https://opensiddur.org/?p=8323Zekher Milah, a different tack on Brit milah & Brit banot by Rabbi Arthur Waskow2014-01-06 09:53:15For a number of reasons, some medical, some psychological, some spiritual, some communal-traditional, I <em>support</em> and <em>urge</em> male circumcision. When couples have come to me and despite my advice are adamant in refusing to do it with a boy-child, AND/OR if they ask my advice about a brit/ covenant ceremony for a girl -- I urge them to follow what I've proposed below.Textthe Open Siddur ProjectArthur WaskowArthur Waskowthe Shalom Centerhttps://opensiddur.org/copyright-policy/Arthur Waskowhttps://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/Brit Milah & Simḥat Batברית britRenewalPnai Or
Elijah’s Chair (from the Jewish Encyclopedia 1906, vol. 5)
For a number of reasons, some medical, some psychological, some spiritual, some communal-traditional, I support and urge male circumcision.
When couples have come to me and despite my advice are adamant in refusing to do it with a boy-child, AND/OR if they ask my advice about a brit/ covenant ceremony for a girl — I urge them to follow what I’ve proposed below.
Parts of my proposal owe a good deal to what my son David Waskow and his wife Ketura Persellin did to enrich the covenanting ceremony for their children, which is described in Phyllis’ and my book on the Jewish life-cycle, A Time for Every Purpose Under Heaven (pp. 28-31), along with our own comments. But there are also some important differences between what they did and our/my own suggestions in the book and since then — suggestions for which they are not responsible.
Shalom, salaam, sohl; paz, peace! — Arthur
Covenanting/naming/welcoming ceremony on the 8th day of the child’s life (whether a girl or boy)
Place a ceremonial knife on the table where the baby is brought;
Lift the knife and say:
“Zekher Milah, in memory of circumcision of the body and in honoring the tradition that goes back for hundreds of generations to Abraham and Sarah, and then through Yitsḥaḳ into the Jewish people, and goes back for hundreds of generations to Avraham and Hagar, and then through Yishmael into our cousins the Arab and Muslim peoples, I lift this knife to touch —
As you speak each passage, DO touch the child where indicated, gently:
Your ears: May you always be open to hearing the pains and joys and truths of others (and quote Jeremiah 6:10):
And Moshe said before haShem: ‘Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips, and how shall Pharaoh hearken unto me?’
Your genitals: May you take deep pleasure in your body from this moment forward as you grow into adulthood, and may you give rise to future generations; (and quote the passages on Avraham’s circumcisions of himself and his sons, Genesis 17:9-13, 23-27, and 21:2-4):
And Elohim said: `Rather, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son; and you shall call his name Yitsḥaḳ; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his seed after him.
And as for Yishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation.
But My covenant will I establish with Yitsḥaḳ, whom Sarah shall bear unto you at this set time in the next year.’
And Avraham took Yishmael his son, and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Avraham’s house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the selfsame day, as Elohim had said unto him.
And Avraham was ninety years old and nine, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.
And Yishmael his son was thirteen years old, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.
And all the men of his house, those born in the house, and those bought with money of a foreigner, were circumcised with him.
And Sarah conceived, and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.
And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac.
And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.
Your heart: May you open your heart to all humanity and all beings who live upon our planet (and quote Deuteronomy 10:16 and 30:6):
And haShem your G!d will circumcise your heart, and the heart of your seed, to love haShem your G!d with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.
and may we take on together the task of Eliyah the Prophet, to turn the hearts of the parents to the children and the hearts of the children to the parents lest the Earth be utterly destroyed (and quote Malakhi 3:23-24):
Behold, I will send you Eliyah the prophet Before the coming of the great and terrible day of haShem.
And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, And the heart of the children to their fathers; Lest I come and smite the land with utter destruction. Behold, I will send you Eliyah the prophet Before the coming of the great and terrible day of haShem.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow is the director of The Shalom Center. In 2013, Rabbi Waskow received T’ruah’s first Lifetime Achievement Award as a “Human Rights Hero.” His chapter, “Jewish Environmental Ethics: Adam and Adamah,” appears in Oxford Handbook of Jewish Ethics and Morality (Dorff & Crane, eds.; Oxford Univ. Press, 2013). Rabbi Waskow is the author of 22 books including Godwrestling, Seasons of Our Joy (JPS, 2012), and Down-to-Earth Judaism: Food, Money, Sex, and the Rest of Life. With Sister Joan Chittister and Murshid Saadi Shakur Chisht he co-authored The Tent of Abraham: Stories of Hope and Peace for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and with with Rabbi Phyllis Berman wrote Freedom Journeys: Exodus & Wilderness Across Millennia (Jewish Lts, 2011). He edited Torah of the Earth (two volumes, eco-Jewish thought from earliest Torah to our own generation). These pioneering books on eco-Judaism are available at discount from “Shouk Shalom,” The Shalom center's online bookstore.
Founded by Arthur Waskow, the Shalom Center equips activists and spiritual leaders with awareness and skills needed to lead in shaping a transformed and transformative Judaism that can help create a world of peace, justice, healing for the earth, and respect for the interconnectedness of all life.
