respect these feelings and acknowledge the profound place that circumcision has in Jewish tradition. However, I am compelled to break the silence that supports circumcision and raise these questions out of deep caring and compassion for my son.

• “Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective” by Ronald Goldman
• The Kindest Uncut” by Michael S. Kimmel
• The Israeli Association Against Brit Milah
• “A Delicate Ritual” by Blair Pollock
• “Ending Circumcision in the Jewish Community” by Moshe Rothenberg
• “The Jewish Roots of Anti-Circumcision Arguments” by Lisa Bramer Moss
• “The Joy of Brit Shalom” by Brandy Sinco
• “Redefining the Sacred” by Miriam Pollock

Welcoming Covenant

Introductory Blessing & Prayers

Candle lighting
Baruch ata Adonai, Elohaynu melech ha-olam borei mo’rei ha-eish
Let us bless the Source of All, who creates the illuminations of the flame

Parent There is a new light in our hearts and in our home. These candles celebrate the birth of our child. These candles celebrate his emergence into light.

Kiddush Baruch kol khai olam
Precious is every living thing in the world

B’ru-kheem ha-kha-yeem ba-adam
Precious is the life of humankind

Blessings In every birth, blessed is the wonder
In every creation, blessed is the new beginning
In every child, blessed is life
In every hope, blessed is the potential
In every transition, blessed is the beginning
In every existence, blessed are the possibilities
In every love, blessed are the tears
In every life, blessed is the love

Parent With each child the world begins anew. By this ceremony, we formally welcome you to our world and our family. As we name you today, we undertake our traditional responsibilities as your parents to take you forward into the world as we know it, to love you, to guide you, to educate you, and to cherish you.

Reader We dedicate you to Chuppah- to never ending growth as a human being, capable of giving and receiving love. With loving family and friends, you will never be alone.

Reader We dedicate you to Ma-asim tovim- to a never-ending concern for family and community, justice and charity. While you care for others, you will never be alone.

Reader As you begin your journey through life, we pray that you will find sustenance in ma-yim cha-yim, the living waters which Judaism offers to all who draw from the well of this tradition. May we learn and grow in these traditions together.

Speaker We are gathered here today following a century which has given us profound and unprecedented insight into our humanity, in which we have learned that each of us is fully human from the moment we are born, able to feel and able to remember all the richness of each and every moment’s experience.

But this century has also given cruelty of unprecedented proportion. Given both the insight and the brutality of our century, we are inevitably led to conclude that there must be no more bloodshed in God’s name. We continue where Abraham left off: We shall do the child no harm.

Parent Here we are, ready to enter our child into the covenant with history, in the tradition of the many peoples he was born into and will be raised and nurtured by.

We thank God for the birth of this beautiful child into the world and into this family. We offer ourselves this day as caretakers of his spirit and his higher mind. May we fulfill with strength our role and may the spirit of this family, from generations past and into the future, burst forth to bless and sustain this child.

Speaker Baruch ha-ba b’shem Afonia- Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

All Baruch ha-ba
Blessed is the newborn

Reader Blessed is the Universe which makes children whole and beloved as their birthright, which keeps the laws of the world in their flesh, and seals our offspring with the mark of holy promise.

Parent In celebrating this child, we celebrate ourselves and our communities. We thank you God for the birth of our son. We dedicate his life to You, that he may grow in love to become a man strong and wise. May we be the father and mother that You would have us be. Give us patience and wisdom. May our home be blessed and guided by Your will. Thank You for Your faith in us that such a glorious child has been placed in our hands. May he learn from us happiness; may he learn from You everything.

Speaker And now, to you, the parents, I say on behalf of all of us, your prayers are our prayers, that you might have a home that is full of love for you and your children. May he grow to reflect the best in both of you and extend unto the world he touches the love he receives from his mother and father.

Hine Ma-Tov

Speaker Baruch ata Adonai, Elohaynu melech ha-olam asher kidushanu b’mittzvotav v’tzi-vanu al ha brit
Blessed it is that we are made holy with commandments and are charged concerning the covenant

Baruch ata Adonai, Elohaynu melech ha-olam asher kidushanu b’mittzvotav v’tzi-vanu l’hak –niso b’vrito shel Sara v’Avraham
Blessed art Thou, Great Spirit of the Universe, who has commanded us to welcome our son into the covenant of Sarah and Abraham and into the human family

Baruch ata Adonai, Elohaynu melech ha-olam she-heh-cheyanu, v’kiy-manu v’higiyanu lazman ha-zeh
Blessed are you, our Source, light of the Universe, who has given us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season

K-sheym she-nlchnas la-brit, keyn yi-kahnes la-Torah la-Chupah u-l’mah’asim tovim.
As this child enters the Covenant and the community, so may he enter the ways of wisdom, the canopy of love and the doing of good works

Baruch ata Adonai , Elohaynu melech ha-olam bo ray p’ri hagafrn
Blessed art Thou, O Lord Our God, who creates the fruit of the vine.

(Parents sip and then places drop of wine on baby’s lips)

Parents As we prepare to give you your name, we wrap you in this tallit. Praise be the powers of the Universe, which have honored us by sending this child to bless our home and family. We in turn honor this child by bestowing on him the name of :

Name of child
Explanation of names

We have chosen _________ as your Hebrew name in remembrance of ___________. May you always be beloved by your family, be brave as you face the wonders of the world, and be able to spread your wings like a bird to pursue your dreams.

Speaker Lord of all creation, we thank Thee for this child, created in thine image; whole, complete and perfect. We have welcomed him into Thy covenant of peace. Bestow upon him Thy watchful care that he may grow and flourish in the life which Thou hast given. Be Thou with his loving parents and all his family. Grant them all strength and health and length of days. Uphold them in kindness and crown them with Thy favor.

May the Lord bless you and keep you
May his countenance shine upon you and be gracious upon you
May the Lord turn His face upon you and grant you peace

All Amen

Speaker We make a toast with the traditional Kiddush and before we proceed to break bread together, may I invite all who care to, to extend their good wishes to this child.

S’udat Mitzvah, the Celebratory Meal

Blessing over the bread
Baruch ata Adonai, Ehloheinu melech ha-olam, ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz
Let us bless the Source of All, who provides us with the staff of life


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