Sunday, May 27, 2007

Jewish Identity--It's Going to Hurt

On May 22, 2007, Judy Perez wrote a story for the Chicago Tribune about young Jewish parents choosing to forgo the commandment of circumcising their sons.

By Jewish law their child is supposed to have his ceremonial circumcision performed on his 8th day of life, a procedure demanding the precision of a certified moehl, a Jew who has been trained according to Jewish law. Many less than religious Jews ask their physicians to circumcise the child at the hospital.

Moslems are also accept this rite.

My understanding is that if a Jewish boy is not circumcised according to tradition he is still a Jew, but hasn't fulfilled the commandment of having had a brit milah, meaning he has not accepted the covenant.

A boy who hasn't had a brit hasn't been properly initiated as a Jew. He's not really of the Jewish People. He's not entered the covenant as commanded by the Old Mighty (my zaideh's particular reference to the Higher Power running our programs here on Earth).

Why would this bother a blogger like me?

It's an identity issue. Did you know that there is a diagnosis , 313.82 Identity Problem, that includes group loyalty as an identity issue? I see it more often in practice as it applies to career choice, friendship patterns, and sometimes sexual orientation. Should I still be practicing another 10 years, something tells me this is going to pop up.

Parents make the decision to forgo what they hear is a painful surgical procedure. Yet not every child cries, and those who do cry stop crying almost immediately thereafter, and no one I've ever, ever talked to remembers this pain.

And, of course, these parents are making a huge assumption that the child will never, ever want to have the same sense of Jewish identity that his cousins, or perhaps even older brother has. They're assuming the child would prefer to identify with men who are technically not Jewish, not that this is bad, but it's not an ethnically cultural identity. This happens even when the father is Jewish. Very strange indeed.

And I thought cultural identity, ethnic diversity was supposed to be a good thing!

I can tell you as a therapy doc that when a person begins to search for roots, when a person begins to ask the questions, Who Am I? Who Am I Really? certain things will come to light, things like, Well, you weren't circumcised, so you're technically missing something very important if you think, actually that you're a Jew. Uh, sorry, sweetie.

Of course the Nazi's would have had no problem with that. To them an uncircumcised Jew would be a Jew, obviously. They didn't look. They wouldn't have care if your seventh cousin once removed was a Jew. They'd have killed you anyway.

So what happens when a Jewish child learns that his parents spared him the pain of circumcision (a pre-verbal memory, by the way, unlikely to be integrated in the cerebral cortex, virtually impossible to recall, and Yes I know you're going to counter that with the question, But what about body memories? So, No, I don't have an answer to that except to say that I personally don't remember having had a diaper change. Yet I'm quite sure that I did wear them for a time as a child).

I'll tell you what happens when a child who has never been circumcised decides that he would like to become a Jew, one initiated into the Jewish People as his fathers before him.

He has to have a real brit milah, a bris, a ritual circumcision, this time with the scalpel, the rabbi, the whole works, and at whatever age, perhaps he's 13, perhaps he's 30,



And to the Chicago filmmaker Eli Ungar-Sargon, who is promoting this insanity about forgoing the cut, skipping circumcision, with his documentary, Cut, all I can say is,

You really should know better, Mr. Ungar-Sargon. You should take it back, the whole thing. Tell everyone you didn't mean it. You're sorry. You have a lot on your head telling people to forgo this particular precept of Judaism. Take it back, please. Just take it back.

Such givah (rhymes with guy-duh, means conceit) such shtus (rhymes with moose, means stupidity) seriously, to think you have the right to take away a person's identity like that.



Esser Agaroth said...

B"H I'm glad you brought this our attention. From a spiritual & cultural perspective, this is just another way, albeit a radical way, to assimilate the Jewish People into increasingly domineering globalist-oriented community,...IOW, make the Jews disappear,...nothing less than finishing the Evil German's work, may God forbid.

From a Torah perspective, that should be obvious. I may chime in more later on this.

From a psychological perspective, ditto on your hypothesis of identity issues. Plus, this part of the current fad of the infantilization of men: body waxing, androgenous dress, and "reclaiming ones foreskin." The uncircumcised penis has the form of a child's, the circumcized one, that of an adult's prepared for procreative activity. The foreskin is responsible for keeping that aspect hidden.

