Sunday, December 20, 2009

Jewish Father's Letter to His Son


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 mensch.

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 Torah 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. I believe the psychological damage and painful trauma done to you at 8 days old would be much worse than anything endured at 13, when it may be done on your own accord, if you so choose.

With love,

Your Father, Gabriel




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25 comments:

  1. I can see a lot of fathers writing letters like this after reading this one...

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  2. What a moving, beautiful, thoughtful letter. Thank you for sharing this.

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  3. What a blessed little boy to have such a thoughtful considerate Father.

    Blessings.

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  4. What a beautiful sentiment! I hope more Jewish parents follow this wisdom.

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  5. The Torah does not condone human sacrifice in anyway. Classically the episode in Torah known as the "Binding of Isaac" is understood as a test between God and Abraham and he is stopped before finishing the test. No where else is human sacrifice even discussed, except where it says not to do as the other nations do (which is understood, in part as a reference to human sacrifice).

    Additionally Brit Shalom is found in the bible but refers to a covenant between God and Pinchas after he spears the Israelite Zimri through the stomach.

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  6. Thank you so much for this beautiful and thoughtful letter. We chose a Brit Shalom for our son as well, but I could never have found such beautiful words to express all of the reasons for that choice. When my son is old enough for us to explain our choice to him, I will also read him your letter because it is such an eloquent expression of all the reasons to leave our Jewish sons whole.

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  7. ‎'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.'

    This should be our mantra. (I need one tonight. OMMMM.)

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  8. I am going to reference this beautiful letter when we write our own, this is awesome.

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  9. "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."

    Beautiful!! & as it should be for all babies!

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  10. Andrea von SchoeningMarch 11, 2011 4:27 PM

    What a beautiful, beautiful letter to your son! I find it all the more powerful as it is written by his thoughtful, loving, circumcised father! It is a beautiful gift to give your son more than you were given yourself.
    Your words - "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." - made me weep. Even as an intact woman, I did not receive this. Thank you for sharing, thank you for doing the research and following your heart, and thank you for loving your son from such a deep place!

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  11. Wow this made me cry and I am not Jewish or circumcised.

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  12. I LOVED this line "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"
    Elijah is blessed to have you as his father.

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  13. Wow this is a very powerful message!! Thanks for sharing. :o) From a Mommy & Daddy who kept there son whole. <3<3<3

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  14. I am not Jewish, but everything that this Father said is exactly how I feel about it!! I did not have my son circumcised, he was perfect when he was born and he still is, every inch of him. I also said that I would not cause the trauma that would incur upon doing this, that if he feels the need to have it done when he is old enough to understand what it is that will be happening then I will support him in his decision...HIS decision! "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"

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  15. What a beautiful letter, it had me in tears. Blessings to you both and may your journey through this life be a beautiful one.

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  16. I love this. Just love it.

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  17. I have to say that as a Jewish father who just feels he made one of the worst mistakes of his life in having his infant son circumcised, this letter says it all. You made the right decision and I'm proud that you did it. I just wish we all had more information before doing these things rather than assuming that professionals and those who went before us are right. They are not. In a strange way, circumcising my son has also caused me to look back at my own life and think about how it may have been different. Though none of us can ever really know the answer to that question, there is no doubt that we would probably "have been better off without it". I think science has now proved the point and it is startling and terrifying that the American Academy of Paediatrics still somehow sees "the weight of the evidence in favour of circumcision". This is a bald-faced lie and an attempt to treat people and infants like statistics without real evidence to back it up. I can tell you now that if I do have another son, there is no chance on earth that he will be circumcised now that I know what I know. Thanks for your heartfelt letter Gabriel and expressing what most of us really feel. Peace to you and your family.

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  18. roger desmoulinsJanuary 12, 2013 4:44 AM

    Sir, you have the courage to reveal that you are Jewish, you had your own son circumcised, and you deeply regret the fact. You are made of very strong and stern stuff. I could learn much from you. As for your future sons, I hope the mother of your children agrees with you.

    In my view, the highest essence of Judaism is summarised by the Hebrew phrase tikkun olam. And to ask "why in the hell do you gentiles do that to your sons??" is to further tikkun olam.

    We intactivists are NOT calling for Judaism to abandon circumcision. What should be abandoned is circumcision as a rite of passage done very shortly after birth at the behest of the parents. Circumcision done in one's 20s, of one's own free will, remains rich in meaning.

    Sir, speak the truth. Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes. Even if you find yourself crying afterwards. For if no one speaks out, how will humanity move forward?

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  19. Please see this letter to a Jewish publication from a man whose father made the same decision many years ago. http://www.jewishcircumcision.org/calijbulletin1985.htm

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  20. It is so important that Gabriel emphasized that circumcision itself is not the Jewish covenant with God, but merely an outward sign. The covenant was that the Hebrews to keep a specific set of laws in return for the Creator's protection and good graces. It is a contract. Not a demand to disfigure.

    It also matters a great deal that circumcision has been kneaded, twisted, extended and otherwise morphed over many centuries into what it is today. The modern bris milah, moreso a hospital circumcision, almost surely bears little resemblance to what our early ancestors may have practiced.

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  21. A brave father. Well done, I'm sure your son will love you for that.

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