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Measure Twice, Cut Once

The commitment to circumcise baby boys isn’t an easy one, even for couples where both parents are Jewish. I was three-and-a-half when my brother was born, and I distinctly remember my mother crying at his brit milah (ritual ceremony of circumcision). This is what I recall my mother saying, “You spend nine months letting something perfect grow inside you, and then you have to let some random old man operate on him unnecessarily on him while your friends stand around eating bagels and acting like it’s a party. Why are they having fun when my son is in pain?”

The circumcision dilemma can be a particularly big issue for intermarried families. One spouse may feel like the need for circumcision as a way of connecting the baby with a chain of his ancestors. The other might find the ritual barbaric and therefore unnecessary. In The Unkindest Cut, published in Salon.com, Neal Pollack discusses his family’s hysterical reaction when his Protestant wife decided she did not want their son to be circumcised. [Please note: this article contains some unrestricted slang.] His parents had many members of their extended family call the couple to forcefully state their point-of-view. They went as far as threatening to disown their grandson. Eventually the couple decided to have a circumcision performed by an urologist in order restore peace in their family. The Pollacks discussed their situation during their pregnancy, so they had time to make a well thought out decision, even if it was a difficult process. For many couples, the issue may not come up until the baby is already born, in which case even more stress is heaped on the already exhausted new parents.

Although it can seem jarring to have to perform surgery on a newborn, it is much easier to perform a circumcision on an eight-day-old than on an older child! To be clear, we are JOI believe that Jewish boys should be circumcised. But we also recognize that the issue is one of many that emerges, especially in the context of an interfaith relationship. It is also much easier to discuss circumcision during the pregnancy or before rather than after the baby is born. Several months ago I was arguing about circumcision on a first date with someone. Perhaps the conversation was a bit premature. However, I wanted to practice the advice that we offer: the earlier you begin discussing important issues, the more time you will have to come to develop a mutually agreed-upon reasoned position.



1 Comment

  1. Kudos.

    I’m not Jewish, nor was I lucky enough to have been circumcised at birth (as a Jewish tradition, it has also become an American, Canadian and Australian tradition). My first 22 years were spent with a foreskin.

    When I was finally able to get that little problem corrected, it was a great relief. A couple of days of moderate pain (nothing compared to having a wisdom tooth out), a couple of weeks of abstinence, and all was well with the world. In fact, suddenly I understood why there’s a market for silk boxer shorts.

    Should a new Jewish mother feel sad about her son’s bris, take heart from one who has been there: I remember being five or six years of age, with my foreskin re-adhering to my glans, and the pain of having the pediatrician separate it.

    Judaism’s laws have always appealed to me, since it seems they’re founded in common sense. Avoid pork; science later demonstrated that pork tends to spoil faster than other foods. Don’t mix meat and dairy; later we discover that lactose provides a great growth medium for some food poisoning vectors. Get circumcised; most men circumcised as adults will readily agree that clothing reduces the foreskin to a liability-inducing redundancy.

    I wish I’d been circumcised at birth. And given the choice of a hospital circumcision or the joyous and welcoming party of a bris, I suspect the latter would be substantially less traumatic. Not that I’d have remembered either anyway.

    Lawrence

    Comment by Lawrence — January 19, 2007 @ 9:57 pm

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