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Less than 2 Days to Fund "Celebrating Brit Shalom"

Beyond the Bris - July 30, 2014 - 12:24pm
Books gifted to U.S. rabbis will be matched!Non-circumcising Jewish families will now be able to have a beautiful prayer book of alternative bris ceremonies, thanks our successful Kickstarter campaign. The campaign wraps up at 6:00 A.M. Friday—so it's not too late to help us reach our stretch goal of getting our book to U.S. rabbis.

An anonymous donor likes our idea of gifting the book to rabbis and synagogue libraries so much that he has agreed to match all pledges book-for-book from now until the end of the campaign! We have three options for gifting the book (1, 4, and 10 copies) as well as other backer rewards. Help us send a clear message that today's Jewish families are celebrating brit shalom! Funding above our goal will also go to added publicity, e-commerce start-up, and many other endeavors.

Help us show the world just how many people support Jewish ritual choice for families, like mine, that have opted not to circumcise. Please make the last hours of our campaign count by boosting our backer numbers! You can raise our numbers with as little as a $1 pledge and your name doesn't have to be public—just choose an unidentifiable Kickstarter profile name if you wish to be anonymous.          

Meanwhile, the forthcoming "Celebrating Brit Shalom" continues to make news. Recent press includes "A New Alternative to Jewish Circumcision," (Ozy, June 29.) Jewish circumcision critic Brian Levitt wore his "Celebrating Brit Shalom" t-shirt during a Huffington Post Live segment on men who resent their circumcision (June 28). My own op/ed "Considering Brit Shalom?" appeared in the Boulder Jewish News (July 22). Co-author Lisa Braver Moss and I have just returned from Genital Autonomy 2014 where we spoke about our upcoming book to an audience of fellow activists, the public and reporters.  

As our campaign draws to a close, we look forward to keeping you in the loop with future news about "Celebrating Brit Shalom" and the broader Jewish movement to question circumcision. A deep and heartfelt thanks to all who have backed us with pledges large and small. 
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Kickstarter Campaign for Brit Shalom Book Funded!

Beyond the Bris - July 15, 2014 - 11:50am
By Lisa Braver Moss and Rebecca Wald

We have wonderful news to report! Celebrating Brit Shalom is fully funded and will be available this fall. We look forward to finalizing the book and music, getting rewards to backers, and making the book and songs widely available to meet the ceremonial needs of Jewish families opting out of circumcision.

Each and every one of your contributions represents a step in the right direction for humanity, and we are so grateful. All children deserve a peaceful welcome into the world, and that’s what Celebrating Brit Shalom is all about.

In the Jewish tradition, Elijah is considered to be the angel protector of children. We would like to take this moment to specially recognize our “Elijah backers” thus far—those whose extreme generosity has pushed us over the top before our funding deadline.

So far, our Elijah backers include Brian Levitt, The Barefoot Intactivist, Doctors Opposing Circumcision, T. Campbell Jackson, George Vuckovic of Tilted Planet, and Olivier Zimmermann of Intact Switzerland. Together, these backers are responsible for more than 50% of our funding to date.

Now that we’ve met our Kickstarter goal, we have the opportunity to move into the “stretch funding” phase of our campaign. Meeting our initial goal means the project will go forward. Stretch funding—which can be raised through Kickstarter through July 31st—will help to ensure that Celebrating Brit Shalom is seen by the widest possible audience.

To this end, we’ve added a new reward. For a $180 pledge (“ten chai”) we will send a copy of our book to 10 different rabbis or other officiants from our carefully compiled list. We will only send a book to those officiants whom we’ve contacted first, and who really want a copy. If you have particular officiants in mind, please let us know.

Many of our other rewards are still in place, so please continue to feel free to back us at any level you like. We are deeply grateful for your ongoing support.

We are so excited about being able to put this book and music out into the world!
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Kickstarter Update: "Tablet" Article, Two New Glick Books Added

Beyond the Bris - July 11, 2014 - 1:29pm
By Lisa Braver Moss and Rebecca Wald

Hello! We are so thrilled by the excitement and support that our forthcoming book, Celebrating Brit Shalom, is generating. A few days ago, Tablet Magazine published a long feature article about alternatives to Jewish circumcision—and our Kickstarter campaign was prominently mentioned.

On June 26, Lisa wrote a wonderful piece for the Huffington Post about brit shalom families. And Dr. Mark Reiss has just returned from Israel, where he connected with many Humanist rabbis there who are willing to perform brit shalom—a connection that was made after one of those rabbis found our project and reached out to us! Dr. Reiss' Celebrants of Brit Shalom list now has 200 officiants—12 of whom are in Israel.

