Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The Spiritual Cut

Generally when a person has to announce what percentage Jew they are it's pretty safe to assume they're going to follow up with a definition of Jewishness that flies in the face of the classic definition.  They'll then add some secular liberal terms to try and convince their listeners that their new definition is absolutely legitimate and conforms to "real" Jewish values. 
The latest area this seems to be happening in is circumcision.  Not that this is much of a surprise, mind you.  We already have Jews who don't see a problem with not observing Shabbos, or eating bread on Pesach while insisting they are great Jews with no need for improvement except in areas like environmental awareness and recycling.  Yet it seems more emtional when circumcision is attacked by Jews.  After all, the Midrash tells us that any mitzvah Jews have kept despite oppression is beloved by them and the fact that until recently circumcision was practised nearly universally amongst our brethern, even those with a minimal connection to our eternal faith, was proof of this. 
Now, it seems, western liberal enlightment and religious revisionism has caught up with this sacred practice.  As this piece from The National Post notes (like I needed to see this at breakfast on Shabbos!!), circumcision is now being questioned by increasing numbers of Jews who are simultaneously redefining Judaism so that their refusal to bring their sons into the covenant of Avraham Avinu, a"h, is of no consequence:
Rebecca Wald is “100% Jewish.” She celebrates the high holidays, her children attend Hebrew school, she lights candles on the sabbath and she was married to a “100% Jewish” man under a chuppah at a traditional Jewish wedding.

But unlike most Jews, from the most secular to the ultra-orthodox, she did not circumcise her son. She has never attended — will never attend — a bris, the age-old ceremony where a Jew trained in circumcision (a ‘mohel’) removes the foreskin of an eight-day-old Jewish boy as a sign of his covenant with God.
“All of the babies I saw growing up — whether cousins or the kids I babysat — were circumcised, and it seemed like that was the way things were supposed to be,” said Ms. Wald, who in December launched Beyond the Bris, a website for Jews who question circumcision. “It took having a son, who is intact, for me to really accept how normal [the uncircumcised penis] is.”
The South Florida mom is among a growing and vocal minority of Jewish “intactivists” who are challenging the 4,000-year-old ritual because, they say, the procedure inflicts unnecessary pain without any health gains, causes long-term psychological harm, hinders sexual function and pleasure, and strikes at the core of consent. They say there are Jewish women who silently pray they will not bear a son, and that the question, ‘When’s the bris?’ is too presumptive.
Ms. Wald has not yet told her young son about her decision — she did not want to disclose his age. “Like many Jewish parents of intact sons, we’re not thrilled to publicly discuss the status of our own children’s sex organs,” she said — but said she assumes he will “at some point” learn about it.
“I imagine he’s going to be thankful that we spared him from this mutilation,” said Ms. Wald, adding that had she been born a boy, her “forward-thinking” parents would not have circumcised her.
What strikes me most of all from this article is the absolute selfishness of the parents who are refusing to do what any Jew should without hesitation.  They hide it with self-righteous platitudes but at the core this is selfishness.
What favour is Ms. Wald doing her son?  She must assume that he will want to remain non-religious all his life, that like her his connection with Judaism will be limited to a piece of matzah on Pesach and some latkes on Purim... wait - Channukah.  The idea that he might one day meet a religious Jew and be inspired to take up the practices of our nation, or that a visit to Israel might return him to the Torah community, simply does not occur to her.  In fact I would wager that she would be offended by such a life choice were her son to make it. 
But imagine that the unimaginable happens and this boy starts to become frum.  Then one day it comes out.  Someone mentions the famous Rashi from the story of the rape of Dinah, the one where the brothers insist the people of Shechem circumcize themselves because a foreskin is a disgrace to a Jew.  Perhaps it'll be after he's developed a relationship with a religious girl and the story of how his parents were "intactivists" comes out.  Suddenly he'll ask the question and the difficult answer will come: Boychik, you've gotta get circumcised.
Certainly there is no arguing with the enemies of circumcision.  Point out the growing body of medical literature showing health benefits and they say "Feh!" much like global warmers do when confronted with evidence that the Earth isn't actually getting warmer.  Far better to condescendingly dismiss opposition when you don't have the right comeback.  But all this does is expose their ignorance of Judaism:
They say neither they nor their sons are any less connected to God — or any less Jewish — than Jews who choose to circumcise.
“If the Jewish identity comes down to whether or not you have a piece of skin on your penis, then that’s a very sad thing for the Jewish people,” Ms. Wald said, pointing out that a child is Jewish if he or she is born to a Jewish mother.
“There are no religious consequences of not being circumcised — the boy could still have a bar mitzvah, for example,” echoed Eli Ungar-Sargon, the Jewish filmmaker whose tour starts in Los Angeles in September, with stops in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver in October. “The consequences are imagined and invented. They’re not actual.”
First of all, much to Ms. Wald's disappointment, her sons are less connected to God and are less Jewish.  Sorry but that's the way it is.  Yes, it seems strange that a man dressed in a black suit and hat who cheats, steals and adulters is a member in better standing than a decent man with a foreskin but good intentions alone do not a Jew make.  Without the circumcision the Jew is on the outside.  It is not a sad thing but a statement about our most precious beliefs, something we have been willing to die for over the millenia.
If Judaism was a religion that was limited to simply rituals with no deeper spiritual significance these ignoramuses might be right.  Judaism knows of spirituality deep enough to allow us to connect to the Master of the Universe.  Everything we do, even those seemingly physical routines, create a spiritual effect for good or bad that reverberates all the way to the highest level of Heaven.  The consequences are not imagined or invented, they are quite real for those whose spiritual antennae have not been dulled by too much fresh bacon at Saturday morning breakfast on the way to the mall. 
There is no other way to see this than to declare that these people are removed themselves from the Jewish nation and fooling themselves when they say otherwise.


