By Nicole Neroulias
Religion News Service

Mark Kushner pulled up to the Watson family’s suburban Philadelphia home a week after the birth of their first son, Colin. In the dining room, he unpacked the tools of his trade: sterilized surgical instruments, topical anesthetic, prayer shawls and a small bottle of kosher wine.
The shawls went back into his black bag. But to Megan and Christopher Watson’s happy surprise, the mohel — pronounced “moyle,” the title for a Jewish ritual circumciser — had copies of several prayers appropriate for the Presbyterian parents to read for the occasion.

“We thank You for the miracle of human experience in the birth of our child,” they recited, as Kushner gently rocked their infant before the procedure.
Kushner, who is based in Philadelphia, and Philip Sherman, a mohel in the New York City area, say they have performed more than 30,000 circumcisions since training together in Israel in the 1970s. Most of their business comes from traditional brit milah ceremonies for 8-day-old Jewish boys. But in recent years, they have increasingly catered to Christian families who eschew a hospital procedure in favor of a $300 to $800 house call — a trend Sherman has dubbed “holistic circumcision.”
“They want their babies circumcised in the comfort of their homes surrounded by family and friends, and they want it performed by someone highly experienced, who brings spirituality and meaning to the practice,” he said. “And it’s over in 30 seconds, compared to what hospitals do, which can be from 20 to 45 minutes, with the baby strapped down.”
Many Christian clients, including the Watsons, liked what they saw at a friend’s brit milah, also known as a bris. Others are conservative Christians who want to follow Old Testament tradition, or learned about holistic circumcisions from the Internet, their doctors or word-of-mouth, Kushner said.
Yet this anecdotal rise in Christians calling on mohels comes as the U.S. circumcision rate — historically much higher than in other parts of the world — is in decline. In contrast to the 85 percent reported in 1965, just 65 percent of all male newborns in American hospitals were circumcised in 1999, according to the most recent figures from the National Hospital Discharge Survey. Reliable data on religious circumcisions outside hospitals is hard to come by.
Medical studies suggest circumcision may reduce the risk of penile cancer, urinary tract infections and HIV transmission. But since 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics has stated there is “insufficient data to recommend routine neonatal circumcision.”
Critics argue the procedure causes physical and psychological pain to a child and diminishes sexual pleasure for adults, regardless of whether the foreskin gets removed in a clinical setting by medical residents or during a brit milah among loved ones.
“It makes no difference to the child who does the cutting, or what is hanging on the wall,” said Ronald Goldman, executive director of the Circumcision Resource Center in Boston, and author of two books opposing the practice for Jews and non-Jews alike.
Goldman, who compares circumcision to removing a fingertip, believes “it’s still traumatic. It still removes a natural, healthy, functioning body part.” Many families continue the trend only because men want their sons to look like them, he added, and the women don’t feel that it’s their place to argue.
Megan Watson acknowledges that she had mixed feelings about having Colin circumcised, but deferred to her husband’s judgment. At least at home, she said, they could comfort their son throughout the process, and she could breastfeed him soon afterwards.
As Christopher Watson held his screaming baby’s legs still on the tabletop pillow, Kushner snipped the foreskin off the tiny penis. The process took less than a minute.
Afterwards, the infant’s wails surrendered to a wine-dipped cotton swab, then his mother’s breast, while Kushner relayed a list of instructions about how to care for the wound over the next three days.
A week later, with Colin completely healed, his mother said she would wholeheartedly recommend using a mohel to other non-Jewish families who want their sons circumcised.
“Everything is wonderful. We’ve been having some good sleep-filled nights; Colin’s been sleeping about four, five hours at a time,” Watson said. “He’s a pretty happy baby.”
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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