Why this sharp practice for a baby boy has me on a knife-edge

MANY of you will be shocked by this confession. If my sons were to have been born today (no chance — I am no Sarah!), I would have done my utmost not to have had them circumcised.

I appreciate that this revelation will assault my Orthodox readers with the force of the recent storm in the Pacific, coincidentally and now aptly, named Cyclone Gita.

Yesterday was International Women’s Day. Yet ever since the news that Iceland was proposing to ban non-medically justified circumcision, the vociferous opinions of mainly male voices have suffused the media.

Well, of course, it is their bodies that are most intimately affected. But, surely, the women who have carried their babies for nine months in the womb and eight days in their arms should be permitted an opinion before handing their sons over to the mohel’s knife?

My opinion on the subject was neither sought nor proffered all those years ago.

Mothers tended to be protected in another room from the sight of the “ceremony” and the subsequent heartrending sound of the baby’s cry.

Unlike today’s mothers who are back on their feet and probably at work within 24 hours, we were “kimpeturin”, expected to rest for up to six weeks.

Unquestioningly, we would care for our infant sons and dutifully change the dressings as instructed by the mohel.

Much more recently, an Israeli cousin took me to visit some of her young friends who were having an afternoon tea with their babies.

It was a hot day, the toddlers were running around in the nude and I was startled to see that the little boys had been nowhere near a mohel’s blade!

My cousin explained that a minority of secular Israeli couples eschewed the ceremony, the surgery and the significance of brit milah, but that did not negate their children’s Jewish identity.

I assume that Jonathan Arkush, president of the Board of Deputies, was including his wife when he declared, on being questioned on Newsnight by Emily Maitlis: “We absolutely thought about it . . . and had no doubt that we wanted our son to be brought up in traditional Jewish values [according to] the Divine commandment in the Torah.”

If that was a joint decision — and I have no reason to doubt the word of a man who has served the community with integrity and dignity — it underlines the only justification whatsoever for brit milah.

If both parents believe that, when Abraham circumcised Isaac, he executed a Divine covenant between God and the Jewish people, then, yes, faithful Jews must surely follow suit.

The other reasons veer from the irrelevant to the sentimental.

Jonathan spoiled his admirable commitment as an observant Jew by adding, later in the interview, that he wouldn’t have wanted his son growing up and going into a changing room with other Jewish boys and being different.

Because, of course, there are those who would counter — just as irrelevantly to the discussion — that some Jewish men may have survived the Nazis had they not portrayed this mark of Judaism on their manhood.

It is claimed that Royalty is in favour of circumcision. So what!

The medical arguments have been raging for years and, as soon as one “authority” provides “incontrovertible evidence” in favour, another discovers equally “incontrovertible” research against.

Where couples are wavering — particularly in cases where one parent is not Jewish — the decision is invariably made on the unscientifically-based assertion by the father that he wants “my son to look the same as me”.

Presumably, the fathers of those Israeli toddlers I met were happy with the difference.

The strength of my feeling that brit milah should be a parental decision is nothing compared to my absolute conviction that it must not lie with government.

The outlawing of religious ritual practices often carries a sinister, racist motivation.

Be it shechita, halal, the hijab or legislation to criminalise reference to Polish involvement in the Holocaust, government intervention in ethnic or religious issues is suspect.

I hope the Icelandic proposal will be defeated. But I also hope that the voices will be heard of mothers who genuinely recoil at the prospect of brit milah for their sons.

Putting a spoke in their wheel

“BOARD of Deputies to hand out welcome to spokes-person for cycling group”, proclaimed their recent newsletter.

Board of Deputies president Jonathan Arkush has welcomed an application from a Jewish transport group to join the organisation.

The Jewish Union of Unicyclists is already thought to have gained enough support from Deputies to be admitted to the Board.

Its chairman, Esther Galgal, is known to be an advocate of a “one-wheel solution” to the UK’s transport problems.

Jonathan commented: “We are very keen to broaden out our organisation to welcome a diversity of Jewish groups, whether religious, secular or, as in this case, promoting circus skills.”

Opposition to the JUU election is expected from a number of mainstream organisations which see the move as a fundamental shift in the character of the Board of Deputies.

Jonathan added: "I know there are some JUU haters out there, but as far as I’m concerned they are just a bunch of clowns.”

I had to read this twice before the penny dropped that it was a Purim spiel.

Good to know the Board and its president have a healthy sense of humour.


© 2018 Jewish Telegraph