When I was invited to a close family friend’s bris on Long Island, I accepted. I should never have mentioned it was my first. In that moment they knew that my 2-year-old son was Jewish, but his penis was not.
While I was relieved to have an obstructed view, I was not bothered by the crying, and he did very little, considering. Even if he had wailed, I wouldn’t have been fazed. I don’t think a newborn can be traumatized by the act, even though I think that’s the deciding factor for most who choose to not circumcise.
The ceremony spoke of how Abraham commanded his people to circumcise their sons in order to be on the same page with the Big G. But I don’t take commands to perform elective surgery on my spawn from people I don’t know. Call me crazy.
Like Father, Like Son
However, I do think there is some weight to the argument that the kid’s anatomy should resemble his father’s, if only to ward off confusion. But my husband is British and not Jewish, and somewhat surprisingly, he left the decision up to me.
Susie’s son, all grown up.
I sort of wish he hadn’t. If he’d said, “I think the kid should resemble me,” his penis-pertise would have prevailed. My friend Laurie Kilmartin, currently a writer for Conan on TBS, is also a comedian who had a boy and chose not to have him cut. In her comedy act she says, “My son’s dad wanted to circumcise him. He was like, ‘I want him to be like me.’ I was like, ‘Well, he doesn’t have a job either, so he’s already like you.”
But while Laurie is hilarious, she isn’t Jewish. Her decision didn’t come with a mother who looked stricken with guilt and grandparents who died in concentration camps rolling over in their graves.
My mother was shocked, yes, but mainly because she had her children back when everyone circumcised their sons regardless of religion, so the idea of not doing it never occurred to her. She was culturally Jewish, but raised without religion. When she threw up the “but you’re Jewish” argument, I told her I thought there was something to the kid matching the father to ward off confusion. There was a big pause.
Until that moment she didn’t know that my husband of many years wasn’t circumcised, another thing she had never considered. This then led to the realization that–whoa–all the heroes in the many historical romances she wrote about England wouldn’t have been either. In addition to being an award-winning author of romance novels, my mother was a stickler for historical facts and an Anglophile. And being able to put it in the context of the latter two, my son not being circumcised didn’t seem so odd. She saw it my way. This drama was nipped in the bud and shorter than I ever imagined. My turn to be shocked.
The health aspect didn’t sway me either. My father was a hematologist–raised Orthodox with “escaped Hitler” on his life’s resume. While I can’t say what he would’ve made of my choice, I can say that later in his own life he became skeptical about the health benefits for routine medical circumcision. And since we won’t be moving to Sub-Saharan Africa and having a little off the top doesn’t make you invincible, I was locked and loaded to annoy my son with safe sex lectures either way.
Follow Your Gut
What it came down to was my gut, which says tampering with the genitals of someone who can’t consent is bird-coming-out-of-a-clock nuts. Especially when so many Jews see it as a given, where actually believing in or practicing their religion is not. However, if I had married a Jew? Any misgivings would’ve probably been blown away by a large sigh of relief. After checking out Wikipedia and the veritable pu pu platter of insanity that is on offer when you sample circumcision’s history–from Pharaoh forbidding it to rabbis forcing it–I would’ve opted for the familiar.
And speaking of familiar, I admit I did not know my husband was uncircumcised for an embarrassingly long stretch. I didn’t grow up in a convent nor practice lights off and still I only figured it out when he alluded to it. I was totally confused and a bit disturbed. Wait, aren’t these supposed to be unattractive, unclean, downright freaky?
How would I not know? Maybe you’re like me–nearly everything I knew about the uncircumcised penis came from the sculpture hall in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the one that led to the cafeteria. Basically, what I didn’t know, is that when in the “on” position it’s the same. I consulted with a gay male friend, who happens to be Jewish. And he said I wasn’t blind or terminally slow. He agreed that when erect, “it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference.”
If I didn’t have family in the UK who will surely read this, I’d tell you I now believe men with a sheath understand a woman’s anatomy better. I could mention that the uncircumcised irrefutably have more penis, which some would agree is a good thing. And I might even add that now I firmly believe cut men are less sensitive.
The Wait-and-See Approach
But sexual satisfaction didn’t enter into the equation, and not just because it’s creepy to think about your fetus getting busy. My son’s sex life won’t hinge on his anatomy as much as his ability to choose the right wine pairing. And he might grow up to only find box turtles appealing. Who knows.
I do know many of my friends became exactly what their parents were not. A half-Jewish pal raised without a smat of religion threw himself a Bar Mitzvah at age 20, where “now you are a man” made way more sense than with those stuttering 13-year-old’s stuffed into stiff blue suits trudging to the finish line with the promise of a candy cart on the other side. Two friends raised Reform both–unbeknownst to each other until recent Facebook communications–became Orthodox rabbis. Then there’s an Orthodox dude I knew who flung off his yarmulke for good during his Ivy education.
In the end, the main reason I chose not to circumcise my son is because when my son is grown up, if he has a hankering to join this sacred covenant with his people, he can. I’ll even provide the lox.
Do you need to make this important decision soon? Read about how a mother grappled with the same question and came to a different conclusion, how to plan a bris in 8 days, and what to do if it’s a girl.