I’ve read many pieces, on Kveller as well as other places, by mothers who voiced misgivings about circumcising their sons. They were unsure about the procedure, or nervous about possibly causing their children pain. But having had two sons myself, I can say that I was unequivocally, unreservedly proud to circumcise them as Jews.
And now the American Academy of Pediatrics has just come out with a statement that the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh its risks, and the decision as to whether or not to circumcise “should still be left to parents to make in the context of their religious, ethical and cultural beliefs.”
Standing as a new mother at each bris for each of my sons, before mohels whom I trusted implicitly, I felt that I was consecrating the moment of my sons’ official naming and entrance into the Jewish people. I gave birth to live healthy children – a miracle in and of itself – but also had the privilege to be able to give birth to them as Jews. By having a bris for each of my sons, that miracle of biology became holy. By having a bris for each of my sons, I was implicitly and explicitly telling each boy something that I will continue to convey each day of their lives: they are Jews, and that for them, Judaism will be a lifetime of commitment, dedication and trust.
People often ask me why my sons have Hebrew names (i.e. their Hebrew names are their every-day “English” names). They assume my ex-husband was Israeli, but he wasn’t. No, it’s for a more meaningful reason. When I was looking for names for my sons, I wanted to pick names that would make it very clear to the world at large that they were Jewish. I wanted to make it impossible for them to hide behind more “American,” or “English” names. I wanted them to never be able to forget who they were.
So too with the bris. When in the to-do of activity eight days after the birth of a newborn, a family takes the time and energy to come together to make their son a new Jew, they do so as an act of affirmation. They consecrate the boy to God and to being Jewish. Amid all the nova, whitefish and bagels, they make a strong, age-old statement: This Is Who We Are And Who We Will Be.
Nowadays, practicing the obligation of brit milah has also become, in some circles, an act of defiance. Last year, I wrote about the Nazi-like cartoons portraying “Monster Mohels“disseminated in San Francisco. And more recently, last month a German court ruled that circumcising young boys constituted grievous bodily harm, causing many German hospitals (as well as Austrian and Swiss hospitals) to recommend that the practice be halted. Hmm – laws restricting religious freedoms in Germany…where have I heard that one before?
I’m proud that the American Academy of Pediatrics has taken a stand that dovetails both with the health of children and the health of American ideals of religious freedom and dignity.