In two weeks we'll be heading to Boulder, Colorado for the Genital Autonomy 2014 conference, where Lisa will be speaking about non-circumcising families in the Jewish community and Rebecca will be speaking about this web site. Additionally, Lisa and Rebecca will be presenting together about the Celebrating Brit Shalom book and song project. We'll be sharing greater detail about the ceremonies we plan to include in the book, as well as playing a sneak-peak of the songs.

As of today, we're 64% funded. We have $2,884 left to raise to fund our all-or-nothing campaign—so if you've been meaning to back us but just haven't gotten around to it yet, please don't delay. To help our efforts, cultural anthropologist Leonard B. Glick has just donated two signed copies of his wonderful book, Marked In Your Flesh (Oxford University Press 2005)—and we've added them as rewards at the $60 level. We'll also include a copy of Celebrating Brit Shalom and the songs, when they're released in the fall.

For those of you on Facebook, when you come across news about our project, please "Share" liberally. (Of course, feel free to spread the word first as well.) A Facebook "Share" can be priceless, with its power to let new people know about the Jewish movement to question circumcision. Thanks so much for your support!
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Bris Without Cutting Officiant List Tops 200

Beyond the Bris - July 11, 2014 - 3:34am
The movement to name newborn Jewish boys without the surgery of circumcision has reached a milestone—200 celebrants (officiants) are available to perform the ceremony. More than 120 of these are rabbis.

Called brit shalom (Hebrew for covenant of peace), this alternative naming ceremony may correspond in most ways with traditional brit milah, except that there is no cutting of the baby.
"They're especially happy ceremonies, for that reason," says Mark Reiss, M.D.

For 14 years, Dr. Reiss, of San Francisco, has been recruiting celebrants of brit shalom for his web page. He estimates
that 300-500 boys are welcomed into their U.S. Jewish communities with brit shalom ceremonies every year. Most U.S. states, several Canadian provinces, and other countries are represented on the list. Twelve of the celebrants are in Israel.

"The celebrants include rabbis, cantors and other lay leaders, who need not reject circumcision themselves, but want to accommodate parents who do. New celebrants are always welcome," says Dr. Reiss. 

Those who wish to contact Dr. Reiss to add their name to the list of celebrants, or to learn more about brit shalom, may do so by phone (415) 647-2687 or by email at 
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Genital Autonomy Symposium 2014

Beyond the Bris - July 10, 2014 - 12:10pm
The 13th International Symposium on Genital Autonomy and Children’s Rights, “Whole Bodies, Whole Selves: Activating Social Change,” will be hosted at the University of Colorado—Boulder on July 24-26, 2014.
The Symposium focuses on interdisciplinary dialogue about the often controversial topic of genital cutting practices of male, female, and intersex children, and on strategies for protecting children from unnecessary genital alteration.

The Symposium features speakers from around the world, including the U.S., Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, Israel, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, and Liberia. Included are experts in healthcare law, bioethics, midwifery, pediatrics, medicine, psychology and psychotherapy, sociology, anthropology, religion, intersex advocacy, foreskin restoration, and children’s rights. 

Beyond the Bris is pleased to report that seven of its contributing writers will be presenting at the conference. Ron Goldman will be speaking about the psychology of circumcision; Jennifer Margulis will be speaking about the business of circumcision; Lisa Braver Moss will be speaking about non-circumcising families in the Jewish community; Eran Sedah will be speaking (via Skype) about the anti-circumcision movement in Israel; Dr. Richard Schwartzman will be speaking about unconscious cruelty—the emotions behind genital cutting; Rebecca Wald will be speaking about Beyond the Bris; and Francelle Wax will be screening an excerpt from her forthcoming film.     
These Symposia have taken place every other year since 1989, alternating between the United States and a location abroad. They are an important forum for advancing knowledge and thought on these issues, and for connecting people in the Genital Autonomy Movement from all over the world.

The 13th International Symposium on Genital Autonomy and Children’s Rights is sponsored by The National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers (USA), Intact America (USA), Genital Autonomy (UK and Australia), and the Sexpo Foundation (Finland). It is locally organized by NOCIRC of Colorado.
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A Beautiful Brit Shalom in America

Beyond the Bris - July 5, 2014 - 10:21am
Courtesy of Amira Gaynor
"When we planned this Brit Shalom for our son, we struggled to find appropriate Jewish content for the ceremony. It was difficult to figure out which content honored the Jewish tradition of welcoming a Jewish boy to the community without honoring/performing the circumcision. Having a Jewish resource to guide the ceremony would have been a valuable resource. I wish "Celebrating Brit Shalom" had been available four years ago!" 
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Thank G-d, It's a Girl

Beyond the Bris - July 4, 2014 - 1:15am
I was not scared of labor and delivery; in fact, I was looking forward to it. I had a great team of supporters (husband, doctor, a doula), was prepared to labor using hypnobirthing, and really excited to meet our little one. I was, however, utterly terrified of a piece of paper, tucked inside an envelope with three simple words on an index card: It's a ____.

