Friday, March 28, 2008


It is March 28th, and it is snowing. We are on our third day straight of snow, but it isn't really sticking. It's the craziest thing, and I don't remember it ever snowing here in western Washington this far past winter.

Aside from weather...

Wayne and I attended a bris for the first time yesterday. Our friends had a baby last week...well, nine days ago, now, and they are, obviously, Jewish.

I tend to be opposed to routine circumcision since there really is no medical reason for a normal, healthy baby boy to be circumcised. Even the AAP doesn't recommend routine circumcision. Circ rates are declining, and here in the western states, the circ rate is like, 31%-- pretty low. That means the majority of baby boys born in western states today have intact penises. If I had a baby boy, which I don't, I would definitely not have him circumcised. There was a time when I think Wayne would have fought me on this issue, but I think he's okay with intactness now. It helps that we are done having babies, so it's really not a relevant issue for him.

Though I am opposed to routine circumcision, I was very interested in attending my friend's son's bris; I love Jewish rituals anyway. They remind me of the Catholic rituals I watched growing up as a Catholic kid, though I am sure Jews and Catholics would loathe to be compared to each other. I was very aware that though this is a ritual, that the baby was going to probably be hurt during the process. I was very tuned into how the baby behaved before, during and after the ceremony.

My friends had family fly in for the ceremony from Georgia and Louisiana; this was a Very Big Deal for them, which was the first big difference I noted between the ritual vs. routine circ. The paternal grandmother told me this is as big of a deal as a wedding, which I guess makes sense because, from what I understand (and I really only vaguely understand), the bris is pretty much Jewish law. It isn't something that can not be done and still have your boy be Jewish. I'm sure that's debatable amongst different Jewish denominations, but my friends definitely are in the Jewish boy=circed boy camp.

They also have another boy, but he was circumcised in the doctor's office by a Jewish doctor; they said it was very different than this bris; I would guess that it was much more like routine circumcision done in hospital or in the doctor's office.

This time they had a Mohel (pronounced Mo-hel or Moyl) come to their home.

First, the older brother and sister came in and lit a candle...I don't remember the significance of the candle. Then the mother's sister and the father's brother carried the baby in. Everyone stood and greeted him with a Hebrew greeting. He was laid on the table (the dining table) on a blanket that apparently had the Star of David on it; the Mohel told them to put the baby's head on the star. The Mohel gave some instructions on what we should do (bow heads and pray-- otherwise you are just observing a procedure and sing a song that they all knew. It, too, was in Hebrew.). The Mohel said we would know when he was doing the actual circumcision because he would say a blessing.

The actual circumcision took no more than 20 seconds, I swear. The baby squawked for a second, but it was more of a "HEY!" cry than the enduring cry of a baby in pain. He wasn't restrained other than the paternal grandfather gently, but firmly, grasping his feet (knees bent) and the mother stroking his head and giving him gauze soaked in sugar water to suck on. He was also given about a teaspoon of Maneschewitz immediately after the bris was performed. He was picked up by his mother, and she swayed him while they did the naming ceremony. Blessings were said in Hebrew and English. It was very emotional. The baby is named for his great-grandfather who was dying as my friend found out she was pregnant; that was last summer, and it was such a rough time for them. My friend actually thought she was entering menopause (she is the same age as me!). As the great-uncle read the blessings and then spoke a bit about why the baby has the names he has, it was just heart-wrenching. This is the first baby born in the family since the grandfather's passing, and it has been less than a year, so everyone who knew him truly felt his absence. I think even those who did not know him felt it.

It was such a beautiful ceremony, and I thought the circumcision was done quickly and as respectfully as possible.

Afterwards we ate, as it is a requirement after the bris that everyone eat; it is disrespectful to not eat.

It is tradition to bury the foreskin and plan a tree over it, and when the man marries, the leaves from the tree are gathered and added to the chuppah.

