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Haver, Boulders’ Rabbis, United on Circumcision

Haver-SquareBrit Milah is the name of the sacred ceremony by which Jews welcome their newborn baby boys into the covenant of the Jewish people. Although circumcision is a core part of the ceremony, translating Brit Milah simply as “circumcision” misses the mark.  The Hebrew phrase implies the embrace of a covenant – that is, a committed relationship between the family, the child, the Jewish people, and the Holy One.   This ancient practice brings the Jewish past into connection with the Jewish present and is a powerful symbol of the ways in which we are informed by the insights, rituals, ideas, and aspirations of our forebears.  For centuries it has been and continues to be a sign of inclusion and embrace of the Jewish people, and to this day is a practice shared by a huge majority of the community, bridging Jews across lines of denomination and observance.

At this time, Brit Milah – along with male infant circumcision in general – is being challenged by some who feel it is an inappropriate cultural practice.

We, the members of Haver, Boulder’s Rabbinic Fellowship, representing the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Renewal communities, wish to affirm our continued endorsement of this central Jewish rite.   We are a very diverse group with a unified voice on this issue. Our beloved Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (May his Memory be a Blessing) was radical in so many ways in the innovations he brought to Jewish life, yet he remained clear until the end about his unwavering commitment to this practice.  In one of his very last public appearances, Reb Zalman insisted that we maintain the integrity of Brit Milah as a sacred Jewish rite of passage, preserving Jewish continuity throughout the generations.

Brit Milah is usually performed at home or in a synagogue, in an environment where infant and family can be comfortable.  It brings with it rituals that allow parents to include friends and family as they welcome their child into sacred covenant.  The ritual is performed by a trained professional called a mohel or mohelet who is often a pediatrician, is brief and safe, and is endorsed by all of the members of Haver, Boulder’s Rabbinic Fellowship, as well as by all of the national Jewish Religious Movements. If you have questions about Brit Milah, please reach out to a Haver rabbi by emailing office@boulderhaver.org

 

About Rabbi Marc Soloway

Marc is a native of London, England where he was an actor and practitioner of complimentary medicine before training as a rabbi in London, Jerusalem and Los Angeles. He was ordained at the Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies at the American Jewish University in 2004 and has been the the spiritual leader at Bonai Shalom in Boulder ever since. Marc was a close student of Rabbi Zalman Schechter Shalomi and received an additional smicha (rabbinic ordination) from him in 2014, just two months before he died. He has been the host and narrator of two documentary films shown on PBS; A Fire in the Forest: In Search of the Baal Shem Tov and Treasure under the Bridge: Pilgrimage to the Hasidic Masters of Ukraine. Marc is a graduate of the Institute of Jewish Spirituality, a fellow of Rabbis Without Borders, has traveled to Ghana in a rabbinic delegation with American Jewish World Service and co-chair of the Rabbinical Council and national board member of Hazon, which strives to create more sustainable Jewish communities. In 2015, Marc was among a group of 12 faith leaders honored at The White House as “Champions of Change” for work on the climate. Marc is a proud member of Beit Izim, Boulder’s Jewish goat milking co-op.

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25 comments

  1. You're literally cutting off a part of your infant's genitals. If you applied a sharp object to any other part of your child's body, you would be arrested. Why is circumcision legal? It baffles the mind.

    • Ever had a tooth filled? Ever had an operation? Although the circumstances and reasons are different the actual act of incision etc. is not, so place things in their proper context– the context of a religious obligation that has been practiced since the time of Abraham (without noticeable permanent harm). And by the way, you are no doubt unaware that the WHO (world health organization) RECOMMENDS circumcision to prevent HIV http://www.who.int/hiv/topics/malecircumcision/en… as does the CDC (center for disease control and prevention) http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/prevention/research/maleci
      Of course this is not the reason for bris milah but it obviously is not detrimental, as you suggest.

      • These are not apt comparisons. A tooth is filled when it is diseased. An operation is also performed to correct a problem, often to save a life. The foreskin is not a defect – it is the way the body was intended to be by nature. Infantile circumcision – except in the rarest of situations- violates every principle of medical ethics relating to surgery on children. 1. Beneficence – what defect or problem does it correct?
        2. Non Malificense- First Do No Harm – Circumcision painfully and irreversibly amputates essential erogenous, protective and immunological genital tissue. 3. Proportionality- all of the dubious health benefits it is purported to provide can be attained by far less invasive means or can wait until the boy is old enough to decide for himself what is done to his body, 4. Autonomy- His body, his rights, 5. Justice- in the U.S. And most countries it is illegal to even apply a pinprick to a girls genitals, let alone remove her foreskin = clitoral hood. Things change- we evolve- we become more civilized. Protect out baby boys. 80% of European males are left intact. They have far lower rates of STD's and HIV/AIDS than the U.S. where the majority of adult men have been circumcised. How do you explain that?

