Last month, my brother and his wife had a baby boy. Because his mother is not a fan of online over-sharing, that’s all I’m going to say about that. Besides, this story isn’t about him. It’s about my own son.
My rising 7th grader was very excited about his new cousin. He visited him in the hospital, held him, and couldn’t stop marveling at how tiny and cute he was. He picked out books he’d outgrown to pass down to him. He knitted him some booties. (Booties, I’ve since been informed, are tough to knit.)
The evening after his hospital visit, while my husband and I were watching TV, our son marched into the room, handed us a piece of paper folded into eighths, and silently walked back out again.
That was mysterious.
We opened the piece of paper, wherein my son had written, in his neatest cursive, that he would not be attending his cousin’s upcoming bris, and that we were not to try and talk him out of his decision.
That was interesting.
The next morning, I asked him why.
He reminded, “I told you not to talk to me about this.”
“You said we weren’t to try and talk you out of the decision,” I corrected. “You didn’t say we couldn’t ask you why you made it.”
A slave to logic and reason, my son conceded the point.
“Are you scared to watch the procedure?” I queried. We had been discussing it in front of him, earlier. “You don’t have to look if you don’t want to. You don’t even have to be in the room. You can wait outside.”
“I think it’s unethical to do that to a baby,” my son said.
“OK,” I said.
And I allowed him to skip the ceremony without further discussion. (My husband did talk to him later, separately, to ask him where he’d gotten the information to form his opinion, and to caution him about taking anything he found on the internet at face value, but I wasn’t privy to that conversation.)
I could have made him attend the bris. I could have attempted to talk him out of his convictions, but being an extremely linear thinker, that seemed futile. I could have invoked family loyalty—his aunt and uncle would have liked to have him there. I could have bribed him (I have no problem with bribes as a concept ). I could have simply overruled him. (I have no problem with that, either.)
But I didn’t think it was necessary. Many people disagreed with me. They pointed out that my son would be turning 13 at the end of the summer. He was practically a man by Jewish standards and, as a man, he needs to honor the mitzvah of the bris. If I let him dismiss this, who knows what other traditions he might choose to dismiss, and then what would happen? He might not marry Jewish! He might not circumcise his own sons!
Well, here’s a fun fact: I didn’t marry a Jew. And yet I circumcised both my sons. (“Be careful,” my father warned when he heard about my son’s conscientious objector status. “He might sue you for doing it to him!”)
My (non-Jewish) husband and I don’t keep a kosher home—we avoid pork, but we mix meat and milk. We light candles and welcome Shabbat on Friday nights—but we certainly use electronic devices on Saturday. We circumcised our boys, but they didn’t have bar mitzvahs (for a variety of reasons you can read about here).
In other words, we pick and choose how we express our Judaism. Who is to judge that one ignored commandment is somehow better or worse than another? (OK, I am going to go on record as saying that coveting is a lesser crime than murder, but my general point still stands.)
Quite frankly, I don’t know anyone who follows each and every biblical rule to its absolute letter. All families have to decide for themselves what has meaning and what doesn’t.
You remember that anti-drug commercial from the ‘80s? “I learned it from you, Dad!”
Well, I am certainly not going to pretend that my son didn’t learn his a al carte Judaism from me (as I explained here, I did cheat my boys out of the Jewish education my daughter is getting).
But I don’t think it’s necessarily all a bad thing. My son thought about an issue and he came to his own conclusion. Whether I agree with it or not is only part of the equation. And it’s definitely not the most important part.
Along with, it seems, half the country, especially New York City, my kids are currently obsessed with the “Hamilton” soundtrack. It’s like I live in a “Hamilton” sing-along.
When I told my son that he wouldn’t have to attend the bris (though his aunt and uncle—who accepted his decision while not approving it—did tell him he was welcome to come afterwards for the bagels), I made it clear to him that I wasn’t merely giving in to his whim, backing down because I didn’t feel it was worth fighting over, or agreeing with him.
I did it because, to quote the rapping version of Alexander Hamilton, “But when all is said and all is done/Jefferson has beliefs/Burr has none.”