I was 22 weeks pregnant, sitting in my OB's office as her assistant checked my vitals and my husband waited patiently in the hallway. I'd had—and would continue to have—an easy pregnancy: no morning sickness, good energy, strong test results. Until a few weeks prior, the biggest issue was whether I should buy stock in a cheese company (I really craved dairy throughout my first two trimesters). That was, up until the bris discussion, originally between the two actual parents-to-be, spilled over to our families and led to some very difficult, eye-opening discussions.

The "Great Cutting Debate " started long before I got pregnant. At some point in 2009, I read a story about a Jewish couple with a new baby boy; the mom learned from a friend that a circumcision was not only unnecessary but considered barbaric by an increasing number of Americans, most foreigners, and several international health organizations. Ever the curious researcher, and since I had never considered anything other than doing a circumcision if I had a boy later in life, I looked into it. Reflecting back now, a quick Google search was just the first domino falling.  

My husband knew early on in our pregnancy that I felt very strongly about not performing a circumcision if we had a boy; but it was a hypothetical question until we were expecting a baby. At that point, I distilled my argument down into three key areas: moral, medical, and religious.

Morally, I said, it is not our right to remove a part of someone's body without his consent, unless there is a true medical need.

Medically, I continued, literature points to the foreskin as having truly healthful benefits and removing it is totally unnecessary.

Religiously, I concluded, I have a hard time rationalizing cutting a baby because "that's what we've always done" with, "Yeah, but we ate shrimp the other night...while watching a movie...on Shabbat." I may not be the most religious of Jews, and I do treasure our culture and traditions, but have a hard time with picking and choosing what I want from a buffet of Jewish customs.

Also, it should be noted that these are surface arguments; there are countless more points, many backed by extensive research.

Back to our pregnancy, the dialogue stayed between the two of us until the questions started coming from family around Week 16. They started out as normal questions but turned, quickly.

"Are you going to find out the gender?""No, I think we are going to wait and be surprised.""So, if it's a boy, we'll wait until Day 6 or 7 and then fly into Miami so we can be there for the bris.""Um, I'm not sure what we're going to do regarding a bris; we are...undecided.""What do you mean 'undecided'? We'll come in, do the bris, see the will be great!"

The words "bris" and "great" do not belong in the same sentence. Besides that, though, I didn't know what to say; my husband and I were still conversing and had not come to any conclusions about what we would do (well, I had; I was encouraging my husband to continue researching on his own until he felt comfortable with my stance). The conversation stalled until after I had my anatomy scan at Week 18 and asked the tech to not tell us the gender.

A few weeks later, while relaxing with family on vacation, the topic reemerged with a vengeance. Knowing that parents were getting a little suspicious, we had decided in advance to be a little more honest about our ongoing dialogue. By this point, my husband was getting more comfortable with the idea of leaving a hypothetical son intact and truly recognized how strongly I felt. I loved him—and still do—for that. We had already endured a number of challenging conversations up to this point; I just didn't know how tough it would get. I'll spare you, kind reader, from the details but will tell you it was...discouraging. For every rational and well-researched point (so I felt), the responses were infuriating:

"I know things were different back when you guys were having kids but the research today is so strong in indicating that a foreskin has a true function—I just can't justify making that kind of decision for a baby."

"You have to make all kind of decisions for a baby; are you going to let the child pick where you live and where he goes to school?"

"Medical research proves there is a function of the foreskin; I'd really like to keep it intact unless there is a true reason to remove it."

"I don't care how much 'medical research' you show me; I'd still do it and you should too."

"I understand there is a 5,000 year-old tradition of us doing this as Jews but we don't feel that we can pick and choose customs like that. We're not very religious; why THIS custom? It doesn't feel right."

"You are going to create so many problems for this boy; he is going to be made fun of and no one will date him."


That visit resulted in several more tough conversations, a trail of tears, and distraught parents-to-be. I felt as strong as ever about not doing a circumcision but saw myself wavering as I witnessed my husband suffer from the Gumby effect: he felt pulled in so many directions and simply didn't know what to do.

I started to think of different options: Could we do a little pin-prick to get a drop of blood and leave it at that? What about doing a circumcision in the hospital with lots of anesthesia? Can we wait until he is 13 and then let him make his own decision? 