  2. The default position is that it's wrong to cut off part of someone's body without their permission or medical justification. The burden belongs with those who wish to challenge that assertion by providing a good enough reason. This article merely declares circumcision to be ethical and important to Judaism without delving into any reasons.

    Increasing numbers of Jews are giving their son the opportunity to choose what genital modifications he'd like when he's old enough to make an informed decision, and in the meantime, they welcome him into Judaism with an alternative peaceful ceremony called Brit Shalom. In short, some arguments against circumcision are
    1) that all the alleged health benefits have been thoroughly debunked,
    2) biometrics indicate it's on par with torture, and what looks like falling asleep is really the baby going into shock,
    3) circumcision removes the most sensitive parts of the penis, and alters sexual experience for both partners.

    With the internet available, today's generation of parents are able to do thorough research, and come to a different conclusion than their parents did. With an open and critical mind, rigorously questioning everything in the spirit of Judaism, the widespread trend occurring is that the more one learns about circumcision, the closer one comes to recognizing that it is a harmful practice that is unethical to force onto others.

    In one week from today, on July 24-26, 2014, the 13th international symposium on genital autonomy and children's rights will take place in Boulder at the University of Colorado. I encourage Haver members to talk to the attendees to learn more.

  3. If Brit Milah is brief, the baby does not have time for adequate pain relief to take effect. It may not be "safe". The baby can die of it (rabbis used to debate about how many brothers might die of it before one might be spared), or lose more than the mohel intended. One of "America's Top Mohels" boasted that he modified a Mogen Clamp – already proved dangerous by three lawsuits that drove the Mogen company out of business – to make it even more so.

    Brit Shalom also means "Covenant" – Covanant of Peace, and it embraces everything that Brit Milah does, except milah – cutting. The baby is never "comfortable" when he's having part of his genitals cut off – but he is at a Brit Shalom – and so, much more, are the family and friends.

    • Moshe Pesach Geller

      Yes, deny that for 4,000 years we've been doing this and all your 'maybe' are only that. we are and have flourished and do any of you REALLY think that the Jewish People will change all that just because it pisses you off?

  4. Circumcision is the only religious ritual that involves cutting on someone else's body. The fact that someone as innovative as Reb Zalman continued to embrace brit milah demonstrates the depth of denial Jews have about this undeniable intrusion into a child's genitals.

  5. What's also interesting is that Muslims aren't allowed to circumcise their girls here in America. Why? Most female circumcisions are way less invasive. So is America pro-Semite and Anti-Muslim? Is America pro-misandry and anti-misogyny? The AAP did promote female circumcision a few years ago only to recant due to public pressure – not on science. One's religion ends when a knife to a child begins. Being against circumcision isn't anti-Semitic. On the contrary, it's pro-Semitic. Why? Because we want ALL JEWS to choose that religious rite when they are of consenting age. It's a permanent mark to someone who may leave Judaism. There are many converts away from Judaism who walk around with a constant reminder that their genitals were subjected to a mutilating, ancient, religious ritual.

  6. Ronald Goldman, Ph.D. explains: "Questioning circumcision is for those Jews who generally evaluate an idea not solely based on its conformance with the Torah, but also in light of its agreement with reason and experience. They believe that Jewish practice must be consistent with what they think and feel." Today a growing minority of Jewish people are questioning circumcision because it conflicts with their reason, experience and moral/ethical sensibilities. Many of us are asking for inclusion within the Jewish community. I ask the rabbis who have issued the above statement: Are we to be excluded from Jewish life and practice because of our deeply held beliefs? Is there no room to question circumcision in any branch religious of Judaism—and, if there is room to question—might then there also be room to reject? Among Jewish families that opt not to circumcise, many are recognizing the sacred Abrahamic covenant in a symbolic fashion, with a ceremony often called "brit shalom," Hebrew for Covenant of Peace.

  7. Moshe Pesach Geller

    For all of you who think you're wiser, more knowing, more profound and incisive thinkers:

    1- There is no such thing as Judaism. Who's this Judy anyway?

    2-There are the Twelve Indigenous Tribes of Israel. who have a Land and language, calendar, unique diet, modes of dress, 4,000 years of knowledge and experience, Written and Oral Traditions, Holy Days and our unique and particular way of acknowledging and serving the Creator. Circumcision is one of those ways and has kept us one People ever since.

    3- What it isn't is a Chinese menu of choosing one from column A and one from column B.

    4- Like it or not, by such choice and by choosing feeling and finite and ignorant thoughts in place of the transcendent knowledge we possess, you bear the consequences: irrelevancy. No one will listen, no one will regard those thoughts and feelings with respect, as you are too sure of them to hear anything else. Yiddishkeit is not an American construct and does not lend itself to American choices.