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ויהי נעם אדני אלהינו עלינו ומעשה ידינו כוננה עלינו ומעשה ידינו כוננהו "May the pleasantness of אדֹני our elo’ah be upon us; may our handiwork be established for us — our handiwork, may it be established." –Psalms 90:17
2 comments to Zekher Milah, a different tack on Brit milah & Brit banot by Rabbi Arthur Waskow
A comment thread has begun on this post in the Open Siddur Project discussion group on Facebook (link).
Over on the comment thread in our Open Siddur discussion group on Facebook, Arthur Waskow replied:
I think there are three different, though linked, issues here:
What is a mitzvah?
In my view, the mitzvot change in accord with God’s Will in different situations and through profound changes in human history — and may also be different for the different Faces of God emblazoned on diverse human faces. (Said the Rabbis, “When Caesar stamps his image on a coin, all the coins come out identical; when the Holy One places the Divine Image on a coin [i.e. a human being] all the coins come out unique.”)
For example, it used to be understood by practically all Jews and still is by some, that it is a mitzvah to separate women and men at prayer. For me, and now for a strong majority of the Jewish people, that is an aveirah — not a mitzvah.
For me, it remains a mitzvah to carry out circumcision as brit for a baby boy. But when someone has sought my advice and is adamant — note, adamant! — about refusing to do it, not for the sake of the child’s passing as not Jewish (if that were it, they would not be talking with me at all) but for the sake of not causing pain to a child who cannot decide for himself — then I accept that for this parent, milah is no longer a mitzvah but is trumped by the mitzvah not to cause pain to an innocent and defenseless person — so that actual milah becomes an aveirah in that person’s eyes.
What shall I do? Throw the parent out the door, and sever an important thread of connection to the Jewish people and Torah?
No, I try to devise a covenanting ceremony that will affirm and strengthen the connection — the covenant.
2. Why the knife?
The words of the ceremony I suggested can be done without the knife’s being present. It has considerable power that way. And the words about foreskinned ear, mouth, and heart can be quoted from Tanakh without the knife, even if a boy-baby is being physically circumcised. (That is what the parental couple I originally cited actually did.)
I introduced the notion of the knife precisely to cause a shiver of awe, even of fear, and to echo — zecher — milah itself for people who won’t do it physically. That honors and accepts the brit and the connection with Avraham, Sarah, Yitzchak — and Avraham, Hagar, Yishmael! — for people who are open to renewing the brit without the blood. You might think about how the Prophet Micah — despite Torah, despite living in a time when the Temple still stood and bull-offerings were quite possible — says it is OK— even necessary — to substitute the offering of our lips for the offering of bulls, and the way in which Rambam asserts that the animal offerings were at one point necessary to educate us but now we have grown up enough to go beyond them — and the way in which our liturgy indeed asserts that davvening is l’zecher korbanot.
It seems to me that the knife makes the “memory” far more real than the words alone. I want the shiver. But for anyone for whom this is TOO real, OK: words about ear, mouth, heart with no knife. For those who say the knife means “discomfort” with no “benefit” — that is, no fulfillment of the mitzvah — I say, having no knife present greatly lessens or eliminates the discomfort but still with — in the eyes for whom the mitzvah requires actual cutting — no benefit. I want the “discomfort,” and I believe that for the adamant no-cut parents, the ceremony does fulfill the mitzvah. (The boy can always choose differently when he grows up.)
3. The knife and girl-babies. Here one of the critics becomes almost hysterical — “appalled” — about gently touching the knife to a girl’s genitals, evidently (so he says) for fear this will legitimate the genital mutilation of girls in some societies. But he ignores the point that genital mutilation actually is anti-sexual, actually uses the knife, actually closes or almost closes the genitals — whereas the symbolism I suggest invoking is exactly the opposite. This whole thing is based around the REFUSAL to do physical circumcision, uses the symbolism of opening the genitals as well mouth, ears, & heart, and uses words that are explicitly PRO-sexual, pro-pleasure. The notion that anyone who is living in a society where genital mutilation of girls is widespread but who has doubts about it would be persuaded by this ceremony that it is OK seems to me a fantasy.
It might conceivably be more realistic to fear that the use of this ceremony, even among the tiny minority of Jews who might prefer it, could strengthen the arguments of those non-Jewish authorities who want to ban circumcision as cruelty to children. It is the conviction of some Jews that it IS cruelty to children that might strengthen such authorities. Would having no ceremony strengthen this current among officialdom less than having the ceremony I describe? Would having the ceremony bind the parents more fully to the Jewish community and to keeping circumcision legal for the sake of Jews who wanted it, more than having no ceremony? I don’t know.
(Historical fact: In Poland after World War I, when the atheist, anti-religious Yiddishe Arbeiter Bund was strong in the Jewish community, when its members did not turn a hair about eating cheese and ham on rye during Yom Kippur, the Bund fought against laws forbidding shechita (ritual slaughter). Their solidarity with other Jews and their right to choose naarishkeit (foolishness) trumped their hostility to God and kashrut.)
I think our differences come down to the degree of respect we differently accord to individual choice spoken by the diverse faces of God, and to whether we sense that the mitzvot are in flux, the will of the Holy One Whose name is Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, I Will be Who I Will Be, is in flux. If it may be, we should circumcise our ears, open our hearts, to hear those among us who cry out for a new path of Judaism.