We decided to speak with rabbis, hoping to get some religious guidance. Two rabbis said they were happy they themselves never had to make the decision. One tried to tell us that doctors recommend it (clergy, please stick with what you know; this was beyond incorrect). Another said he would support our decision but still recommends it as he feels he should. Needless to say, we still felt very stuck.

At some point in this process, I took countless hours from life to continue researching the topic, speaking with people, and tracking my sources. The Internet, it seems, is overflowing with articles, research, support groups, guidance, and an array of people hoping to educate, help, deter you from circumcising. Some of these organizations quickly became my solace from the storm of controversy that I had inadvertently created.

Chief among these was—and still is—Beyond the Bris. As a practicing Jew, I felt especially drawn to this particular site as it provides extensive resources to Jewish readers and I felt that several of the contributors truly understood our struggle. There are other options out there and countless people to support parents struggling with this decision. As such, I urge such parents to look, research, contemplate, discuss, and, truthfully, struggle. 

In many ways, when faced with the latest research (and a dose of common sense), choosing not to circumcise can be an easy decision. That said, when others are jumping into the fray, the conversation can become bogged down with emotions, judgments, frustrations, and anger. You can arm yourself with rational, well-thought points that are often lost but please continue questioning, discussing, and ultimately making a decision that is right for you. I should also mention that though I am happy to discuss the topic with friends who are interested to learn more about circumcision, I also respect their individual decisions to have their own infant boys circumcised; each parent needs to do what is best for him/her.   

Back to that fateful day in the doctor's office, I finally mustered the courage to open that envelope and face the truth. I had promised myself ahead of time that if it was a girl, I would continue down my own road of questioning circumcision, even if it were unnecessary. Years from now, I can tell my daughter about that time, that promise, and she'll know I kept it. Maybe she will have a brother and maybe she won't but I am proud to call myself a Jewish intactivist.

Emily Kapit, mom to Hali Reese (and dog-ter Shaina), lives in South Florida with her husband. When she is not reading to or playing with Hali and Shaina, she runs a career advisory firm. She is happy to discuss any crunchy parenting topic with anyone who will listen. She doesn't recall when or how she actually became so crunchy but loves it anyway.

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Circumcision Not Matter for Rabbinical Courts, Israel's High Court Rules

Beyond the Bris - June 29, 2014 - 1:42pm
Israeli Mother Opposes Circumcision for Young Son
Today Israel’s High Court of Justice issued an unprecedented ruling—rabbinical courts in that country no longer have the authority to determine whether boys will be circumcised should divorcing parents disagree on the matter.
The 6-1 vote in favor of stripping the rabbinical court’s power, means the disputed circumcision of a child is no longer a divorce issue. To the extent that such issues arise, they will now be handled in family court and will be subject to a best-interests-of-the-child test.

The matter came to the High Court of Justice after a rabbinical court ordered a then one-year-old boy to be circumcised as part of a divorce proceeding. His mother, pictured above, is opposed to circumcision due to the pain of the procedure and it’s potential for complications.

Following today's ruling the mother stated: “Social pressure is no reason to force cutting my son’s body as nature, the universe naturally created him.”

This case has implications far beyond circumcision. It means that rabbinical courts in Israel have lost a degree of power; however, the decision comes as no surprise to lawyers there. Last December Carmel Shalev, an Israeli ethicist and human rights lawyer, told Beyond the Bris that the High Court of Justice would likely rule that the rabbinical court didn’t have the authority to force anyone to perform a circumcision.
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Brit Shalom Families—Where's the Controversy

Beyond the Bris - June 27, 2014 - 10:25pm
"You know I love you, Lisa, but about circumcision — well, can't we just agree to disagree?"

As a Jewish woman who opposes circumcision, I often get this kind of conversational preempt from friends and family. It's an occupational hazard of writing about such a highly-charged topic: people seem to think I'm looking for a fight.

In truth, I'm exhausted by the litany of pros and cons. Circumcision causes pain (just look at this list of benefits!). Foreskin tissue is erogenous (circumcision is more hygienic!). It's unethical to make this decision for an infant (parents have to make decisions about their children's health all the time!). And on and on -- a veritable Wimbleton of volleys back and forth, each of which is but a few Google clicks away from support or refutation.

How I'd love for us to change the conversation so that instead of arguing points, we focus on the Jewish families who struggle to navigate their way through this complex issue.

Clearly, families who say yes to circumcision will have support from the community. But what happens to those who decide to keep their sons "intact" (i.e., not to circumcise them)?

One would think these nonconformists might be shunned for turning their backs on a practice so deeply ingrained in the Jewish psyche. But evidence suggests that such families are accepted in, and integrated into, Jewish settings. Indeed, as I reported in a recent article in j. weekly, Reform rabbis say these families are welcome in their synagogues, preschools and bar mitzvah classes.