    5- why don't you make a convention for yourselves and see what it feels like when a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear.

    6- Harsh? yes. Judgemental? Absolutely. Nice? No. True? Absolutely.

    7- To be sure: Peoplehood/Nationhood is not Burger King! You can't have it your way. Don't believe? Fine. Just don't ask/demand that opting out is an authentic alternative Jewish lifestyle.

  8. As a person of Jewish descent, there is nothing more anti-Semitic than male genital mutilation. I am a victim of male genital mutilation. The fact that I was born to a Jewish family should not define my rights. I define anti-Semitism as the desire to inflict harm on individuals for no other reason than being of the Jewish ethnicity. It is not about hating individuals based on their personality, their values, their religion, their ethics, their politics, or their actions, but rather solely based on their ancestry. Despising the Jewish religion is not anti-Semitism. Criticizing a Jewish state is not anti-Semitism. Almost every charge of anti-Semitism I've ever seen levied is slanderous. But advocating that Jews be denied the basic human right of genital integrity is clear anti-Semitism. Jewish fanatics are justifying the violation of my basic human rights, because I happened to be unfortunate enough to be born to a Jewish family.

  9. Yonah ben Shlomo

    "The default position is that it's wrong to cut off part of someone's body without their permission or medical justification. The burden belongs with those who wish to challenge that assertion by providing a good enough reason."

    Your default position is to credit a discourse of rationalistic hubris that knows no bounds. Your burden is that you will never be able to prove the value of anything that doesn't fit into the frame of your present "scientific" understanding. Which is a shame, because as any practitioner of healing arts, therapy, or Eastern medicine knows, a great deal in the human is unseen to rationalistic capture. A true science would also credit thousands of years of practice; not merely quoting absurd tidbits from this tradition to crusade against it–the same strategy as the analogously "scientific" institution of earlier days, the inquisition. Only a frame of mind marked by deep anxiety, and denial, over its origins would adopt such an insistent "rational" approach. The origins of Western rationalism and medicine, and humanistic legal philosophy, like many of the crusaders against Brit Milah themselves, are firmly to be found in Judeo-Christian soil, an embarrassing fact for those whose rationalism would prefer to be a sort of righteous Christmas tree miraculously "flourishing" in the living room, though rudely stripped of all evidence of roots. This is the real "circumcision" we should be concerned about for the future–and on the most honest level the contra-rhetoric packaged here is truly bespeaking this. Please, please stop torturing our children by severing them so rudely and violently from such an essential part of themselves as a reasonable education about the Abrahamic religions, and particularly the Hebrew Bible and what it has "performed" through history–while managing to stay open to and absorb rationalism, science, and modern doubt into its edifice of living true, its Brit olam. Any attempt in this direction, even without a theological frame, must result in a degree of respect and reverence that renders Apple products and poll numbers and statistical studies of one tiny aspect of bodily truth–flimsy and pale in comparison with this great monument and source of human continuity and transcendence.

  10. Children are separate people from their parents and have rights of their own that should be respected.These rights include the right to life, the right to security of one's person, the right to bodily integrity, and the right to choose one's religion.

    Male circumcision has risks. It is not lawful to put a child at risk. No parent has that right.

    Male infant circumcision is losing popularity. The practice of male circumcision in Colorado has declined by about 20 percent in the last three years.

    Circumcision of children violates all of those rights. It is increasing argued that parents have no legal power to impose non-therapeutic circumcision on children. It is time to alter Jewish practice to conform to law. Many Jewish families are practicing a Brit Shalom naming ceremony that does not involve cutting the human body.

    http://rjolpi.richmond.edu/archive/Adler_Formatte

  11. There are two main points of those who oppose male circumcision: It is child abuse and t is mutilation of the physical body. Child abuse is defined in Federal law as: “an act or failure of a parent (or caretaker) to act resulting in death, serious physical or emotional harm.” Where there is any danger to the infant circumcision is not to be preformed. If there is no danger, circumcision is a benefit, not a harm. The American Academy of Pediatrics in 2012 issued a policy statement that the “health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks. Specific benefits identified included prevention of urinary tract infections, penile cancer, and transmission of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.” It is a misuse of the term abuse to label an action of a parent who is benefiting their child. The same applies to the misuse of the word “mutilation” which is defined as: “to deprive (a person (or animal) of a limb or other essential part.” The foreskin is not an essential part of the male body. Removing the foreskin is a health benefit. Those without a foreskin maintain all the essential functions of their penis. The decision is of course up to parents, whether Jewish, Moslem or any other faith community. The vast majority of parents in America follow medical wisdom and choose to circumcise their sons.

    • The main objection to infant male genital cutting is that it is a human rights violation to remove normal, healthy, functional, non-renewing body parts from a non-consenting person. This is acknowledged without question for every other such part.