Anonymous said...

I am in utter shock. To think there are Jews out there that are so far removed from their heritage!? I could cry at the ignorance that exists amongst the Jewish people today. If these parents (or the rabbis officiating at these ceremonies) had a clue what was behind the circumcision they would regret their decision. My only hope if that people will read this article and your blog piece on it and ask themselves a few questions. Why circumcise our kids? What is the meaning behind it? If I don't stand for this... what do I stand for?

Anonymous said...

I usually find myself nodding in agreement with you, TherapyDog, but not this time.

therapydoc said...

I'm going to assume that AuthorMomWithDogs calls me that because she likes dogs.

It's fine to disagree. We live in America.

Anonymous said...

Right on, TherapyDoc. I wrote a post about circumcision on the Huffington Post and you'd think I was advocating ritual abuse on par with Pol Pot's regime. The extremists of the "anti-circ" crowd began sending me private emails telling me what an inhuman monster I was for wanting to circumcize my male child (if I ever have one) and it got so bad I finally deleted the whole post. I would never tell these folks what to do with their own kids but they take their arguments to such an extreme that they lose all credibility. And comparisons to what is sometimes referred to as "female circumcision" are NOT valid. Oy.

PsychoToddler said...

I haven't had time to deal with this one but I do have a slightly different take on the whole issue.

I feel for you Danny. I get very nervous with people who generalize and see only extremes, and although I personally think female genital mutilation is wrong, I would be hesitant to get involved with that issue precisely because I can see alot of people making comparisons to circumcision.

Same deal with laws meant to restrict public displays of religion which are ostensibly enacted to prevent radical muslims from amassing. I see that being generalized to Jewish articles of faith like yarmulkes and head scarves (as we saw in France).

have popcorn will lurk said...

That's the last thing to go. Another branch lost.

Emy L. Nosti said...

So, you've explained what happens if they haven't been circumcised, but is there any way to convert, so to speak, if they've been circumcised outside of Jewish law? Maybe I've been misinterpreting it completely (do correct me), but it seems there are genetic, religious, and cultural components to Jewish identity, and this only affects the latter two. But if a gentile can to some extent attain the latter two (and maybe they technically can't if they've already been circumcised--that's what I'm asking), it'd seem that that'd apply to someone of Jewish lineage also.

That said, and the health benefits of circumcision aside, I very much agree with you and can see how it could introduce unnecessary pain or confusion. However, I do wonder if, being raised into a family that does not much value it, that 99/100 times they would internalize that disregard anyway (not that that's necessarily a good thing beyond indentification reasons).

therapydoc said...

Emy, it's definitely confusing and I'm not a rabbi, meaning I don't know.

I'm pretty sure that anyone who in their heart wishes to convert to Judaism can do that, but it's not at all an easy process. Plus, different groups within the religion have different hoops, and don't recognize one another's conversion, necessarily.

Until recently, there was never any question that a male had to have a proper circumcision ceremony. That was one thing that did hold us all together as a people.

frumhouse said...

When I was pregnant with my last two kids I was on an expecting moms online board with each. Whenever this controversial topic was brought up - meeeow!! The claws came out. Honestly, I was happy that the decision was out of my hands. If it was a boy, of course he would be circumcized. I never got involved in the debates.

That being said, I hated having to circumsize my boys. Out of many, KH, brisim that I have had, I never once stayed in the room for the cutting. I cringe just thinking about it.

However, honestly, the only one who had any lasting trauma was me. My boys don't remember a thing and are no worse for wear. I did know a man who converted. He was already curcumsized, and the moyel basically pricked him to draw blood (no, I did not witness the ceremony, he told me about it! :) ). It wasn't as awful as it would have been had he not been circumsized.

I suppose I can understand if people are mamesh into not doing the procedure, period. What I don't get, is why some relatives I have had to be conviced to wait 8 days to have a moyel do the circumsicion instead of the hospital doctor at birth. If you are going to circumsize anyway, why not throw in a moyel and get a 2fer? Health and hygiene issues taken care of and baby looks like dad (which I assume is why they are doing it) and also they get instant membership to the tribe.

