It just doesn't cut it

YNET Jewish World, Friday, December 19, 2008.

It just doesn't cut it

Tali Farkash

Growing trend not to circumcise Jewish babies less worrying than fact ritual has become meaningless to seculars

Every once in a while the dilemma arises again, when a new baby is born to a secular couple. The debate usually opens with a text message from the exhausted new parents reporting that - mazal tov! - a healthy son was born. The aunt has already decided what to wear, the uncle is waiting anxiously for the call that would inform him of where the act, or more precisely - the cut - is to take place, but so far no word - nada.

After waiting three days, the aunt picks up the courage to call the new grandma to inquire what's holding things back. "Is the baby okay? Does he have jaundice?" everything is fine, the grandmother replies, but the couple has decided not to circumcise the baby.

This gives the cue for the onslaught to begin. The cousin who's a med student sends the parents a pile of studies claiming that uncircumcised babies are exposed to various, terrible illnesses; the aunt warns the new mom that the child would suffer embarrassment at the nursery's toilet and at the communal shower in the army.

But the new parents insist: Yes to a party, but no to a brit.

Honestly? It's about time. Just like any other Jewish act - namely a mitzvah, and what’s more a mitzvah that involves inflicting pain on a helpless eight-day-old baby - the brit milah has also arrived at a crossroads. And against all criticism and warnings, the decision to give it a pass is becoming increasingly trendy in Israel.

Circumcision for all the wrong reasons

"I've managed to stand up to the religious, overbearing establishment," is an old, familiar motto. Only this time, instead of getting married in Cyprus or holding a non-religious funeral at a kibbutz, we've decided to keep the boy in one piece, without performing "barbaric" incisions in his body. What's wrong with that? We have here caring, well-informed parents who are unwilling to swallow every nonsensical argument that an over-zealous circumciser tries to shove down their throat at the neonatal ward.

And even I, a mitzvah observing person, don't have a problem with the ever-rising number of uncircumcised Israelis. It is beyond my powers to try and explain to people how much this ritual is imbued with meaning and speak poetically about its spiritual virtues. I don't see myself preaching against the dangerous decline of Jewish values over the Knesset podium, like many religious MKs.

Unfortunately the bottom line is that it doesn't matter whether the boy was circumcised due to health concerns or because his parents wanted to make sure he'd fit in with the other kids in kindergarten. The moment that the brit has been taken out of its religious context and became a social act that declares one's belonging to a group, instead of a covenant between God and his children, it has lost its true and appropriate role - at least in my view.

I am much more concerned by the fact that many in Israel feel that their Jewishness is an unwelcomed burden - a redundant, meaningless piece of information. Just a trick of the universe that has landed them in the bosom of an ancient, long-suffering nation. They therefore choose to have the brit without ceremony, or blessings or a minyan. Just make the cut and get it over with, much like the many who choose not to circumcise their sons at all. And it is indeed a circumcision, but certainly not a brit - a covenant.

Choosing not to perform the brit ceremony (with or without circumcision) is a natural symptom for the alienation from the ritual's true purpose. From this standpoint it becomes very easy to decide to give the thing up entirely, because "there is no covenant between me and anyone up there." Sadly, no shiny party with a buffet, jamboree and a famous circumciser could stitch together this spiritual cut.

And if you ask me, this is the cut that hurts the most.


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