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Q. What is a Brit Shalom? A Covenant Without Cutting

A ‘Bloodless Bris’ is Becoming Popular Among American Jews

Brit Shalom- A Covenant Without Cutting

At this Bris Shalom, the parents washed their son’s feet (Brit Rechitzah) as a symbolic sign of Jewish covenant and welcoming, rather than circumcising him. Other aspects of the service involved honoring of the parents and grandparents and giving the son his Hebrew name.

Increasingly, Jewish parents in America, Canada and Israel are skipping circumcision. Instead, they are holding alternative ceremonies sometimes called Bris Shalom or Brit B’lee Milah(covenant without cutting). Many Jews throughout Europe and the former Soviet Union stopped circumcising over 100 years ago. Already well over 130 Rabbis are performing alternative covenant ceremonies that omit the surgical circumcision. These are gaining popularity both in America and worldwide.

 

Circumcision is Needless Violence

As 21st century Jews, we are always working to adjust our lives and actions to the constantly expanding moral arc of human rights. A greater number of American, Canadian, Israeli, and Jews worldwide are beginning to question milah (the surgical circumcision) aspect of the brit. Is it wishful thinking to hope that Judaism in today’s age moves to a symbolic interpretation of circumcision, as it has already done for other violent commandments from the Torah? Jewish law is constantly evolving to expand human rights and ethical treatment of others. Jewish law regularly reinterprets violent decrees in metaphorical and symbolic ways, so as to avoid harming others. Increasingly forward thinking Jews are adopting peaceful covenant ceremonies that abolish the surgical circumcision in favor of a loving welcoming instead.

For over ten years, Mark Reiss, MD, an American Jewish doctor and co-founder of Doctors Opposing Circumcision has published a list of more than 130 Rabbis who will celebrate a bloodless Brit Shalom. Among the members on this list are Rabbis with intact grandsons and Rabbis who after decades of officiating at circumcisions, have come to the conclusion that they can no longer ethically continue. Many parents are also finding that their regular Rabbi or Cantor are happy to do so as well, even if they are not on this list. Jewish parents can find a Rabbi, or Cantor to lead a Brit without cutting on this Bris Shalom Celebrants List.

Here some of these Jewish parents share their experiences and thoughts on the development of new Jewish rituals and the morals and ethics that inspired them.

“We did not circumcise my son. Instead, we created a beautiful, gentle welcoming ceremony to celebrate his entry into the Jewish people and the world  community. Instead of a bris milah, there was a bris blee milah – a covenant without circumcision. We reinterpreted the notion of covenant to mean the commitment that we, his parents made, publicly, to bring him up with love, respect, openness, and gentleness. Friends lit candles for him and shared blessings and poems for him, some in traditional Hebrew, others specially written for the occasion. We had music, prayers, songs, dancing, and we spoke about the meanings of his names and about our decision not to circumcise him… I say this as a Jew actively involved in both cultural and religious aspects of my community. I also say it to you directly from the Jewish tradition, specifically from the Talmudic imperative of pikuach nefesh. Pikuach nefesh means the duty to save a life in any situation in which it is imperiled, whether directly by danger or serious illness, or indirectly by a condition which is not serious but cute deteriorate. It is clear to me that circumcision of an eight-day old infant is such a condition, and one could therefore make an argument from within the tradition for outlawing circumcision. The Talmud goes on to say (Hul. 10a): “One should be more particular about matters concerning life and health than about ritual observances.” It insists (Yoma 85a and b) that even the laws of the Sabbath may – indeed must be broken to give necessary medical treatment… Let us note that keeping the Sabbath is one of the ten commandments, circumcision is not.
Jewish law is not, contrary to popular misconception, set in stone. It is an evolving process which began with the early Talmudists and continues to this day, taking into account new developments in science and understanding in the secular world.”

Jenny Goodman, A Jewish Perspective on Circumcision.