The problem is, many Jewish families choosing not to circumcise don't realize they're welcome. That's because from the get-go, many such parents would rather not brave a conversation with someone they think might give them grief about their decision.

"Jewish parents deciding against circumcision frequently will not call their local rabbi for a brit shalom [covenant of peace] ceremony," says Dr. Mark Reiss, referring to a ceremony often used by families opting out of circumcision. "They will intuitively feel that they probably will get an argument." Reiss maintains a list of rabbis, cantors and lay leaders willing to perform brit shalom ceremonies on a freelance basis.

While there are congregational rabbis on Reiss's list, there are also many pulpit rabbis who aren't on the list, but who will perform brit shalom and similar ceremonies if asked. Through such a ceremony, the baby is brought into the ancient Abrahamic covenant and given his Hebrew name.

But why would parents initiate contact with a synagogue for this service when they could find a local freelancer from Reiss's list, or do a ceremony themselves? Or -- why not skip the ceremony altogether?

A recent Pew study on Jewish demographics tells us that less than a third of American Jews today belong to a synagogue. Some Reform and other liberal congregations, well aware of the anemic numbers, have been working hard to bring members in by sending a message of inclusion to the community. These institutions openly welcome and celebrate the diversity of modern Judaism: single-parent families, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews, Jews of color, Jews with disabilities and interfaith families.

I'd like to see synagogues reach out similarly to families who decide not to circumcise. But how? They can't very well advertise "All penises welcome!" on their websites. This is a delicate matter. The language, though public, would need to convey respect for privacy and carry no connotation of judgment about the family's choice. A misstep could be damaging to the child's self-esteem and trust in Jewish institutions as he grows.

I propose we adopt the term "brit shalom families." While not all of the families hold such ceremonies, it's a close-enough description — and far-enough removed from language that could seem squirmy. ("Non-circumcising families"? Ick.)

Why reach out to brit shalom families? Well, because they represent an untapped source of Jewish participation, and they're at a perfect stage of their lives at which to consider synagogue affiliation. They're young. There's preschool ahead, and religious school, and bar mitzvah, and teen programs. There's community to be a part of.

Like it or not, in the contemporary American landscape, identification as Jewish has become optional. Families need a reason to turn toward Judaism. We should be sending a clear message of inclusion to all families, regardless of their sons' circumcision status.

That's why I think the laudable efforts that Jewish institutions are currently making to reach out to Jewish minorities should be augmented to include outreach to brit shalom families.

Let's stop arguing the pros and cons of circumcision. Let's start welcoming brit shalom families as we're welcoming all other Jewish minorities.

Really, where's the controversy?

Lisa Braver Moss is co-author of the forthcoming book Celebrating Brit Shalom and the author of the novel The Measure of His Grief. Her work has appeared in the Huffington Post, Tikkun and Parents. This article first appeared in The Huffington Post and is reprinted here with the author's permission. 
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Circumcision Is Best, But Families Opting Out Should Be Embraced—An Interview With Conservative Rabbi Joshua Ratner

Beyond the Bris - June 25, 2014 - 1:22pm
"Jewish families who want to be part of congregational Judaism—whether or not their sons have been circumcised—should be not only included in Jewish life but embraced!"
Rabbi Joshua RatnerBeyond the Bris: Can you talk a little about your background? What branch of Judaism are you associated with? 
Rabbi Ratner: I grew up in a warm, loving Jewish home in San Diego. I attended Conservative and later Orthodox Day School but never thought I would become a rabbi. I was a huge fan of the TV shows "LA Law" and "Perry Mason" and assumed I would someday become a lawyer. I left home for Columbia University and there found myself fascinated by the study of different cultures and religions. I wound up graduating with a degree in comparative religion and spent some time after college studying in Israel. Nevertheless, I continued with my plan to become a lawyer and wound up practicing law—first in New York, and later in Connecticut—for about five years.

Beyond the Bris: What inspired you to leave law and become a rabbi?

Rabbi Ratner: I found myself constantly struggling between my spiritual and my professional needs; at work, I would yearn for the chance to engage intellectually in the study of Jewish texts and wish that my daytime felt more meaningful; and when I had time for Judaism, on the weekends and over the holidays, I was either exhausted or worried about the work I knew was lurking around the corner. I also realized that the work I was doing, day in and day out, was not the kind of justice-seeking that brought me to law in the first place. Over time I realized that, by becoming a rabbi, I could engage in advocacy for causes I cared about and not have to choose between my religious and work aspirations.
Beyond the Bris: Why did you seek training in the Conservative branch of Judaism?

