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Rebecca Wald

Considering Brit Shalom?

Rebecca Wald
Rebecca Wald

So you’ve done your research and decided to buck convention and not have your newborn boy circumcised. While more American families are making this choice nowadays, in the Jewish world, you’re still definitely a minority. Here are a few things specific things you’ll want to do when making this decision.

1. Be honest with friends and family. “So excited for the bris!” is often the first congratulatory statement Jewish parents hear upon sharing the news that it’s a boy. If you won’t be having a traditional bris (see item #2 below) it’s probably best to be upfront. You don’t have to get defensive or give lots of reasons. If your loved ones wish to voice their opposition, it doesn’t cost anything to listen. Be understanding but firm. Once it becomes clear that you aren’t going to change your mind, the discussion will quickly turn to other matters—like what color to paint the nursery.
 
2. Have a brit shalom. Jewish communities have come together to celebrate the birth of a son on his eighth day of life going back for thousands of years. Just because you aren’t circumcising doesn’t mean you have to sit out this important milestone. Brit shalom is a naming and welcoming ceremony, specifically for boys who won’t be circumcised. If you’re affiliated with a congregation, ask your rabbi to officiate. (You might be surprised by how many rabbis these days are willing to do this). If you’re not affiliated, you might find a local celebrant or hold a family-led service.
 
3. Make sure your child has a connection to Judaism. Circumcision is one way that Jewish people feel bonded and connected as a people—but it isn’t the only way. Make sure your son knows he’s part of the tribe by keeping him connected to the Jewish community. Affiliate with local temple or synagogue, celebrate the holidays and enjoy traditional Jewish foods. These days there are intact (uncircumcised) boys in Jewish preschools and being bar mitzvahed. It’s unlikely that a rabbi or teacher will give you a hard time. If they do, point out that your child’s circumcision status is a private matter and not their concern. Worst case scenario: find a congregation that accepts the diversity of modern Jewish practice. There are plenty of them out there!
 
4. Be proud of your decision. Being a parent is hard enough without having to second-guess yourself. If you’ve opted not to circumcise, feel confident in your choice. Unlike circumcising an infant—an act which can never be undone—leaving your child au natural leaves the door open for him to make the choice as a fully informed and consenting adult. Some men do choose brit milah in adulthood, in which case the act has profound religious significance for them. Should your son make this choice as an adult, know that you will give him your love and support.

Rebecca Wald is the publisher of Beyond the Bris, a news and opinion website about the Jewish movement to question infant circumcision. She is currently Kickstarting her forthcoming book, “Celebrating Brit Shalom,” a guidebook with songs and ceremonies for Jewish families opting not to circumcise. The book is being co-authored by Berkeley California novelist Lisa Braver Moss. Rebecca’s activism has been written about in outlets worldwide, including The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Village Voice, Tikkun, The Jewish Daily Forward, Haaretz, and The Times of Israel, among others. Rebecca is a graduate of The George Washington University and of Brooklyn Law School.

About Rebecca Wald

Rebecca Wald is the publisher of Beyond the Bris, a news and opinion website about the Jewish movement to question infant circumcision. She is currently Kickstarting her forthcoming book, “Celebrating Brit Shalom,” a guidebook with songs and ceremonies for Jewish families opting not to circumcise. The book is being co-authored by Berkeley California novelist Lisa Braver Moss. Rebecca’s activism has been written about in outlets worldwide, including The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Village Voice, Tikkun, The Jewish Daily Forward, Haaretz, and The Times of Israel, among others. Rebecca is a graduate of The George Washington University and of Brooklyn Law School.

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8 comments

  1. Rebecca, you write: "It’s unlikely that a rabbi or teacher will give you a hard time. If they do, point out that your child’s circumcision status is a private matter and not their concern."

    It's ironic that you would say that. Your anti-circumcision activist colleagues harass dozens of parents who choose circumcision each day on social media. They constantly search social media for ANY reference to circumcision on personal pages and in online discussions. They've set up several groups whose SOLE PURPOSE is to harass parents and circumcision providers. (I chatted yesterday with a 19 year-old woman who has been attacked with hundreds of derogatory comments on her own FB timeline — because of her decision on circumcision.)

    You say that circumcision is a private matter and not the concern of people outside the family? I wish you would share that message with your anti-circumcision friends this week. Tell them the circumcision decision is a private matter and not their concern. Tell them to stop harassing parents and circumcision providers. Will you do that, Rebecca? I hope you're not a hypocrite.

  2. Thank you, Rebecca Wald. Jewish boys are entitled to genital autonomy just as much as other children are. Let them decide, when they are consenting adults, if they want to give up the 16 functions of the foreskin and its benefits to themselves and their partners.

  3. Circumcision is a cultural dinosaur, it is medically contraindicated for a healthy sex life, and it should only EVER be the choice of the owner of the penis. Don't believe slimeballs like Andrew Gross, who is a circumfetishist who admins several private pro-circ groups on facebook whose primary goal is to convince uneducated parents that circumcision is the BEST choice for their son. he is GROSSLY uneducated when it comes to the form and function of the foreskin, and is in complete and total denial that, as a circumcised man, he may be missing an important part of his penis. This is one of the ways that abuse is perpetuated: the abuser, in denial about the effects of his own abuse, passes the torch onto another innocent victim. This is the act of a true coward, someone who is so spineless they'd rather pass on the responsibility of coming to terms with the abuse of infant circumcision on to helpless infants rather than face their own deficiency. Circumcision is a barbaric act that mutilates the penis. If grown men want to reduce their penis in both form and function, that is their right, but doing this to babies is disgusting and abusive. I know very few circumcised men that have anything intelligent to say about the foreskin. Most truly believe it is simply a flap of useless skin (part of their denial construct).

  4. human rights violations are not a "private matter" and ignorant parents cannot make an informed choice for their child. unfortunately informed consent is nonexistent when it comes to routine infant circumcision since the patient is unable to consent. because it is a cosmetic procedure, only the owner of the body should ever be choosing to have it permanently altered. parenting choices do not require amputating healthy body parts from your child and anyone who would have this issue stay behind closed doors under the guise of a "parenting choice" most likely has an ulterior motive, whether it's financial, psycho-sexual, or simple denialism of their own inadequacy.

    the foreskin is the best part of the penis. thank goodness parents are waking up to this fact and respecting their child's INTACT body. if we are not willing to examine our cultural constructs and historical "traditions," then we are a slave to them.

  5. A child's circumcision status is inherently a private matter. But once that status is disclosed in social media, it ceases to be private. Privacy means that one has a right to decline to answer many questions. It does not mean that one can answer the questions, effectively waving the right to privacy, and then claim that all disagreement is out of order.
    Doctors who perform circumcisions also have no right to be free of disagreement or protest, as per applicable law.

    • Ms. Wald wrote that a parent should be up front and notify family and friends of her decision. She also advised that the parent ask the rabbi to officiate a ceremony in which her child will not be circumcised. By your reasoning once she has told her family, friends, and clergy that her son will not be circumcised, it's no longer a private matter. At that point, the parent has "effectively [waived] the right to privacy", and cannot "then claim that all disagreement is out of order."

      If it's wrong to criticize a parent for her decision regarding her child's circumcision status, then it's wrong. It cannot be right or wrong based on whether YOU agree with her decision. You can't have it both ways.

      As to whether doctors who perform or support circumcision should be harassed and bullied, I'd like to hear Ms. Wald's perspective on that question.