Walking to class past the political and cultural smorgasbord of Sproul Plaza at the University of California at Berkeley was a feast for the eyes. There was, of course, the Ralph Nader-loving table teeming with activity and the ever-desolate Berkeley College Republicans station. But the one that always caught my eye was the “Male Circumcision = Genital Mutilation” table. And yes, they had pictures.
I remember once, an outraged Member of the Tribe holding a sign that read: “For God’s Sake, My Penis Was Ruined” told me that the traumatic experience of circumcision had scarred him physically and emotionally. Forever. At the time, I was all like “Dude, chillax. Smoke a bowl or something” and I went on my way to my next class.
But now, 10 years and one telltale ultrasound later, I can’t stop thinking about this man, his sign, and his tsurus. Because with the knowledge that the fetus I now call Little Homie is indeed a boy-child, comes the inevitable deep breath as my husband and I mentally prepare for our baby-to-be’s eighth day of life: Little Homie is getting cut.
And I’m not happy about this.
Since I kick ass at Googling, I know that while the medical community at large generally considers circumcision to be medically unnecessary, there are statistics that support the theory that this practice is actually quite healthy and sanitary. And while some argue that circumcised men experience less sexual pleasure than their non-circumcised counterparts, I have yet to hear one complain.
And, beyond these facts and figures, I have been raised to believe that circumcision symbolizes a profound covenant with God. It’s a ritual that has existed for thousands of years, and I always believed that if I had a son, I would want him to take part in this time-honored tradition.
But this was how I felt before I saw Little Homie’s boy parts.
And now, even though we’re shopping around for the best mohel in town (think Benihana chef with a yarmulke), I have a lot of reservations.
I’m afraid that the mohel will develop a palsy seconds before the blade meets my baby’s foreskin. I’m scared that Little Homie will get one of those extremely rare infections, and his penis will turn gangrenous and fall off, and he’ll never give me grandchildren–oy vey iz mir. And, I’m terrified that one day, Little Homie–for whatever reason‑‑will grow up to resent our decision to have him circumcised.
Ok, ok, ok, before you tear my “Member of the Tribe Card” into a million pieces, please know that I love being a Jew. And while I do not, nor have I ever, taken the biblical narrative literally, I am proud of my heritage. But I also believe that intrinsic to being Jewish–hell, to being a person–is to question long-held assumptions and beliefs, no matter how inviolable and sacrosanct they may seem. And in the end, it is Little Homie’s penis. So, ultimately, shouldn’t he decide what is (or isn’t) done to it?
A Chain of Tradition
But, my husband feels differently. After all, he was circumcised on his eighth day of life, so why shouldn’t his son be too? I suspected that my husband was driven by ego and the desire to see a doppelganger when he had pissing contests with his son more than anything else. But during a fight late one night he set me straight.
“I want him to be circumcised because my grandmother lost most of her family when she fled the Nazis, and I think it would break her heart if we didn’t circumcise her great grandson,” he said. “Besides, this is a tradition, and I won’t be the one to break the link in the chain.”
I could see his point. But I persisted. Why couldn’t we wait until Little Homie was old enough to make the decision himself?
“Look, parents make choices for their children all the time,” my husband said. “We’re Jewish, and to deny the brit is to deny our people. So he’s getting circumcised. Period.”
Great. The guy who never goes to synagogue, who eats pepperoni pizza during Passover, who can barely name the Five Books of Moses had transformed into Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof.
It’s Just Skin
I’ve read the literature on both sides of the circumcision debate and while it seems that the peer-pressure within the Jewish community is to make the cut, I know there is a small, but growing group of Jewish imas and abbas out there who are taking a revolutionary path and refusing to circumcise their baby boys. The question is, do I dare join them? And if I do, and my husband doesn’t, what does this mean for our family? The kid only has one penis, so how can we compromise over something that either is or isn’t? Ah, where’s King Solomon when you need him.
But still, I know that regardless of what we do, a foreskin–or lack thereof–will not define the person Little Homie becomes. And, foreskin or not, we will raise our son in a home steeped in Jewish values including Tikkun Olam, Gemilut Hasadim, and Tzedakah. We will do our best to make sure our baby-to-be grows up in a world where he is loved, nurtured, and honored, so that he, in turn, can love, nurture, and honor others. That is the best we can do. And, if one day Little Homie ends up holding a sign that reads, “For God’s Sake My Penis Was Ruined,” we will pay for his therapy bills.