SJ said...

On the flipside one can suggest that the orthodox removed themselves from jewish society since the orthodox are a minority of a minority. ;D

Anonymous said...

The Curmudgeonly Israeli Giyoret says:

Oh wow, thanks, Mom. None of the men in my life, including my non-Jewish brother, claim to miss their foreskin in any way, nor do they feel they suffer from any, er, deficit. (Besides having a female relative or spouse who asks strange questions)

JRKmommy said...

Dh and some friends had to listen to me venting about the National Post.

What were the editors thinking? They put a non-story like this, with shoddy writing, on the front page complete with big picture of a Mogen clamp. Was it a slow news day? No, it wasn't. There had just been a big terror attack in Israel, Assad continued to terrorize Syria, fighting continued in Libya, etc.

I'm no big fan of the Toronto Star, but I question the Jewish community's love affair with the National Post. When it comes to Jewish issues NOT related to Israel, the Post actually seems quicker to attack traditional Jewish practices.

I realize that writers have deadlines and aren't experts, but this article just wasn't written well. Don't say that a movement is "growing" without providing some stats. Don't accept statements about there being no religious ramifications at face value. It's not hard to pick up a phone and speak to a rabbi. A nice counterpoint to the comment by the mom that she was "sure" that her son would thank her would have been to speak to a man who had a bris as an adult - as was the case for many from the former Soviet Union. Mentioning current positions would have been a nice touch as well - the AAP doesn't view a circ as "violence", and studies by Taddio et al have shown that some traditional Jewish practices like using a Mogen instead of Gomco clamp significantly reduce pain.

Bob Miller said...

Too many Jews these days have no direct personal experience with normative Torah Judaism or its loyal adherents.

MIghty Garnel Ironheart said...

The National Post might be right wing when it comes to politics in general, hence its support for Israel which makes it popular in the Jewish community, but on social issues it's definitely centre-left. now it so happens the majority of identifying Jews outside the Orthodox community happen to share this particular orientation and for Orthodox Jews who have Zionist leanings it's a great change from the Toronto Der Streum... I mean, Star.

JRKmommy said...

It's more than that. I don't necessarily think that it's a centre-left paper on social issues in general - the Star is still to the left of it when it comes to Canadian political issues, and when it comes to local Toronto coverage, the Star will be covering homelessness while the Post has photos from galas.

The National Post is the more "Jewish" paper though, compared to the Star, so it devotes more coverage to Jewish issues in general, whether or not those issues are actually newsworthy to the general public. Their writers and editors include more Jews, but they aren't particularly religious. The Star's coverage of non-Israel Jewish issues isn't as frequent, and it's from a more respectful distance.