Rabbi Ratner: I chose to seek ordination from the Conservative Movement because it was where I felt most at home. I was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2012, worked as the rabbi of a small congregation in Cheshire, CT, and now serve as director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater New Haven. This provides me with a fantastic opportunity to engage in the interplay between Judaism, public policy and American culture.

Beyond the Bris: Here at Beyond the Bris we typically focus on the Jewish objection to circumcision—but after reading your recent essay about why you favor the practice, I decided to reach out to you. My feeling is that both sides (Jewish people for and against circumcision) have something to learn from each other, and I’d like to see us engaging in more open dialogue. I’m so glad that when we connected you felt similarly! There are many arguments to be made on both sides of the infant circumcision debate. As someone who favors circumcision—if you had to pick just one reason for doing it—what holds the most sway for you and why?

Rabbi Ratner: First, I want to thank you for providing space at Beyond the Bris for individuals like myself to discuss why we continue to support infant circumcision as a Jewish ritual. If I had to pick one reason, it would be the power of ritual to connect countless generations of Jews to one another and to a unique covenantal relationship with God. While this is true of many practices, perhaps none encapsulates the linking of covenant and inter-generational engagement as much as circumcision because brit milah (circumcision) is the biblical sign of covenantal acceptance. As a Conservative Jew, I also embrace modernity and am willing to override this presumption of tradition when necessary. But in the case of circumcision, I have not seen sufficient scientific evidence of harm, or other compelling reasons, to warrant the abrogation of circumcision.

Beyond the Bris: As a practice, what do you feel infant circumcision has done for the Jewish people in a positive way? Also, do you favor infant circumcision for all children, Jews and non-Jews alike? Why or why not?

Rabbi Ratner: I feel that Jewish circumcision provides a tangible, visceral connection with our history as a people and with the ongoing covenantal relationship with God that began with Abraham millennia ago. Even during times of rampant persecution, when evidence of circumcision could lead to torture and death, Jews continued to circumcise their sons. There is something incredibly powerful about being part of this religious and cultural legacy and being able to impart it to the next generation. Today, as the practice of Judaism has grown more diffuse, circumcision also serves as a great unifier of world Jewry: regardless of whether one is Reform or Orthodox, from the United States or Russia, rich or poor, circumcision is a ritual which all can do.

Because I am not a doctor, I do not feel qualified to render an opinion as to whether non-Jews should be circumcised. There does appear to be considerable evidence, however, that infant boys born in areas of widespread HIV infection do benefit substantially from circumcision.

Beyond the Bris: The pendulum has swung back and forth when it comes to the health benefits of circumcision. If, one day, the consensus in the American medical establishment changes and circumcision is seen as being detrimental to health, would you still support circumcision for Jewish children?

Rabbi Ratner: I disagree that the pendulum has swung back and forth when it comes to the health benefits of circumcision. The American Academy of Pediatrics continues to support the health benefits of circumcision (and in fact has grown more supportive of the practice in recent years). So long as the medical evidence does not demonstrate conclusively that circumcision is detrimental to health, I will continue advocating for Jewish boys to be circumcised.

Beyond the Bris: Some Jewish families are deciding to hold welcoming ceremonies for baby boys that won’t be circumcised. Many of these families want to be part of congregational Judaism, have their sons bar mitzvahed, and so on. Can and should these families be included in Jewish life? Why or why not?

Rabbi Ratner: Yes, any Jewish families who want to be part of congregational Judaism—whether or not their sons have been circumcised—should be not only included in Jewish life but embraced! We all approach Judaism from our unique perspectives, and in our engagement with Judaism find a multitude of forms of religious expression. The decision not to observe a mitzvah, even one as symbolically important as brit milah, should not be grounds for exclusion.
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Bris Without Circumcision—With Your Help, Coming Soon to a Rabbi Near You!

Beyond the Bris - June 24, 2014 - 1:08pm

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if every rabbi and Jewish congregation in the U.S. had a guidebook about Brit Shalom—the emerging ritual to welcome newborn boys into the Jewish faith without circumcision? It's certainly a worthwhile goal, and now you can help to make this a reality. 
We’ve just added two VERY SPECIAL new rewards to our Kickstarter campaign. For a $20 pledge, we’ll send a copy of our forthcoming book, “Celebrating Brit Shalom,” to a rabbi or congregation library. For a $75 pledge, we’ll be able to send the book to FOUR rabbis and/or congregations!

If you have a particular officiant or Temple that you’d like to share our book with, let us know and we’ll make it happen. Otherwise, we’ll select a lucky rabbi from our thoughtfully compiled master list.

