Commandment

As the birth of Raspberry approaches, I find that his Bris (Brit Milah, ritual Circumcision) is not as easy and obvious as I thought.

For starters, will his brother and sister be able to come? They are young, but they are his family. And others of their family will be here. We don’t want them to miss it (though they’d obviously be in a different room than the actual event), but we cannot predict the date of the Bris.

Which made David suggest to have the Bris not on the 8th day, but on a convenient day. To which I, without even thinking, said, “No.”

And then I thought about it. Why is this commandment so important to me that it must be done just so, when there are many, many commandments I don’t follow at all.

So why do the Bris at all? Maybe we could have a Brit Shalom or Bris B’li Milah (meaning Covenant of Peace or Covenant Without Circumcision), which is a new adaptation of the traditional ceremony that involves the blessings but not the cutting.

I have both a positive and negative visceral response to this. I’ve been ingrained from a young age to believe in Jewish traditions and belonging to a Jewish community. I’ve also been ingrained to act thoughtfully and in peaceful ways.

I find myself rubbing up against my personal beliefs and community beliefs a lot lately. Part of it may be that I don’t really have a spiritual home here in Reading, neither with yoga nor Judaism. I’m working on finding or building them, but it isn’t easy in a small, conservative town. Part of it is certainly that as I get older I have to face more and more difficult decisions that affect not only me but my family. Being a bio-mom (because I am already a step-mom with its own set of responsibilities) is a huge responsibility and one that I am so looking forward to, but I can see already that so many decisions are not so easy to make.

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6 responses to “Commandment

  1. I find this an especially difficult decision to make because of Nathan. How can I look at Nathan and say that I circumsized my half-Jewish son but did not circumsize my fully Jewish one?

    I was stunned by the severity of my own feelings about circumsizing Nathan. I had always seen myself as the rational, purpose driven cosmopolitan scientist above the morass of stereotypes and superstitions of my ancient nominal religion. But the great throng of my circumsized ancestors grabbed my hand and Googled the Mohel on the internet for me. I was moved to tears by the ceremony. Circumsizing Nathan, this little bundle that I barely knew but who carried the name of my recently deceased Grandmother, marked him as a copy of me and as the latest in the ancient chain of Graffs.

    And yet, perhaps because my coming son will be fully Jewish by blood and education, or perhaps because he’s not my firstborn, or perhaps because I don’t have to carve out a sense of identity with Vicki as I did with my controlling first wife, I’m not as strongly driven to circumcise him.

    The tribal beast has caused me to do three things that surprised me, things that I never would have done before I had children: circumsize my son, send my children to Hebrew school, and look for a mate on J-Date (the first time I had even dated a Jewish woman). Without it, I would never have met Vicki.

    By sending my kids to Hebrew School, am I ensuring that they will feel the same pressures with their children? Or, given that we humans are irrational beasts full of tribal instincts, am I ensuring that the inevitable passions that they will feel are at least those of my tribe and not those of some alien tribe?

  2. We struggled with this decision. I think there is some medical evidence in favor of circumcision (and felt more strongly about it 11 years ago, when we were waiting for Eve) but did not want an actual bris; I wanted a medical circumcision, in the hospital, and a naming. Three years later, when we were waiting for a second child, I had completely shifted my approach, and we did have a bris for Jesse (very small – which we would have wanted anyway, and was necessary considering our dicey adoption situation). And also at 8 days – something about that also seemed very important to us.

    We had a bris because of that tribal beast that David is talking about. Our rabbi at the time talked with us and suggested that is the very irrationality of the act that creates the significance, that connects us to the fundamental, primitive beginnings of our tradition.

    It’s interesting, though, that I don’t have the same belief about the “biology” of Judaism. We did a conversion for Eve because it was important to Sam, who had converted six months before she was born. I found the whole idea offensive – in effect, telling me I had to convert Eve was telling me she wasn’t really mine.

  3. Irrationality creating the significance is interesting.

    Belonging to a Reconstructionist congregation and believing in the evolution of the Jewish civilization has empowered my thinking; years ago I would have had a bris for my son without question, but now I find myself questioning everything. And I am not always satisfied with the irrational connection to the tradition that I am a part of.

    This dissatisfaction may come from being married to a scientist.

    PS – I think Nathan is Jewish, as well as Buddhist, Thai, American, etc. I don’t think I believe in half-Jewish or half anything.

  4. I completely agree about “half-Jewish” but didn’t want to contradict David since Nathan is his son and that seemed rude :-) To me, that’s part of the biological essentialism of Judaism that I find so troubling.

    The questioning is so important. I didn’t intend to offer our experience as a “should”. The significance and grave responsibility of making choices for a newborn baby weighs heavily on us as parents, and it should.

  5. As you say, Jay, the weight of being a parent is heavy. Not that I expected all onesies and sunshine, but I never thought I would be questioning a bris. But I’m glad I am, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.

  6. Pingback: My name is also Aidan | Forward Movement

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