 

“Twenty-five years ago my husband and I did something few Jewish parents had. We held a brit shalom ceremony for our son as opposed to a brit milah… We had a friend who was a rabbi in education, but without a pulpit. It was novel for him to do a brit without mila, but he was willing to do it and risk it. There was also a rabbi in Marin County who was known to do a brit shalom. He was known as a hippie rabbi. He also was willing to do this for us. So we had two rabbis…. My son was around eight when he learned about circumcision and the fact he is intact…. I explained to him what circumcision is, and that it was novel that he was Jewish and not circumcised because we opposed it. I don’t think he minded not being circumcised. I think he was appalled that anyone would have considered cutting off part of his penis… Being intact hasn’t stopped my son from being involved with Judaism. He had a bar mitzvah and did the whole service except for Shachrit, including a dvar Torah…. He did a year of modern Hebrew at college (that is all they offered). He currently goes to Hillel or to a local synagogue every Shabbat in Ann Arbor where he is a grad student. When he’s home he is eager to go to Torah study with us on Saturday mornings at the Reform congregation. For someone his age who was not raised as an Orthodox Jew, he is very knowledgeable about Judaism and very interested… Choosing to leave our boy intact hasn’t diminished our Jewish involvement. My husband and I belong to two congregations in Palo Alto, California. We’ve belonged to the Conservative synagogue for at least 25 years and are associate members of the Reform temple where we attend Torah study. I am a member of the Jewish Community Relations Council.”

Natalie Bivas, Choosing Brit Shalom Over Brit Milah, BeyondtheBris.com, April 24, 2012.

 

“It’s been a (long) half month since George’s birthday, birthday party and naming ceremony. The week was a little harried, a little different than I’d imagined, but in the end everything worked out beautifully. The fog lifted in San Francisco just in time for George’s aunties to make it and in the absence of challah or a mohel, my baby got his Hebrew name just the same.

When I was researching the bris shalom, I found very few resources online for parents who, like us, were trying to welcome and name their son… We found some scripts and sat down together to craft a ceremony with only the meaningful-to-us and none of the extras or concessions. The result was a short, sweet and informal gathering with babies running around, friends and family sharing well wishes, bread and honey and — most importantly — an intact baby boy with a brand-spankin’-new Hebrew name.
Here is the script. I realize this won’t be a riveting post for most people, but my hope is that someone might stumble across it while researching for their own son’s bris shalom, and find a useful bit or support for the somewhat thankless task of naming an intact Jewish boy…”

Stefanie, The Naming, Very, Very Fine, December 29, 2010.

 

 

“The Jewish opposition to circumcision was just beginning 24 years ago when my wife Yehudit and I decided to leave our newborn son intact. We were not the only Jewish parents of our generation to reject circumcision, but we were among the first.
I performed my son’s birth ceremony and it was beautiful. We called it a brit b’lee milah or “covenant without circumcision.” The gift of life came unencumbered by any cutting and joy permeated the room…

Samuel was accepted and welcomed everywhere he went, in and out of the Jewish community, and within all of the relationships we had among the different Jewish denominations, including our Orthodox Jewish friends. To my knowledge, no one ever teased Samuel while he was growing up about his being in a distinct minority as a Jew with an intact penis….

Samuel’s birth ceremony was the first that I conducted, but would not be the last. Over the past several decades, I have officiated at more than a hundred birth ceremonies for intact Jewish boys in New York City, New Jersey and Connecticut. The ceremony I have developed includes blessings associated with it being a joyous event (candle lighting and Shehechiyanu); honoring the parents and grandparents; and creating, along with the parents, a meaningful alternate ritual. Non-cutting ceremonies for Jewish boys are called by different names, including “brit b’lee milah” (covenant without cutting), “brit shalom” or “bris shalom” (covenant of peace), “brit ben” (covenant for a boy)…

Judaism has evolved through centuries. It is inevitable and right that parts of Judaism have changed. We who oppose infant circumcision believe further change is needed. Circumcision, despite its historic centrality, has to go. It is nothing short of child abuse. No parent or religious leader would ever choose to carry out or endorse such a heinous act if they held this point of view.”
Moshe Rothenberg,  Bringing a Jewish Circumcision Alternative (Brit Shalom) to New York Metro Families, Beyondthebris.com, March 17, 2012.

