Circumcision does not make someone Jewish | Rebecca Wald


Israel’s High Court of Justice will hear arguments on Wednesday calling for public funding for the circumcision of all converts. The expensive procedure is currently free for Orthodox converts, but not for those seeking Reform or Conservative paths to Judaism.

Meanwhile, here in the United States, at least a few Jewish hopefuls seek to join the tribe without undergoing circumcision.

Circumcision does not “make” a Jew. Indeed, anyone born of Jewish parents is considered to belong to the Jewish people without further act. This has been an important take home message for the growing number of Jews who reject the circumcision of their infants.

Since launching Bruchim in October, our organization has sent hundreds of contacts of uncircumcised Jews around the world. Bruchim is the first and only non-profit organization whose mission is to foster the open welcome and inclusion of uncircumcised Jews in Jewish spaces of all kinds, from synagogues to summer camps and Jewish community centers. .

Questions abound

For parents of uncircumcised Jewish children, the questions abound. Where can we find a rabbi to officiate at a birth ceremony for our child who will not be circumcised? Is a specific synagogue bar mitzvah my child who is not circumcised? Should we try to keep our child’s circumcision status a secret or tell the school/camp/synagogue? Can my child be asked to leave a Jewish space if they are found to be “intact”? These are the kinds of questions we expected when we launched Bruchim – and we asked them in spades.

Questions and concerns come in through our Concierge Service, general email, and in response to a questionnaire available on the Bruchim website. So far, this questionnaire has generated more than 100 responses from Jewish people – including a number of progressive rabbis – who say they do not follow or support the tradition of circumcision. But we’re also getting requests we didn’t anticipate, many of them conversion-related.

According to traditional Jewish law, male converts must undergo Brit Milah or, if the person is already circumcised, brit dam hatafat — the ritual extraction of a drop of blood from the penis. Still, some men don’t want to be subjected to a ritual that alters, or even interacts with, their genitals. Some parents of minor converts feel the same way.

Different Circumstances, Similar Concern

In recent weeks, Bruchim has heard of an older man from the eastern seaboard of the United States who studied to convert in a conservative synagogue and who, faced with the mandate of an adult circumcision, is looking for a way to become both Jewish and avoid late surgery. There is a young man in South America who was denied conversion by even the most progressive rabbis there, unless he was circumcised. He is now looking for an “online rabbi” somewhere – anywhere – who will sponsor his conversion in the absence of circumcision. And there is a future mother who opposes circumcision. She is not Jewish, but her husband is, and fears that their future children will have to convert (and be circumcised) to be welcomed by her husband’s traditional synagogue, which only recognizes descent. matrilineal.

transformation without Brit Milah Where brit dam hatafat it is complicated. Orthodox and Conservative rabbis almost universally take a strict approach, which probably has the practical effect of discouraging the conversion of those born male. In a sense, the conversion of women is more important for these branches anyway, because they do not recognize patrilineal descent. For Jewish men who plan to marry and have children with non-Jewish women, conversion is the only way by which their future children will be recognized as Jews within the traditional framework: either the woman must convert before have children, or the child must convert.

Progressive branches of Judaism have paths of conversion without Brit Milah Where brit dam hatafat – but these paths can be difficult to find. Much depends on securing both a willing rabbi and a Jewish community open to welcoming an uncircumcised worshipper.

Different approaches

The Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association (RRA) of the United States endorses Brit Milah as a possible ritual of conversion, but gives its rabbis the freedom to decide what to demand. The RRA does not call into question the validity of the conversion without Brit Milahand its rabbis have officiated at many adult conversion ceremonies where there is no interaction with the genitalia.

The Reform movement, like the Reconstructionist, leaves the decision to individual rabbis. A Reform rabbi from the western United States, whom we contacted on behalf of a potential devotee, told us that if a man seeking conversion wants it to be recognized by the conservative movement, circumcision is obligatory. . If it doesn’t matter to the person who converts, this rabbi calls a reform beit uproar (rabbinical court) as opposed to a beit uproar with conservative colleagues.

Humanist rabbis (who are not theists) do not need any ritual. However, the membership claims they can make for those wishing to join the Jewish people are limited in their acceptance.

Still, it’s not as simple as finding a willing rabbi. The young man from South America, for example, may be able to work remotely with a progressive rabbi in the United States, but – for that rabbi to sponsor his conversion – that man will likely need to be affiliated with an inclusive Jewish community. in which to participate and experience communal Jewish practice. And that could be a tougher hurdle.

While the ethical calculation of an adult circumcision will always be different from that of a minor child, Bruchim is committed to the open welcome and inclusion of all Jews who are not (or do not wish to be) circumcised. . This mission is to help those studying for conversion find welcoming Jewish spaces where circumcision status is not a barrier to full involvement.

Rebecca Wald, JD has been advocating for the choice of circumcision in Jewish life for over 15 years. She is the managing director of Bruchim. She is also the founder of Beyond the Bris, a highly publicized Jewish voices website for those who question circumcision. She is also co-author of the ritual guide “Celebrating Brit Shalom” – a book of ceremonies for those who choose not to circumcise. Rebecca graduated with honors in English from George Washington University and earned her JD from Brooklyn Law School, where she served on the editorial board of the Brooklyn Law Review.


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