      It is illegal to tattoo a child or to pierce a child's genitals, to cut any other such body part off a child or a non-consenting adult (and every neonatally circumcised man was non-consenting). It is even illegal to circumcise a domestic pet! Animals have more rights than infant human males.

      Blackstone in 1765 wrote "Besides those limbs and members that may be necessary to man, in order to defend himself or annoy his enemy, the rest of his person or body is also entitled by the same natural right to security from the corporal insults of menaces, assaults, beating, and wounding; though such insults amount not to destruction of life or member…." so it doesn't matter whether you call circumcision "mutilation" or "child abuse" or not.

      The AAP's position was so ambivalent and culturally biased, 38 paediatricians (heads and spokespeople for the paediatric associations of Austria, Britain, Denmark, England, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden, and the Netherlands, and senior paediatricians in Canada, the Czech Republic, France and Poland) were prompted to write a rebuttal to the AAP journal "Paediatrics" which concluded that:
      "There is growing consensus among physicians, including those in the United States, that physicians should discourage parents from circumcising their healthy infant boys because non-therapeutic circumcision of underage boys in Western societies has no compelling health benefits, causes postoperative pain, can have serious long-term consequences, constitutes a violation of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child, and conflicts with the Hippocratic oath: primum non nocere: First, do no harm".

      The specific benefits claimed are not borne out by the studies the AAP cites, and they were unable to weigh up benefits against risks because they could find no figures for the worst risks, major complications and death.

      It is up to the owner to decide for himself whether the indisputable functions of the foreskin are essential to him, nobody else. He almost always decides they are.

  12. Circumcision is the greatest gift that my parents have me. It has given me this sense of constant connection to God. It reminds me to be just, even when I feel I have nothing else good about me, I remember I have this covenant etched in my skin. It is a reminder that intrinsically we all are good and holy and we should also be externally.

  13. I'm just curious: How many people here are "pro-choice" and "anti-circumcision"? I think your position would be substantially bolstered if I knew you really care about the baby all the time. So, Roland Yasha Rebecca et al – do you rely think it's OK to kill a baby in 8th month of pregnancy, but it is savage to perform an ancient tribal ritual once they are out?

    • The issues are different because pregnancy is a process, not a state, but since you specify the 8th month, I'd say no – others may differ. But does that mean you think human rights END at birth?

  14. Highest respect for Jewish parents who have thoroughly researched this issue, understand the inherent harm of violating and cutting a child's genitals, and instead choose to protect and welcome their precious boys with a bris shalom ceremony.

  15. Yossi Serebryanski

    Changing the fundamental brit with G-d, removes one from the communion with G-d and the people.
    In the Jewish tradition this has always been the greatest historical cultural threat to Jews.
    Welcome to the new incarnation of anti Jewish thinking.

  16. Shmuel Klatzkin

    In the days of the Greeks, Jews who were entranced with the Greek culture refused to circumcise their children, and even underwent operations to undo their on mila. There is little new here with Jews spurning their own covenant and following the passing fashions of the day.

    What is new is that today, proposed laws against mila have been inseparably associated with Nazi, neo-Nazi and quasi-Nazi movements. They make humanitarian claims, but the aim is as it is with the campaigns against kosher slaughtering — a painting Jews as violent, cruel and primitive. They cite various pseudo-scientific "proofs" of their position, and pain t themselves as enlightened crusaders. But make no mistake — this is a campaign of hatred, and of those who have fallen into self-hatred.

    Bris mila is the oldest affirmation of who we are as Jews. Spurning it is not made kosher just by giving it a Hebrew name. Beyond all the rationalizations and prettifications, to attack bris mila is to attack our peoplehood and the G-d who asked us to confirm our covenant this way.

  17. I didn't circumcise my kids in the 1980's, when I knew only one other Jewish woman who didn't circumcise. I didn't for all the usual reasons, the psychological damage caused by the pain being foremost.

    My parents and the rest of my family had a fit (though they had been forewarned) and my parents never had much of a relationship with my children. They and I were shunned.

    The kids are now involved in serious relationships with non-Jewish women, and I would prefer they were marrying Jews, though their non-Jewish women are fantastic in every way.

    They had previous relationships with equally fantastic Jewish women, and I wonder if their lack of circumcision contributed to those relationships ending. When I asked them, they made it clear it was not a topic that was open to discussion.

    I wouldn't do anything differently despite the negatives; however, some others may benefit from knowing about my experiences.

    • Fascinating. I am a muslim man and, like you, I do not plan on circumcising my children. However, unlike Judaisim, Islam does not mandate circumcision as an integral part of being Muslim. Hence, between you and I, you are certainly braver then me. Nonetheless, the vast majority of muslim men (near universally) are circumcised.

      I think you made the right decision for your sons. You left the decision in their hands. Ultimately, it should be their choice.