“For a number of reasons—personal, social, and political, Steph and I have decided not to perform a bris milah, but instead wanted to have a welcoming ceremony—a bris shalom or bris b’li milah (a ceremony without cutting). In following this part of ancient Jewish custom, we mark the beginning of our commitment to raise him in the Jewish cultural tradition… By this ceremony your mother and I formally welcome you to our world and our family. As we name you today we undertake our traditional responsibilities as your parents to take you forward into the world as we know it, to love you, to guide you, to educate you, and to cherish you. You are whole, complete, and perfect. We promise you, before our family gathered here today in your honor, to do our very best for you each and every day hereafter.”

Lar, The Bris Shalom Ceremony.

 

“When you take the religion out of circumcision, and really look at what the procedure actually involves, it is easy to see why more and more people are choosing to leave their sons intact. I thank my lucky stars for the Internet and the information it provided me on circumcision (as well as a million other mommy related questions). The Internet has allowed me to question the status quo; to find out why things are the way they are. A privilege our foremothers did not have. For me, the mere thought of giving birth to my precious baby at home without any medical intervention and then cutting off a part of his body eight days later just seemed absurd. I told myself that if G-d created my son with a foreskin, then he was going to keep it.”

Stacey Greenberg, My Son: The Little Jew with a Foreskin, Mothering Magazine.

 

“I knew we weren’t the first Jewish parents to keep our child intact; what did everyone else do? The internet provided a few examples of Bris shalom ceremonies… Since our Bris shalom, I’ve run across others in the same predicament; I’ve had conversations about whether or not we made the right choice (we did), if my son is “actually Jewish” (he is), and if we would make the same choice again (we would). The only thing I would change is my own hesitation. If there’s anything the past year and a half of parenting has taught me, it’s to trust the instincts that keep my child safe and happy.… And when our son inevitably holds us accountable, as kids seem wont to do, I look forward to saying, “We thought you were already perfect, ” rather than “It seemed like the thing to do.”

Pamela, Intact and Jewish, Natural Parents Network, July 14th, 2011.

 

“Sorry to disappoint, but that’s the end of our story. Or at least the end of the story of Zachary’s bris. There was no circumcision on that day. We had decided not to circumcise our son. Although he enters a world filled with violence, he would enter it without violence done to him. Although he will no doubt suffer many cuts and scrapes during his life, he would not bleed by our hand… We welcomed Zachary into our family on that morning without a circumcision. We decided that we want him to live in a world without violence, so we welcomed him without violence. We decided that we want him to live in world in which he is free to experience the fullness of the pleasures of his body, so we welcomed him with all his fleshy nerves intact. And we decided that we want him to live in a world in which male entitlement is a waning memory, and in which women and men are seen–in both ritual and in reality–as full equals and partners. So we welcomed him equally, his mother and I, in the time-honored way that desert cultures have always welcomed strangers to their tents: We washed his feet.”

Michael S. Kimmel, 2001. The Kindest Un-Cut. Tikkun 16(3): 43. 

25 Comments

25 Comments

  1. BerelDovLerner

    February 2, 2016 at 8:41 pm

    The best part is when the guy goes to college, gets interested in Judaism, realizes the importance of circumcision, and asks his parents “Why the @#%&$%&^! didn’t you get me circumcised when I was eight days old and it was a nothing procedure? Now it’s a big deal, much more traumatic, and recovery will interfere with my life. What the @#%$&! were you thinking?!?!?!?

  2. KevinMcGuire

    February 2, 2016 at 9:14 pm

    BerelDovLerner So parents should preemptively cut off parts of their children just in case the child decides later in life that they want to join a religion that “requires” it?

