Bris Shalom: An alternative Bris ceremony for concerned Jewish parents
"My heart and flesh will sing with joy to the living God." ~Psalms 84:3
Many Jewish mothers and fathers have long recognized the painful, harmful, and dangerous aspects of the surgical procedure of circumcision. Many have wished for some alternative to traumatizing their little boy on the eighth day of his life, while still welcoming him into the Covenant of Abraham. Unlike the Bar Mitzvah, Bris Milah is not a spiritual experience for their son. Furthermore, it entails surgical pain and trauma, medical risk and long-term harm. It is a violation of their child's body and his sexual organ.
In response to these concerns, several alternative Bris ceremonies have been created which fulfill the spiritual and communal obligations of Jewish circumcision without its traumatic effects or violation of rights. These ceremonies lovingly welcome a Jewish boy into the community of Jews while maintaining his bodily integrity and his human rights.
What follows is one such alternative ceremony, and it borrows from the others. This one is based largely on the traditional Bris service and carefully maintains its integrity, devotion, and spirit, while sharing the wisdom of this modern age.
While the text of this ceremony specifically refers to a baby boy, this ceremony could, and should, be modified and applied for a Jewish baby girl.
Since the medical and hygienic merits of circumcision have been disproved, little can be found to justify its continued practice by most American Jews.
Circumcision cannot be claimed as a symbol of Jewish identity. By Jewish law, any child born of a Jewish mother is a Jew. Furthermore, Judaism did not invent circumcision. According to Ashley Montagu, a renowned anthropologist, the practice was well-established in ancient Egypt over 6,000 years ago. Muslims throughout the world also circumcise. Sixty-percent of non-Jewish boys in the United States are circumcised. Who then, can claim circumcision as either the source of Jewish identity or of its strength?
Circumcision cannot be redeemed by American Jews with medical or hygienic claims. According to Jewish law, circumcision simply cannot be justified for any reason other than as an act of faith. Circumcision performed in a hospital by a doctor does not meet the ritual standards required by Jewish law. and is therefore invalid as a Bris Milah.
In Hebrew, the foreskin of the male is called the orlah. Whenever the term orlah is used in the Tanakh, it refers to a barrier standing in the way of a beneficial result. The Tanakh refers to a person's resistance to holiness as the orlah of the heart. In Judaism, the foreskin came to symbolize all of man's barriers to holiness.
Jews have had to acknowledge that the real barriers to their faith were the ones they themselves created or perpetuated. Changing these barriers to Judaism has involved Jews changing their traditions as well as themselves. This process began over 150 years ago and continues today. Bris Milah is only one of many traditions that has changed as Jews take personal responsibility for their faith.
The Covenant between God and the Jewish people will continue after this symbolic token - circumcision - is abandoned. No one who truly understands the spiritual depth of Judaism can say otherwise. Rest assured, Judaism will continue forevermore.
It shouldn't hurt to be Jewish. No Jew has the right to blame you for following the dictates of your conscience by foregoing a bloody ritual against your son.
Relax, and rejoice in the birth of your wonderful, intact son!
The Bris Shalom Ceremony
A group of invited family and friends assemble at the parents' home for the occasion.
The honored participants, in order of appearance:
- the Jewish Leader (Chazzan) of this ceremony
- an honored guest (Sandak): often he is the grandfather or sometimes the father, a patron of the child
- the mother and father
- godfather (Kvatter): passes the baby from the godmother to the Sandak
- godmother (Kvatterin): carries the baby into the room
- the baby boy, on his eighth day of life
The Leader enters the room by himself and begins with the following passage from Genesis 22:10:
Abraham stretched forth his hand and took a knife. And the angel of the Lord called to him out of heaven, and said: ‘Abraham, Abraham!'
And Abraham said: ‘Here am I.'
And the angel said: ‘Lay not your hand upon the lad nor do anything to him.'
A procession of the other honored participants begins. The baby is brought in last.
All rise and say:
Ba-ruch Ha-bah! Blessed is the one who has come!
The Leader says:
Ba-ruch Ha-bah! Blessed is the one who has come for the Covenant on the eighth day!
Blessed are You the Lord, our God, Creator of the Universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments.
We assemble now to welcome this newborn into Your Covenant and into the community of Israel.
Each of the parents then say:
Blessed are You the Lord, our God, Creator of the Universe, who has granted us life and sustained us and permitted us to reach this season!
Blessed are You the Lord, our God, Creator of the Universe, who has commanded us to welcome our son into Your Covenant.
This child, created in Your image, is whole, complete and perfect.
We give to him Your Covenant of Peace.
The Sandak points to the chair of Elijah, and says:
This is the chair of Elijah the prophet, who is remembered as the protector of children.
The baby is passed from the godmother, to the godfather, and then to the Sandak. The Sandak now sits with him on the chair of Elijah. He says to all:
From Leviticus 19:28:
And the Lord said, ‘You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor imprint any marks upon you'.
Let this boy be happy in this world,
In the goodness of this home,
In the holiness of this place.
The parents say:
Blessed it is that we are made holy with commandments and are charged to keep the Covenant.
Blessed it is that we are made holy with commandments and are charged with welcoming our child into the Covenant of Sarah and Abraham.
As he enters into the Covenant, so may he enter
and into Happiness.
The Leader holds up a cup of wine and says:
Ba-ruch ah-ta Ah-do-nai, el-o-hey-nu mel-ach ha-o-lam, bo-rey pri ha-ga-fen.
Blessed are You the Lord, our God, Creator of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.
The Leader passes the wine to the godparents. The godparents take a drink of the wine and share it with the parents.
The Leader says:
Blessed is the way of the universe which makes children holy and beloved as their birthright, which keeps the laws of the world in our flesh, and seals our offspring with a mark of holy promise.
The parents say:
We pray that our son grow up in a world free of violence and with great joy and peace.
Blessed are all who are assembled here and who join in this holy Covenant.
The Sandak holds up the baby and says:
Give thanks to our Lord, for He is good. His kindness endures forever! This little one, may he become great! Go forth, you are perfect!
The Sandak passes the baby to the mother and father.
The godparents say:
May this child thrive with his mother and with his father.
Let his name be known among us as: __________
As he enters into the Covenant, so may he enter into Truth, into Love, and into Happiness.
The Leader says:
May the Lord bless us and keep us. May He make His countenance shine upon us, and be gracious unto us. May the Lord turn His face unto us and give us Peace.
And all say:
Great rejoicing takes place. Food and drink are served. A true reason for celebration!