September 17, 2005
To my dear son Elijah,
I write this letter to explain to you and my family & community why I choose not to perform a circumcision upon you. On your 8th day of life, I choose to have a Brit Shalom ceremony instead of a Brit Milah. The Brit Shalom ceremony is a ceremony acknowledging one’s covenant with God without performing the ritual circumcision.
As a Jewish boy I was circumcised according to tradition when I was 8 days old, but not by my choice. I am choosing not to circumcise you my son because after studying this important issue, I can find no compelling reason to do it, and in my heart I will not do it simply because tradition dictates it.
The essence of the bris ceremony to me is that I want to make a covenant with God and you in my heart. The covenant I make with God is to commit myself to a spiritual life, to develop myself as a spiritual being, and that I will walk on this planet with a good heart. I am a Jew and I am proud of who I am. My son, I commit to raising you up as a spiritual being, and as a Jew. I will guide you to develop values of loving kindness. I will encourage you to develop as a spiritual being, and I will teach you about the importance of being considerate and respectful of all living beings. I will also encourage you to be self-reflective, and to explore the deeper meanings and mysteries of life, the hidden truths behind the veil. I believe you have come to this earth with a big mission for healing and touching others through your service.
To fulfill this covenant, I do not need to perform a circumcision and mark you as a sign of this covenant. The covenant stands with or without the sign that by tradition mandates it. The sign is a sign and not the covenant itself.
I intend to give you the opportunity to bar mitzvah when you are 13, and we will celebrate and honor the Shabbat, as well as other sacred Jewish rituals in our lives. We will learn about the power of restriction and extending help to others. We will learn about being a mench.
Let me tell you my reasoning behind making this choice. There are many practices of olden days that were sanctioned by the torah that are no longer permitted today because we are more enlightened, such as: human sacrifice, animal sacrifice, and slavery. Other acts that were punishable by death include fornicating if you are female (yes only the females), homosexuality, and insulting one’s parents. These traditions no longer exist.
I suspect something has been misunderstood in the transmission of the circumcision ritual through the ages. I have read that in earlier times, only a sliver of the foreskin was removed. It was not completely cut as common practice until the second century CE. I do not know this for sure, but nothing is known for sure about this. Apparently the earliest versions of the Jewish bible tell the entire story of Abraham except the part about the covenant being sealed with circumcision. That comes later. There is mention that it was done for health reasons. I have heard that when the Jewish people lived in the desert long ago there was not much water, and that created a danger with regards to cleanliness. In this day and age that is not a compelling reason to circumcise you. I have also read that the circumcision is a mark upon us that marks us as different. Today in the United States, circumcision is the norm for all males, Jews and gentiles alike. Today, it is not a mark as a Jew.
I believe that the act of circumcision would be a traumatic event for you my child. I believe that it would form an early record in your body of the trauma and would color and distort your perceptions throughout your life. I have heard it said that the pain is brief and easily recovered from. I don’t believe this. I believe the circumcision will be a deep trauma for you, as you are such a highly sensitive being. I believe that you would begin experiencing life through the eyes of the trauma, feeling defended and contracted, moving with fear and distrust. I do believe that experiencing trauma is a part of life, and healing through trauma is a part of how we evolve as a species. I am choosing not to voluntarily offer this trauma to you when you are so young, so vulnerable and so trusting as you form the matrix of your life. I want you to experience life in these early days as trusting and feeling protected and safe. Traumas will come to you later and beyond my control, but I intend this to be after you have already experienced that you can trust your parents not to hurt you on purpose.
I have come into this life charged to question the deeper purpose behind what I do. I will not circumcise you my son only because it is tradition. The reasons that I have been given supporting circumcision do not move me, they do not compel me to perform this ritual. Rather my concern for your well being is much greater.
Modern medical science says that a circumcised male is more healthy than a male with an intact foreskin. Modern medical science also told us the tonsils were not important and took mine out. Now I understand the tonsils to be a very important part of my immune system, that I no longer have. The appendix is still considered a useless organ. I don’t believe the creator gave us an appendix without reason. My understanding of today is that the appendix aids in finer digestion of our food. As regards to the foreskin, we have been told that it has no purpose. As I have read about the anatomy and physiology of the foreskin, actually it has many important functions. The foreskin is the most sensitive area of the penis, akin to the clitoris of a woman, and it also functions as a protective lubricating sheath for the penis.
When I examined my own penis once I began studying this issue, I found that the area where I have a scar where the foreskin was, is still the most sensitive area of my penis, yet I know that scar tissue does not have the same sensation capacity as original tissue, nor the elasticity of the original. I have wondered what I would have been like without a circumcision, and I think I would have been better off without it. I want to give you the gift of choice.
Many Jewish people today make choices about which Jewish laws and rituals they will follow or not follow. There is much discussion about these choices that we make- whether we will eat pork or not, will we keep separate dishes for dairy and meat dishes as we should not mix meat and dairy. Shall we keep kosher? Do we observe Shabbat? How closely do we follow the customs of observing all the restriction on certain holidays such as Yom Kippur. Of the many customs that are not adhered to in our times, the one that seems to be sacrosanct and unquestioned is the circumcision. Why is this ritual so primary to the Jewish identity?
I forgo pork, I do not mix meat and cheese, I celebrate and honor Shabbat as a very special holiday each week where we light the candles each week and acknowledge our connection with spirit as a family. I especially revel in the New Year of Rosh Hashanah as a time of inner reflection, and I embrace the restrictions on Yom Kippur and the insights I gain through this process of fasting, forgiving and letting go of the past. At the time of Passover, I am fascinated by the meaning and relevancy of the story as it applies to my life today. I celebrate my spirituality in these ways and share them with my family. I declare that I identify myself proudly as a Jew and yet I am choosing to not circumcise you, my son. I will look into my heart and follow my gut.
A passage I read by Ronald Goldman resonated with me, “A central purpose of Judaism is tikkun olam, repairing the world. Much of the pain in the world is a result of repeating old harmful patterns of behaviors. By breaking a chain of pain, forgoing circumcision contributes to our healing. As we heal from this pain, we will be better able to heal others and reach our ethical and spiritual potential.”
So my son, you can choose for yourself to be circumcised when you come of age if it is important to you. And yes, it will be much more physically painful at 13 to be circumcised, and it is a much longer recovery period than it would be as an infant, but I believe the psychological damage done to you at 8 days old would be much worse than the physical pain endured at 13, when it may be done by your choice.
With love, your father, Gabriel