  3. acgerstl

    February 2, 2016 at 9:56 pm

    Circumcision has long been considered as of the essence of Judaism as being the sign of the covenant between God and the Jewish people.  While I strongly disagree with the parents of Jewish boys denying their child being part of such covenant I also strongly disagree with their lack of cultural sensitivity and historical awareness of the importance of circumcision in Judaism to the extent that they think it appropriate to invent a New Age ceremony to assuage their feelings of not having done the right thing. They do not understand the gravity of what they have done and their callous disrespect for Jewish tradition even if they are themselves not fully observant.

  4. KarlaGuzman

    February 2, 2016 at 11:58 pm

    A ignorant religion… Thanks to God that parents are aware of what awful is mutilate your son for stupid beliefs… Go and play in the traffic thank you.

  5. acgerstl

    February 3, 2016 at 12:10 am

    KarlaGuzman 
    It s not mutilation at all. Please see;  
     http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/sheryl-saperia/infant-circumcision-canada_b_1646749.html

    To deny this to a child is to deny his heritage for no good reason.

  6. KevinMcGuire

    February 3, 2016 at 5:04 am

    acgerstl KarlaGuzman Have you got something other than an opinion piece by a pro-cutter to back that up?

    No heritage is being denied – any person may have their genitals mutilated in whatever way they like once they become an adult.  What is being denied to boys is the right to make that choice for themselves.

  7. KevinMcGuire

    February 3, 2016 at 5:08 am

    acgerstl Many Muslims feel just as strongly about female “circumcision”.  Should we respect their “tradition” as well?

  8. KevinMcGuire

    February 3, 2016 at 5:12 am

    What a magnificent way to turn such a barbaric ritual on it’s head.  Instead of greeting your son with violence, you welcomed him to the world with love.  Bravo!

  9. acgerstl

    February 3, 2016 at 8:54 am

    KevinMcGuire acgerstl KarlaGuzman 
    No. The passing off of a New Age invented ritual as Judaism is Cultural Appropriation.  It is one thing to refuse to follow a four thousand year heritage called Judaism but something quite different to invent a new ritual and presume to be able to introduce it as part of that religion.  The referenced article to which I linked itself has references including one to a WHO report. Adult circumcision is a more involved procedure that should be done by a urologist if at all possible or a urologist should be part of the team.

  10. BerelDovLerner

    February 3, 2016 at 9:07 am

    KevinMcGuire acgerstl I
    don’t think that female “circumcision” has any real basis in Islam.
    Be that as it may, if there are parents strongly motivated by religious faith
    to have a medical professional perform a slight superficial nick lacking future
    consequences and under sterile conditions, I really don’t think the law should
    prevent them. (That would just drive the ritual underground and make an
    essentially safe practice into a dangerous one). Unfortunately, that’s not what
    female “circumcision” is usually like.

  11. acgerstl

    February 3, 2016 at 9:14 am

    KevinMcGuire acgerstl 
    No. Its not part of any form of Islam but a practice of some followers that has nothing to do with their religion and its not circumcision but mutilation meant to destroy female sexual pleasure. Circumcision certainly does not do that.

  12. BerelDovLerner

    February 3, 2016 at 9:26 am

    KevinMcGuire BerelDovLerner People
    born to Jewish families don’t “choose” to “join” the Jewish
    People any more than people born to American families choosing to become
    American citizens. And it’s not a matter of “just in case”. If the
    parents are sufficiently concerned with Jewish identity that they feel
    compelled to invent a new quasi-Jewish ritual, there is a pretty good chance
    their kid will grow up to understand the importance of circumcision.
    Circumcision is hardly the most fateful decision made by parents fro their
    children. You’ve got to get past this weird post-modern myth that every issue concerning
    a child’s identity or worldview can be placed on hold until they reach the
    drinking age.

