Thursday, January 22, 2009

Making the Cut

It's always around this time, when Israel is a little more in the news than usual, that I notice more discussions of the dangers and cruelty of male circumcision. A blog I follow went so far as to accuse parents of this "evil, ancient practice" of putting their own wants ahead of their child's rights.

No, I would say they do just the opposite. They place his spiritual needs ahead of their personal fears and reservations.

This is called parenting, which involves far more than ensuring a child has food and shelter. Any good babysitter can meet basic human needs; good parents create a human being. My parents confirmed my status in a 3,500-year-old community, and then gave me a basis in Jewish knowledge and family life. How could I make that decision for myself as a child? Thank G-d I didn't have to go through circumcision as an adult. By all accounts, it's a painful and much more risky operation.

Responsible parents make hard decisions. Why would a parent of any religion assume that their child would likely abandon the faith and not need to be a member? It makes no sense. It would be like a parent saying, "Well, let's not bother setting up a College Trust Fund since we don't know that he's going to go to college. We'll let him decide if he wants to start one himself when he's an adult." Now before you say, but a snipped foreskin isn't the same as a college education, both are investments toward a more fulfilled life. Good parents anticipate and create the foundation for a complete life - physical and spiritual - for their children. To do less would be an abdication of responsibility.

I'm not being sarcastic here; would the world really be a better place if everyone only looked out for themselves? This was the innovation of Judaism thousands of years ago: A covenantal relationship to a higher power, a land, and each other; a community separate and distinct, because we're not all the same, and a set of laws that were unprecedented at the time. It's easy now to dismiss this fact, because these laws have shaped the Western world, but thousands of years ago, the Jewish world was a haven of human rights in a region where child sacrifices were the norm. And every member of this society understood the responsibility to ensure the group's survival; every Jew was gladly willing to make personal sacrifices to ensure the survival of the group because the future of mankind was at stake. This was their perspective. For many, it still is.

Declaring publicly through the brit milah one's allegiance to this covenant is something we take great pride in. The covenental experience is really something difficult to describe, but I can tell you, I've never been to a brit milah where people, men and women, aren't crying. There's a lot of baggage attached to this ritual; we understand this. Through the ages, Jews have certainly died because they could be identified. It's not something that's taken lightly; just the opposite. But I know this: from the first week of my life, I belonged to this community, and it belonged to me. As long as I live, I will never be alone.


Alissa said...

Beautifully put. Yasher koach.

And having had a friend who underwent circumsion as a 30-something adult (for health reasons), I can vouch for the "risky and painful" comment.

Leah Goodman said...

oh boy. now I'm doubly sorry I didn't inform you of Ephraim's brit. (I'm really sorry)

Plus you make some seriously yummy meatloaf! thank you soooo much!

Evenewra said...

I tend to view a brit as beautiful and essential to a Jewish life, but I wonder why it is done SO publicly. I have a general objection to newborn children being exposed to the world too quickly and prefer to allow them private time with mom and dad for a number of weeks before bringing them too quickly into the public sphere. Is this my own discomfort with people?

In any case, I view my own relationship with Hashem as very personal and challenging, though essential to my happiness. It feels to me like a brit is a very personal thing to go through and might be best done in a home with just the closest family members and friends nearby, not in a shul.