Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Little Peanut has a Name

Yesterday was the brit milah (circumcision) of my new nephew. They named him David! Yay! The plan is that his nickname will be Dovy, which makes me sort of wonder why not just name him Dov, but whatever. "David" is a fabulous name for a fabulously cute baby. I've seen more pictures and he's such a cookie! A little peanut!

This was the first bris in my sister's family at which there were older children who had an idea of what was going on. Ilan and Nathan watched it happen, and apparently Nathan, who is 5 years old, looked like he was about to pass out. He turned white and had to go sit down on the couch. My mother went to sit with him, and he said in his little voice "I feel hot." Poor little kid. He'll have nightmares for sure.

I remember going to the brit milah of one of my cousins. I must have been somewhere between 6 and 10 years old (I don't remember which cousin it was). They did the circumcision in a hospital, in a room that had a lounge next door for the party. There was a window between the rooms, so people could watch the brit happening, I guess for entertainment while they nosh on their pigs-in-a-blanket. Odd thought. I remember that I was too short to see through the window properly, so I sneaked into the room where they were working on the baby. One look at all those scissors and what they were doing to my cousin, and I was traumatized for life. I never forgot that row of scissors . . . . Seriously, children should be kept far away from this ceremony. If you are too young to watch horror films, you are too young to watch a bris!

Did you know that there is an anti-circumcision movement, claiming that it's barbaric to do unnecessary surgery on a baby? Thing is, circumcision is a widespread cultural ritual among non-Jews as well as a religious one for Jews. It's very ingrained, and under most circumstances, it doesn't really harm the baby. Just hurts like hell for a while.

Still, they have a point. I've done some research about this and it would be hard to claim very strongly that circumcision per se has any major health benefits. Whatever health and/or aesthetic benefits there are, surely one could wait until a child was in his teens so he could make up his own mind about whether to do this?

As for the religious aspect, there's no way to get around it. Like it or not, we have a commandment to circumcise male children when they are 8 days old. For religious Jews, the health and aesthetic considerations don't matter in the face of a Biblical commandment.

So, I'm wondering, how many Jewish families would circumcise their children if it weren't a commandment? It does seem barbaric to me. There's no logical reason to do this at all. The Torah never claims to be logical - it just is what it is. Doing a bris is such an accepted part of being a Jew, something we hold very dear. It gets a party and is supposed to be a happy occasion. Is anyone besides me bothered by the idea that, happy as it is to have a new baby and to be peforming a religious ritual, we are cutting off part of his body? Does anyone other than me think this is really, really strange at best, and more than a little macabre at worst?

I'm not saying people shouldn't do a bris. I'm just saying I think it's weird. Lots of things in Judaism are weird when you stop to think about it, and I do them anyway. But this is weird and painful. It bugs me.

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