  13. EvanGoldstein

    February 3, 2016 at 3:13 pm

    The original use of the term, “Brit Shalom” (Covenant of Peace) occurs during the wandering in the wilderness of Sinai.  God confers the title onto Pinchas for summarily executing Zimri, prince of the tribe of Shimon, for publicly flaunting his illicit relationship with Cozbi, a Midianite woman.  How strange that a term which was born in the fight against assimilation is now used to strip people of their Jewish identity.

  14. KevinMcGuire

    February 4, 2016 at 9:44 pm

    acgerstl KevinMcGuire KarlaGuzman 
    [No.]
    So you haven’t got anything but an opinion piece to back up your assertion.  Thanks for the honesty.
    [The passing off of a New Age invented ritual as Judaism is Cultural Appropriation.]
    From whom is it being appropriated?
    [It is one thing to refuse to follow a four thousand year heritage called
    Judaism but something quite different to invent a new ritual and
    presume to be able to introduce it as part of that religion.]
    Well, yes, those are in fact different things.  Why shouldn’t Jews be allowed to introduce new customs to Judaism though?
     
    [The referenced article to which I linked itself has references including one to a WHO report.]
    That report is widely disputed.
     
    [Adult circumcision is a more involved procedure that should be done by a
    urologist if at all possible or a urologist should be part of the team.]
    You don’t need any such specialists when chopping up a baby’s genitals though.  Any harm done – any unintentional harm that is – doesn’t matter because the baby is the parent’s property.  Just toss the parents some cash as compensation for their property damage and be on your way.

  15. KevinMcGuire

    February 4, 2016 at 9:59 pm

    BerelDovLerner KevinMcGuire acgerstl 
     [I
    don’t think that female “circumcision” has any real basis in Islam.]
    Tell that to Daesh.
     
    [Be that as it may, if there are parents strongly motivated by religious faith
    to have a medical professional perform a slight superficial nick lacking future
    consequences and under sterile conditions, I really don’t think the law should
    prevent them.]
    So the parent’s religious beliefs supersede the child’s right to self-determination?  Just how far are you willing to take that idea?  What, if any, limits would you place on it, and why?

    [Unfortunately, that’s not what
    female “circumcision” is usually like.]
    No, what you describe above falls into the category of type IV FGM.  The most commonly practiced form is type I – in which the prepuce (more commonly known as the clitoral hood and which is the female analogue of the male foreskin) and/or the clitoris is removed.

  16. KevinMcGuire

    February 4, 2016 at 10:18 pm

    acgerstl KevinMcGuire 
    [No. Its not part of any form of Islam]
    Tell that to Daesh.  They have ordered that all women in the Caliphate should be circumcised.

    [but a practice of some followers that has nothing to do with their religion]
    So, even if it has nothing to do with Islam, it is still an important part of those people’s culture, and who are you to stop them doing it?
    [its not circumcision but mutilation]
    A distinction without a difference.
     
    [meant to destroy female sexual pleasure. Circumcision certainly does not do that.]
    You may not be aware, but circumcision was not always widely practiced in the United States.  For a long time it was restricted exclusively to Jewish communities.  It was introduced (along with female circumcision, which failed to catch on) in the late 19th century by one John Harvey Kellogg as a method to curb masturbation, which at the time was believed linked to all sorts of ills.
    Why, I wonder, if circumcision does nothing to damage sexual pleasure, would anybody think it would have any effect on masturbatory habits?

  17. KevinMcGuire

    February 4, 2016 at 10:30 pm

    BerelDovLerner KevinMcGuire 
    [People
    born to Jewish families don’t “choose” to “join” the Jewish
    People]
    No, but they do choose to join, or not join the Jewish religion.
    [And it’s not a matter of “just in case”.]
    That is certainly what you have presented it as.
    [If the
    parents are sufficiently concerned with Jewish identity that they feel
    compelled to invent a new quasi-Jewish ritual, there is a pretty good chance
    their kid will grow up to understand the importance of circumcision.]
    In which case he will be free to have himself circumcised.  A side effect of this is that the ritual would seem to be more meaningful, as the person undergoing it would have consciously chosen to partake in it rather than being subjected to it before he was even old enough to understand the concept.
    [Circumcision is hardly the most fateful decision made by parents fro their
    children.]
    Punching you child is less severe than murdering them, so why do we make such a big deal about it?
    [You’ve got to get past this weird post-modern myth that every issue concerning
    a child’s identity or worldview can be placed on hold until they reach the
    drinking age.]
    You’ve got to get past the creepy stone age notion that children’s bodies are the property of their parents and so the parents may do whatever they like with them.

