Published On: Tue, Apr 26th, 2016

A New Guide to Intact Jewish Welcoming: Book Review

Celebrating Brit Shalom alternatives to circumcision book by -L-R- Lisa Braver Moss and Rebecca Wald
Review of Celebrating Brit Shalom by Lisa Braver Moss and Rebecca Wald
Rebecca Wald and Lisa Braver Moss have followed a time-honored tradition in Judaism, one followed by Rabbis, scholars,  and the Jewish people for centuries. They’ve looked at our world, the way we practice Torah, live our lives,  and proposed adjustments to accommodate a more ethical approach. The guide, titled Celebrating Brit Shalom is the first published prayer book for leaders of this new Jewish ritual. So far, the book has won good reviews from Jewish celebrants,  progressive Jews, Orthodox-raised Jewish Intactivists,  and others.A surgical, violent practice that is somewhat unquestioned in Judaism, is finally being discussed widely in the Jewish press. The subject of the book is bris ceremonies that exclude circumcision, for Jewish boys who are going to remain intact. These rituals emerged in the 1970’s and 1980’s and there are many beautiful stores about them. They are called a variety of different names, but they share in common a rejection of circumcision. Occording to one estimate, more than 1, 000 of these rituals have been done in the United States since the movement began. Moshe Rothenberg, an early Jewish leader estimates that he himself has performed more than 100 of them on the East Coast, beginning in the early 1980’s. Parents are creating a variety of rituals to name newborn Jewish boys, and Rabbis are starting to think and talk about these in new ways. Other Jewish leaders are doing so too. Among the Reform, Humanist,  and Reconstructionist movements and the non-denominational, which make up more than 75% of American Jews, acceptance of these alternatives are increasing.The writers of this guide, Lisa Braver Moss and Rebecca Wald are both fully engaged in talking about the subject among Jewish audiences, and in the Jewish media. Between the two of them, they’ve been featured in Jweekly,  the Jewish Reporter,  the Jewish Week, Jewish Business News,  Boulder Jewish News,  Tablet,  Lillith,  the Jerusalem Post,  Tikkun,  and many others. Rebecca Wald is the editor of BeyondTheBris, a blog for Jewish Intactivists, and Lisa Braver Moss is a novelist who wrote the first work of fiction about Jewish Intactivism.
 Brit Shalom
Wald and Braver Moss aren’t the first Jews to question circumcision. Jewish intellectuals Sigmund Freud and philosopher Jacques Derrida were just two fathers who kept their sons intact for these ethical reasons. Jewish scholar and historian Leonard Glick, MD, PhD, psychologist Ron Goldman, PhD,  doctor Dr. Mark Reiss, Jewish Feminist Miriam Pollack, and movie maker Eli Ungar-Sargon are just some of those who led the way. Each made fundamental steps in convincing Jews to rethink the subject. Goldman wrote the first book to talk about the subject at length, but Braver-Moss and Wald’s book is the first ritual guide for Jewish parents. A variety of important Jewish Intactivists including Ungar-Sargon,  Jonathan Friedman,  and others come from Orthodox backgrounds. Each has made fundamental steps in convincing Jews to rethink the biomedical ethics of the subject.
A Jewish Legacy of Human Rights
Jews played an active role in many of the human rights causes of our time. The civil rights movement happened and many Jews took part in the freedom rides and other acts of protest of that day. Women’s rights happened, with many Jewish women actively involved and Jewish women entered the Rabbinate. Gay rights happened, and today we have Jewish gay and lesbian clergy and marriages. Judaism evolved and improved as a result, and there are a plethora of creative responses to these issues regularly coming from a wide variety of Jewish groups, individuals, and movements. Today many among a wide range of Jewish movements are talking about social consciousness and sustainability as issues of spiritual responsibility.
Judaism evolves and expands. There was a time when the Bat-Mitzvah was a radical idea. There was a time when a female Rabbi was unthinkable to some. I remember many years ago attending high holiday services at a large reform synagogue on the East Coast and seeing for the first time a female Rabbi at the pulpit wearing a kipot and tallit. In the 1990’s, that was a rarity. Today it’s a common sight in synagogues everywhere in America. We’ve created Jewish naming rituals for baby girls, and they caught on very quickly. The Bat-Mitzvah emerged in the early 1900’s, and today even the daughters of Orthodox Rabbis celebrate some variation of it, showing that progressive movements like Reconstructionist Judaism do influence Orthodox practice. These are signs of how far we’ve come as a people in 25 years. As a people, we’ve made enormous progress correcting racism, sexism, and homophobia, and we are also in the process of addressing how issues of social justice, classism, and caring for the earth fit into Jewish practice.
Judaism and Biomedical Ethics
Wald and Braver Moss two Jewish mothers who are leading us one step farther on these issues. They are pioneers pushing us to address another issue that must be fundamentally questioned according to Jewish ethics.Their guidebook, “Celebrating Brit Shalom” is a huge step forward. With almost 150 Rabbis actively and publically doing these welcomings, they are quickly becomming a part of the Jewish mainstream. Parents looking to find a Rabbi, Cantor or other Jewish celebrant to perform a Brit Shalom, can find more than 200 of them on Dr. Mark Reiss’ list. Free of the contentious arguments on the subject, Celebrating Bris Shalom is welcoming and perfect for young Jewish families.
I especially like that the book sidesteps the contentiousness of circumcision, and directly addresses parents who choose to keep their sons intact, and want a ritual to connect them to Judiasm as well. The writers did a good job of including Jewish songs in the book, but I hoped to see more Jewish themed artwork and even images and words of Jewish families who’ve already opted for these peaceful newborn blessings. Images of families holding Brit Shalom events would greatly strengthen the book. Perhaps the next printing will contain some of these as well as more artwork.The audience for this book is clearly Jewish families rather than just Intactivists. Wald and Braver Moss’s guide is being well received in the Intactivist community, but it is also generating talk in the Jewish media. Eli Ungar-Sargon gave the book an enthusiastic review, focusing heavily on the ritual aspects of the book, in the influential Jewish magazine Tikkun. Alexander Massey, a Jewish vocal performer in the UK, also gave the book a good review.
The book is already endorsed by a variety of Rabbis from some of the progressive Jewish movements. Not everybody in every movement of Judaism is ready for this guide, but many are, and more are becoming so. This book may lead to deep connections between young, holistic, progressive, Jewish parents, and a new generation of Jews who are wrestling with and redefining the way that Jewish practice evolves.
There are many young Jewish parents active in finding their own ritual to name a Jewish son who will remain intact. This book will be a blessing for those families and their sons.

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