I don't argue with folks who say it is cruel. I figure Hashem knows what he is doing. I can't argue with logic on this one, so I won't try. My reasoning is based on emunah - and I can't project my beliefs onto others. The funny thing is, many of these folks probably have no problem with tattoos or piercings in strange places or cosmetic surgery. Why this? Because it deals with the all-powerful falic? Snip it off, I say! :)

Emy L. Nosti said...

Thanks TD and FH. I wouldn't have even thought of that.

Katie Schwartz said...

I'm still on the fence about having kids, yet I am constantly hocked about these hypothetical peens I might birth and if I will circumcise them. The knee jerk response is, duh. I'm a Jew. It’s what we do.

When I think about it, the answer is still a resounding yes because I am a Jew. Also, because of the history, culture and tradition. The memories of attending, oy, so many a bris. I will never forget the pride in my grandparents and aunts and uncles eyes. From everything I’ve read about it, I also appreciate the hygienic benefits of circumcision.

My parents had three kids, two girls and one boy. My brother was circumcised. My dad remarried a shiksa goddess and they had a son together. He is not circumcised. I wanted to ask him if he missed having a peen like our dad, but that's just creepy, isn't it? His mother was vehemently against it. At first I was angry with my dad for not forcing the issue then I realized it’s really none of my business.

Ultimately everyone has to make whatever decision is best for them. But, if you are a Jew, isn’t it worth looking a little bit deeper into the cultural and historical reasons for circumcision and seriously reconsidering?

This is a great post and discussion! Thanks.

Unknown said...

Thanks for trying to jump onto this little grenade...

A few thoughts...

1. Part of what really bugs me about the Trib article in particular is Sargon suggesting that his inclination to question the practice is through a Jewish notion of question. To be sure there are (important) strains of this idea throughout our history. But in this instance it is an oversimplification. If Sargon is against the practice, far be it for me to play ultimate judge. However, such an idea also ignores that this is the fundamental act of Jewish male jewishness--I might add that it is no surprise that a Humanist congregation would sign onto this practice as they essentially forego ideas of G-d. Thus, really why would one need to make a covenant?

2. I understand the desire to ensure that children are protected and not pained, etc...but what is the lesson that this ultimately teaches? That there is no sacrifice in life? Isn't there value in knowing that there is sacrifice in this life, that being a dedicated Jew takes any number of sacrifices? There is a distinction to be made here; sacrifice does not inherently imply a negative act. Rather giving something up for either a greater good (for all) or perhaps for greater significance for the individual. Isn't that the essence of a covenant? It isn't always going to be easy, but in the end it will be of more meaning and significance.

3. The comparison to the forced mutilation of female genitalia (which beyond being painful, also negates the abilitiy for sexual pleasure) is nothing short of offensive.

4. The filmmaker also ignored the simple fact that we have both a mandate and a responsibilty to remain distinct amongst all other peoples (and I am all in favor of creative, modern and personally meaningful ways to create this distinction). It saddens me to know that one of the few lasting cultural distinguishing marks is being abandoned by some.

therapydoc said...

One thing we've learned from American Honor (see post coming right up) is that we do have to dive on the grenade but if possible, toss it back.

Thank you so much for that thoughtful response.

Nothing I've read in a long time depressed me more than that article in the Trib.

FD and I canceled that paper a few years ago, by the way, because of their positions on things Jewish/Israeli. I'm so glad we did. To have paid for that story would have been the ultimate insult.

Emy L. Nosti said...

Let's not forget the extreme dangerousness of FGM - between 15 and 55% risk of infant mortality depending on the method. Never mind the near certainty of painful, crippling, or deadly post-infancy problems. I always cringe when I hear it referred to as "female circumcision." The comparison is indeed offensive and completely absurd.

Jack Steiner said...

I have had this argument on a number of occasions. Men have accused me of not having enjoyed the full pleasure of an uncircumcised penis and women have called me a barbarian.

I cannot imagine being robbed of the opportunity to be a part of the lineage and tradition of Jewish men.

Anyway, this was a good post. Thanks.

Leah in Chicago said...

Hmmm... Left a long comment yesterday, but must have gotten the captcha wrong...

Will try to re-write in a bit...

Unknown said...