Our Kickstarter campaign got off to a roaring start. Just 48-hours into our launch and we were nearly 40% funded. However our good beginning only took us so far. We are currently one week into our campaign and things have slowed considerably. We still need to raise more than 50% of our goal. That means we are a LONG way off. Some might say at this point: “Give it up!” “Admit defeat!” “Pack up your book and song project and go home!”

Well, here at Beyond the Bris, overcoming seemingly insurmountable challenges is nothing new. If we can be a catalyst for evolving a 5000 year-old Jewish tradition, I think we can do anything. But we can’t do it alone.

Now with the addition of two new and important rewards—and at a crucial point in our time-limited campaign—there is no better time to visit our Kickstarter campaign and become a backer!
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Improving Conversation on Jewish Circumcision

Beyond the Bris - June 22, 2014 - 10:36am

Infant circumcision is a highly charged topic—add in the element of religion and it's a potential powder keg. Yet the movement to end the non-therapeutic sexual cutting of children depends on thoughtful and respectful conversation. Saving Our Sons is wonderful grassroots organization that educates the public about the harms of infant circumcision. Beyond the Bris is so thankful to them for publishing a guest post by Rebecca Wald, Talking Jewish Circumcision (Especially When You Aren't Jewish).
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A Wonderful "Misadventure"—Brian Leaf's Newest Yogi Book

Beyond the Bris - June 20, 2014 - 1:23pm

I recently discovered author Brian Leaf and I’m so glad I did. He is the voice of my generation of naturally-minded parents. He is caring, sensible, smart and funny. I’d like to think that if our paths had crossed, we would be friends.

Leaf is an accomplished writer with 12 books already to his credit, including two humorous biographies. He’s also a frequent blogger. I’ve just read his second biography, Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi (2014). It’s really, really good. That means a lot to me on a personal level. Now that I have three kids, I rarely get to sit down with a book. When I do, I have high hopes since this may be the only book I get to read for the next year—or decade—given that my youngest is still an infant. Thanks, Brian, for not letting me down!

With humor, honesty and insight, Brian Leaf shares his parenting journey, in the hope that ours might be improved as a consequence. Although not a parenting primer, per se, the book offers sensible strategies for dealing with many of the thorniest parenting challenges faced by neurotic Jews. Which isn’t to say that goyim reading this book won’t appreciate it, but my sense is that to really understand and love this book you might have to be Jewish. And from the East Coast. And upper middle class. And born in the early 1970s. And crunchy. And neurotic.

For example, Leaf takes on the issue of car seats. Sure we all know what a pain they are to install and uninstall, and how disgusting it is to clean rotting banana out of their cracks. But until reading Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi, I thought I was alone in my oppressive guilt believing that confining my babies to them would block their chi, cause lasting emotional damage, and necessitate many hours (and dollars) of craniosacral therapy.

I think I’ve spent more hours of my life over the past decade standing by the side of the road “bupping a baby,” or nursing a baby in the driver’s seat while pulled over, than I’ve spent sleeping. I just Googled “bupping a baby.” I can’t find it anywhere but it’s part of my vernacular. It means to bounce a baby on your shoulder while simultaneously patting it’s back and saying “Sha, sha, sha.” Who knows, maybe it has Yiddish roots?

Brian Leaf also brings his perceptivity and comedy to a range of other parenting topics, from birthing classes to breastfeeding, infant circumcision to managing discipline issues in older children. His research is thorough and his approach—to get in tune with your kid and to be present in the moment—is so sensible, and yet so easy to overlook in the chaos of modern parenting.

Leaf is very skilled at breaking down theories and making them comprehensible. No doubt this is why he’s been so successful as a writer of standardized test preparation books. In Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi, Leaf summarizes the best parenting approaches from gurus that include among others Dr. Spock (he was actually a righteous dude), William and Martha Sears, Larry Cohen, Alfie Kohn, and Adele Faber. Leaf proudly points out that the last three are “from the tribe” (Jewish).

Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi also reveals much about Brian Leaf as second-generation American Jew. Leaf has relinquished much of what has served for so long to connect and identify Jewish people. It started when his father changed the family name from Lifschutz (pronounced lif-shits) to Leaf (and one can certainly understand why). Leaf and his wife (who isn’t Jewish) were married by “an environmentally conscious half-Jewish yoga teacher.” Christmas and Hanukah have blended together in the Leaf household such that, one Christmas, their son Noah asks Santa for a giant dreidel. Leaf and his wife also rejected circumcision their boys.

While Brian Leaf could be a case-in-point from Alan Dershowitz’s book The Vanishing American Jew (1997) (and that, I think, is a bit sad) Leaf makes the point that the heart of Jewishness runs deep. He writes: “I don’t attend synagogue much these days. But, still, I consider myself Jewish. There’s no doubt about that. And it’s more than the latkes, potato kugel, and hamantaschen that I make for my boys. I am Jewish not strictly in a religious sense but in the deep appreciation and awe of love and family and children that my dad and mom and grandparents have instilled in me. It is this sense of Judaism that I most aspire to pass along to my own children.”

