I am Jewish and want to have my son circumcised. My husband isn’t Jewish and he’s totally opposed. What do we do?
To Snip or Not to Snip
Have you ever heard the one about the mohel looking for malpractice insurance?
The toughest part was the two-inch deductible.
Thank you, I’ll be here all night. (Next to the gluten-free kugel.)
Snippy, I know I’ll probably lose my invite after I say this, but why?
Why do you need your son to be circumcised and why is your husband opposed?
This is not an easy question to ask or answer. And I completely empathize because I was in a similar situation. Twice. And yet, I don’t think I could truly articulate my reasons until I read your question.
So if I’m being completely honest—and since I’m writing this just hours after singing Avinu Malkeinu, I am working hard on that honesty thing—here are some of the reasons I insisted my boys needed to be circumcised when I was in the same predicament with the treif Mr. Gefilte:
1. I wanted them to feel accepted and attached to the Jewish people
2. I wanted my mom to approve of me (yes, she passed away six years before my first son was born)
3. I had some vague notion it stopped the spread of AIDS
4. I felt like I had to prove my Jewishness after marrying a gentile
5. Without revealing too much information, I wanted my sons’ bodies to look like their dad’s so they could relate to each other easier
Which can all be reduced to one simple truth:
I didn’t have the balls. Literally and figuratively.
I didn’t have the balls to stand up to my dead mom. I didn’t have the balls to own my guilt and confusion. I didn’t have the balls to see faith as something much more profound than ritual.
Also, I didn’t have balls.
Mr. Gefilte knocked down my “reasons” one by one. He was really set against inviting people over for bagels and foreskin. He couldn’t understand how this bloodletting could signify religious commitment. To which I did a lot of shrugging and vague talking about modern-day anesthetics. Then we danced around the discussion for about eight and a half months, and in between Braxton-Hicks episodes laid out some emotional pros and cons.
The more we talked, the more conflicted I felt. Ceremonial circumcision sounded like a violent rendition of the Star-Bellied Sneetches, except you couldn’t get the star off very easily. Or you can, if you look online at this Australian guy’s website, but I don’t recommend that.
On the other hand, circumcision is so prevalent in the U.S., that your son could feel ostracized by his “hoodie” even in a secular setting. I have a dear friend who grew up Catholic, was uncircumcised, and felt so self-conscious that at age 8, he asked his parents if he could get the procedure done. And he did.
In his words:
One day everyone was making fun of one kids’ pointy uncircumcised penis. They were laughing and saying that he must sharpen it on the ground…So I made sure not to let anyone know about me. And I told my mom I wanted to be circumcised. I did an outpatient procedure. I remember waking up in recovery with a very painful and very swollen penis. I could still see the stitches, which dissolved away after a few days or a week.
If I had to do it again I would.
I’ll wait while you shiver.
So Snip, I’d love to come down fully on one side of the shaft or the other, but I really respect both views. And it’s not a situation where you can meet half-way or let your son easily choose for himself at the time being.
Which brings me back to that annoying question of why?
Have you asked your husband his feelings and really listened to his answer? Have you tried to say why this ritual means so much to you?
Here’s my new favorite quote about true listening, from poet and philosopher Mark Nepo:
To listen is to continually give up all expectation and to give our attention, completely and freshly, to what is before us, not really knowing what we will hear or what that will mean. In the practice of our days, to listen is to lean in, softly, with a willingness to be changed by what we hear.
After I read your question for the 18th time (l’chaim!) I tried to listen to a few more sources on the issue.
1. My oldest son
Who is now almost 5. I asked him this morning what he likes or doesn’t like about his penis. His eyes grew wide with glee as he described its miraculous abilities: it could get big or small, long or short, and it turned juice into pee. His one request was that he’d like a bigger hole. Still not sure why.
Pretty trustworthy medical source, right? According to them, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says, “the benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks” but not enough to require them. Circumcision might have various health benefits, including easier hygiene, decreased risk of STDs, and decreased risk of penile cancer.
3. The Book of Deuteronomy
Specifically, the passage: And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
Snip, if you want to look into other ways of consecrating your son’s birth or his covenant as a Jewish boy, there are many options—naming ceremonies, planting trees, family celebrations where everyone brings something round to represent the circle of life–just to name a few.
In many ways, I do wish I’d done one of those things. In the end, Mr. Gefilte and I decided to have our sons circumcised in the hospital just after they were born. Wham, bam, welcome to this harsh world. The more meaningful part to me was taking them up to Cape Cod to meet the whole meshpuchah. Dipping their tiny toes in the same sea as all their ancestors.
Snip, thank you for making me look and listen more mindfully. The circumcision question is just the beginning, really. I think this debate is a fine metaphor for most of my experiences as a parent—trying to listen with an open heart, while also hearing my mom whispering in my ear, often snipping someone unexpectedly and then finding comfort in the waters that connect us all.
With love and schmaltz,
Have a question for Gefilte? Send it to email@example.com, and you might just get an answer.