The Mohel who performed the bris has a website, and there is an hour long documentary about him that aired on our local PBS affiliate. It's very interesting. You can watch it here.

When I took my Bradley training back in 2002, Marjie told us that if we had couples who were insistent on having their boys circed to find a Mohel to do it because they do it with less pain, trauma and they tend to remove less foreskin that an MD. I wonder how many Mohels will actually do non-ritual (routine) circumcision for non-Jewish families. Circumcision is much more to a Jewish person than simply trying to make baby look like every little boy/his dad or any other number of excuses that are given by parents for a routine medically UNnecessary surgery on a newly born infant.

and guess's snowing still and even harder than before. There's even some accumulation. This is bizarre.


Shan said...

Sounds like it was a lovely ceremony.

Hugh7 said...

There are contact details for about 40 celebrants (including about 16 rabbis) of non-cutting Jewish baby-naming ceremonies (Brisot Shalom) at .

Mark Lyndon said...

These sites are all run by Jews opposed to circumcision:

shan said...

Thanks for the link, Hugh. I will add that to my parent resource guide. I do have two of the three websites that Mark listed on my parent resource guide already. I wonder, though (if you ever even read this comment), if a Jewish couple would feel right having a brit shalom performed by a Humanist (I am in Washington).

Mark Lyndon said...

There are two rabbis in Oregon who will perform Brit Shalom. Maybe they would travel? I know there's a rabbi in Germany that will travel anywhere in Europe to perform it.

TLC Tugger said...

Hey where can we see your parents' resource guide?

You can remind your Catholic friends that the Holy Roman Church "strictly orders all who glory in the name of Christian, not to practise circumcision either before or after baptism, since whether or not they place their hope in it, it cannot possibly be observed without loss of eternal salvation."

(First set down under Eugene IV in 1442 and affirmed by Pius XII in 1952)

shan said...

I have listed on my parent resource guide.

The resource guide is available to my childbirth students; aside from the weblinks, it consists of local resources for natural pregnancy, birth and parenting.

Anonymous said...

Huh, I had no idea they buried the foreskin and planted a tree. Interesting. I wonder what the city folk in NYC do with it?

I don't know all that much about Jewish circumcision but for some reason I thought it HAD to be done by the rabbi for it to be legit. I didn't think having the circumcision in the hospital w/ a doctor and without all the rituals would "cut it" for heavenly entry - sorry for the pun.

Laura MacDonald said...

Shan, here's a link to a loving mother proudly anouncing the ritual amputation of part of her baby girl's vulva to her friends and family on the internet.

She holds her baby's legs apart so the scalpel can get to the baby's delicate clitoral foreskin (the target of most Islamic circumcisions), she notes the baby girl cries with the pain but not too loudly .... she looks away feeling squeamish as the scalpel slices away delicate newly made tissue full of exquisite nerve endings....

I'd like to ask, just out of interest, do you think that this ritual genital mutilation of a newborn baby girl is also 'beautiful' (and if not why not?)

shan said...

didja actually read my blog post, Laura?

Never do I say that the circumcision is beautiful. Never, ever. I support and educate people about intactness and do not encourage circumcision. I give out tons of info on keeping a boy intact...I even have a student mad at me right now because she thinks I am too hard-line about it.

You're preaching to the choir here, Laura.

shan said...

Yeah, I think the bris milah has to be done by a Mohel, who may or may not be a Rabbi, actually. That particular Mohel is not a Rabbi. I would guess that if one were having a bris shalom, a Rabbi would have to do that--no Mohel necessary :-)

I'm not clear on the details of their other son's doctor office circ.

Hugh7 said...

Shan said "I wonder, though (if you ever even read this comment), if a Jewish couple would feel right having a brit shalom performed by a Humanist (I am in Washington)."

Some Jews ARE Humanists - see this site. You'll find reform and conservative celebrants of Brit Shalom, just not Orthodox ... yet? (Not all celebrants are Intactivists; some will also officiate at Brisot Milah - may even prefer to do so.)