Part of what is disturbing in a subtextual sort of way is the inflamed opposition that this incurs from many people. Do we ever hear the same about young Hindu girls getting their ears pierced? Again, it is fine for individuals (particularly non-Jewish individuals) to choose not to circumsize for any number of personal reasons. It becomes a problem once those people begin a crusade to push their ideas onto others, particularly when handled in such a callous way. I can't help but think that the non-circum. advocates' scare tactics play a part in the decisions of some Jews to not have a brit milah.

therapydoc said...

See, ADAM, I think you're right! This is what is the scariest thing about this, the thought that Jews would be intimidated by this movement, stop thinking for themselves (like Jews) and will succumb to Group Think.

Group Think is very dangerous. (Now I open myself up to everyone thinks group think, and as a Jew, I think group think.)

All I can say to that, is that I trust my source, it's 5000 years old.

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh, Therapy DOC, yes, therapy dog is a compliment in my book -- a very big compliment! :)

therapydoc said...

So cool. You know, AUTH, dogs and I do get along. As long as they sit when I say Sit, stay when I say Stay, we're good.

Tracee Sioux, Sioux Ink: Soul Purpose Publishing said...


We did not circumcise our son because we are NOT Jewish. We could find no reason to circumcise a perfectly normal baby the way God made him - a Christians.

Everyone made the arguement that we should do it because everyone else was doing it. But, turns out the stats when he was born was about 50% so it just seemed like a stupid thing to do for no religious reason at all. His dad is circumcised and some cousins. But, some are not.

But, as a non-Jew I just couldn't find a reason to do it. It seemed like a blind following the blind issue for non-Jewish people.

So Sioux Me

therapydoc said...

SO, it's always a personal preference. I only bring it up as an issue for Jews. The link the the other article on this has a medical perspective on it.

Anonymous said...

I left a comment a while back and I see it did not "stay" posted.
I'm assuming it was because the owner did not like my perspective - which was never rude or hateful.
I'm assuming this comment will get "deleted" as well.
Thanks for keeping it fair and balanced!

therapydoc said...

Anonymous, I don't know what you're talking about. I posted everything I saw (unless it's still there in my mailbox from the past 24 hours, I don't use my computer on the Sabbath).

Maybe you didn't fill in the box of funny letters. Try again, please.

Anonymous said...

I don't suppose you even bothered to watch the film.

Anonymous said...

There are other Jewish points of view. Within my immediate family, the prevailing opinion is that biblical circumcision is a relatively new custom and not honestly an early part of Judaism - and most certainly not a commandment from Yhwh. Modern biblical scholars increasingly agree that the concept of Hebrew circumcision does not date back to the time of Abraham, but rather was introduced many hundreds of years later by the (now) discredited priests of Judaism as a way to scare and control their people. The stories mentioning circumcision simply do not appear in early versions of the Bible, but were clumsily woven into the text in the Babylonian period. Others may disagree about this, but for my immediate family, we are more than convinced by the scholarship.

Where there can be no doubt is that biblical circumcision referred to removing dramatically less tissue than the rabbis later demanded in the Hellenic period, so if one does believe it is a commandment dating to Genesis one also has to accept that the original circumcision removed only the overhanging tip, and the procedure had to be performed by the child's father. ONLY the child's father. Nowhere in the Bible are mohels mentioned or authorized.

In sum then, it's becoming increasingly clear that circumcision was NOT a part of early Hebrew life, but is a human invention added about halfway through our history. Its practice has also been spotty throughout Jewish societies and time periods. In my family, we believe that in order to honestly connect with our Jewish roots we must honor the original, perfect design of our bodies and the practices of our ancestors by not observing a man-made rite that is at best a false link to our forefathers, and at worst an affront to our blessed creator.

Remember, Judaism grows through research, knowledge and science and we are all encouraged to question that which we sincerely believe not to be correct.

therapydoc said...

To be honest, I for one don't think much of Biblical criticism. It is what it is, a scholarly attempt to recover information.

In my family, for several generations, perhaps as old as time, the word passed from parent to child is that the Torah is the word of G-d. My mother says this because her mother said so. Her mother said so, because her mother said so. Her mother said so because her mother said so. Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.Her mother said so because her mother said so.vHer mother said so because her mother said so. And up and up the family tree, they all said so. And we believe our mothers wouldn't lie.

But I respect your opinion. Different family. But it could be the same family. Except that in one of our families the transmission got interrupted.

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