  18. KevinMcGuire

    February 4, 2016 at 10:39 pm

    EvanGoldstein 
    Who is being stripped of their Jewish identity?  These people have found a way to reconcile their Jewish faith with their own modern, non-violent values.  They are being Jewish differently than you, and YOU are trying to strip THEM of their Jewish identity.
    Hypocrite.

  19. Mac Help

    February 5, 2016 at 4:28 am

    Do any of you have distinct memories form when you were eight days old?

  20. KevinMcGuire

    February 5, 2016 at 10:58 am

    Mac Help Due to the effects of the various drugs that are used, many victims of date rape are entirely unable to remember being raped.  Is this crime also erased because the victim can’t remember it?

  21. Mac Help

    February 5, 2016 at 3:33 pm

    @Kevin – So you’re comparing circumcision to drug-induced date rape?!? Nice try. C+ for effort.

    Here’s is better track – Do parents have the right to have a pre-emptive and circumstantially appropriate medical procedure performed on their minor child without the consent of the child? [i.e. Circumcision, tonsils, appendix, adenoids)

  22. KevinMcGuire

    February 6, 2016 at 6:02 am

    Mac Help 
    [So you’re comparing circumcision to drug-induced date rape?!?]
    Ah yes, the old appeal to outrage.  That’s a classic.  Yes, I am in fact comparing circumcision to drug-induced date rape.  In both cases an injury is done to a person who is helpless to stop it, and in both cases the victim is unlikely to remember the actual occurrence of the crime.  Both even involve the genitals now that I think of it.  The only substantive difference is that society recognizes date rape for the violation that it is, while people such as yourself are still arguing that parents have the right to do as they wish with their child’s genitals – so long as that child is a boy anyway.
     [Here’s is better track – Do parents have the right to have a pre-emptive
    and circumstantially appropriate medical procedure performed on their
    minor child without the consent of the child? [i.e. Circumcision,
    tonsils, appendix, adenoids)]
    I’m afraid that I can’t even give you a C+ for this argument.  I don’t know about where you live, but here in the US the tonsils, and adenoids are not removed pre-emptively.  I suspect that a doctor who removed a healthy appendix would lose their medical license.  Imagine actually cutting into someone’s abdomen to remove healthy tissue!

  23. Mac Help

    February 6, 2016 at 3:33 pm

    @Kevin – “”’I suspect that a doctor who removed a healthy appendix would lose their medical license.  Imagine actually cutting into someone’s abdomen to remove healthy tissue!…” Actually, when I had my colon cancer removed, the surgeon also removed my very health, pink appendix at the same time. I was told it was a very common practice not only in Dallas, TX (where i reside) but in many parts of the country. Go figure.

  24. KevinMcGuire

    February 7, 2016 at 1:47 am

    Mac Help So they had already opened your abdomen to remove part of your colon, and you think that compares to opening somebody up for no reason other than to remove a healthy appendix?
    By the way, unless they informed you of what they were going to do in advance and you consented, I would still say that you have a very strong assault case against that surgeon.

  25. acgerstl

    February 8, 2016 at 4:47 am

    KevinMcGuire acgerstl KarlaGuzman 
    I was trying to explain that a circumcision done for a child is a much simpler procedure than for an adult and that notwithstanding that circumcision for a baby is simpler that there is a multi-thousand year Jewish tradition as to the latter and such is done with great care and expertise..  Nevertheless when that procedure is performed for an adult because adults are further developed anatomically, it is wise to have a urologist present..

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