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Jun 21 2011

Do Babies Have Freedom of Religion? Does Natalie Portman’s Baby?

By at 2:20 pm

Natalie Portman at the 17th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards on Jan. 30. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

I don’t always agree with Mayim’s posts, but I think her most recent one on circumcision got it just right. She was writing about whether Natalie Portman will circumcise her son and it’s been a little disturbing to see the vitriolic attacks lobbed at Mayim for essentially saying that parents should make their own decisions about these things.

The decision to circumcise one’s son is extremely personal, and every family, Jewish or not, has to make their own choice. As I have written before, I think it’s fine if Jews don’t circumcise. (Just to put my cards on the table: if I ever have a son, I will circumcise him. This is a decision my husband and I have made together.)

What I do have a problem with is folks who a) don’t respect other people’s choices, and b) some of the reasons people use to attack other people’s choices around circumcision.

I get if you think it’s barbaric, I don’t agree.

However, please don’t tell me that parents who circumcise their children are violating their baby’s freedom of religion. Let’s be clear here, people. Babies don’t have freedom of religion. (Babies do, however, have human rights, and I understand if you think that circumcision is a violation of those human rights. Again, I happen to disagree.) Back to the freedom of religion claim—I’m no lawyer, but just from a practical standpoint, I just don’t see how it applies to babies. They don’t get freedom of association or press, and they sure as hell don’t have freedom of speech (at least not in my house!). My husband and I are raising our children Jewish. Thus, we deprive them of Christmas trees and Easter eggs and cheeseburgers and many other aspects of main stream American culture. We are choosing to raise our children in a minority group, a people who have an extensive history of persecution, a history that unfortunately, is not dead. I have more concerns about the implications of this choice than about the status of a foreskin.

I know, I know, many of you are probably gearing up to angrily reprimand me for comparing Christmas trees to circumcision. But let’s not kid ourselves. The air our children breathe, the sleep they get, the food they eat, and the way they spend their days—it all affects their bodies, and as much as we’d like to tell ourselves differently, it all has a permanent impact on who they are, and who they will become. (Believe me. I’m a clinical social worker. This is the reason I have a job. And yes, I have already started a therapy fund for my own kids.)

Once they grow up and develop functional frontal lobes, the ability to wipe their own tushies, and all the other benefits of adulthood, my kids may choose something else for themselves.  They may decide to believe in Jesus or eat lobster for dinner.  And at the risk of sounding glib, that’s life. That’s the human condition.

If you don’t agree with circumcision, that’s OK. I’m not here to convince you, and to be honest, if this ritual isn’t meaningful for you, then I can’t explain it. If you can’t relate to the power of a centuries-old tradition that has helped bind a people together through endless expulsions and persecutions, well, I understand that. My only hope would be that you try to respect the choices of those of us who do.


Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on Kveller are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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