To Get on This Team, You've Got to Make the Cut
Some thoughts on ritual circumcision
BY: Nancy Cahners
I struggled with the worry that it's a form of genital mutilation. Why couldn't our forebears have picked another part of the body, such as the ears for listening or the lips for praying? Marking a penis as a sign of dedication seemed so...kinky.
During his follow-up visit, our mohel explained that the ancients were less squeamish than we about very personal matters. A quick read of Leviticus proves his point. Nor did the Israelites invent circumcision; other groups used it to celebrate male puberty and fertility. The covenant has to do with offspring--Abraham promised God that Jews would be loyal, and God promised that Jews would be numerous and possess land--so the penis seems an appropriate site. Phew! At least Father Abraham wasn't a complete sicko.
I decided to ask my son, now 16, if he had any regrets. "Of course not!" he said. Why? "Because I'm Jewish!" It was as simple as that.
He went on with a mischievous grin: "Sometimes, I wonder if Abraham was just a crazy guy hearing voices." He gave a quick shtick of Genesis 22, when Abraham invited his son Isaac to his saved-in-the-knick-of-time-sacrifice. "Not to vorry, my boychick..."
He's right. Abraham's mental health seems iffy.
But maybe--in our horror--lies the point. Abraham proved his commitment by almost sacrificing his beloved son. When we draw our infant's blood--something that strips the gears of our parental instincts--we too are showing our commitment--as well as our entitlement to God's promises.
A pact with God deserves a frightening, unsettling act. Anything less wouldn't have the same impact. Maybe we should think of circumcision as a mini-sacrifice with mammoth implications. When circumcisions became commonplace, I think we closed our eyes to its grisly nature and forgot that we were closing a deal with the Almighty.
Shouldn't someone figure out a more symbolic ritual? I celebrate Passover without actually slaughtering a lamb and painting my doorpost with its blood.
Maybe someday someone will, but until then, as my son said: We do this because that's what Jews have always done.
When I see how comfortably he accepts his Jewish connection-- including his circumcision--I find I can admit something to myself.
For reasons that can't be processed with my left hemisphere, I feel proud. With this strange and scary act, I proclaim my identity, and my children's Jewish origins are something they can see. I did something important: I passed the baton. My team is still in the game. It's as if I'm shouting to the bullies of history, "Hey! Look who's still here!"
Maybe Abraham wasn't so crazy after all.