With regard to circumcision Leaf concludes: “Ironically, for me, the decision actually did come down to God. I trust her, and I don’t think she designed the human body with a throwaway foreskin, like an Old Navy tag we’re supposed to remove before wearing. I think the body is holy and magical and perfect as is.”

Such a strong stance against circumcision has earned Leaf the honor of being named Intact America’s Intactivist of the Month for June 2014—a fitting honor in time for Father’s Day for such a loving and thoughtful dad.

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Kickstarter campaign launches for first-ever book on “brit shalom,” an alternative to Jewish circumcision

Beyond the Bris - June 17, 2014 - 12:16pm


Oakland, California — Lisa Braver Moss and Rebecca Wald, both known for their writings questioning Jewish circumcision, have launched a 45-day Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the completion of a book to serve Jewish families who decide not to circumcise. They are hoping to raise $8,200 to complete the project with their campaign, which begins June 17th.
The book will offer a choice of several original “brit shalom” ceremonies, along with tips and advice on holding the service and navigating family dynamics. Brit shalom (Hebrew for “covenant of peace”) is gaining traction as an alternative to brit milah, the traditional circumcision service held on a Jewish boy’s eighth day of life.
“Young Jewish parents are really engaged in the circumcision debate,” says Wald. “Some are opting out of the rite, but they still want to bring their newborn sons into the Abrahamic covenant.” Wald is the publisher of Beyond the Bris, a website that brings together Jewish voices that question brit milah. “Typically, a ceremony is put together on the fly. We wanted to provide well-researched and Jewishly respectful materials for this emerging ritual.”
“Currently there’s no book about brit shalom,” says Moss, a novelist and nonfiction writer who has been interviewing congregational rabbis while writing the book. She’s found that non-circumcising families are welcome in many synagogues, and rabbis are often willing to officiate at a brit shalom. “The Jewish community gains vitality by including these families,” she says.
One distinctive feature of the project is that an album of songs is being composed and professionally recorded. The songs are being produced by renowned performer Jason Paige, who recently wrapped up a tour as lead singer of the touring band Blood, Sweat and Tears. The songs will accompany the ceremonies, and will be available for parents and rabbis to download.
Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing crowdfunding platform for creative projects.
For more information on the book project please visit and the Celebrating Brit Shalom Kickstarter campaign.Eve Ceremony-94.jpgIMG_2456 - Version 2.jpg  Rebecca Wald         Lisa Braver Moss
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Lisa Braver Moss is a writer specializing in family issues, health, Judaism and humor. Her essays have appeared in such places as The Huffington PostTikkunParents and The San Francisco Chronicle. She is the author of The Measure of His Grief (Notim Press, 2010), the first novel ever written about the circumcision controversy. Lisa's nonfiction book credits include Celebrating Family: Our Lifelong Bonds with Parents and Siblings (Wildcat Canyon Press, 1999).
Rebecca Wald is the publisher of Beyond the Bris, a news and opinion website about the Jewish movement to question infant circumcision. Beyond the Bris has received widespread attention, and has been written about in The New York TimesThe Huffington PostVillage Voice, TikkunThe Jewish Daily ForwardHaaretz, and The Times of Israel, among others. Rebecca is a graduate of The George Washington University and of Brooklyn Law School.
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THE ECONOMIST: Against the Cut, The intactivist movement takes on the oldest surgery known to man

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 14, 2013 - 3:18pm
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that a magazine with its origins in Britain, a largely intact country, would take a sober and objective look at the San Francisco circumcision ballot measure. The Economist correctly concludes, “Whatever the fate of his proposed … Continue reading →
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ZIMBABWE: A familiar fear – one intervention at a time, likely the norm in HIV prevention

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 14, 2013 - 3:06pm
Many critics of the African circumcision trials drew the obvious conclusion that a push for male circumcision in Africa and elsewhere would result in a corresponding drop in condom use. In a partially useful risk reduction intervention, such a result … Continue reading →
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“Circumcise @Oprah” protest … Thank you, @GlenCallender

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 11, 2013 - 5:34pm
Glen Callender loves his foreskin. I love the size of his balls. Wow! Thanks, Glen, for sticking it to The Woman!
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OPINION: Intactivism, Anti-Semitism, and Foreskin Man

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 11, 2013 - 4:41pm
Growing up in Texas, the only Jews I knew lived in the Bible. As far as I could understand, circumcised boys were all my fundamentalist and not so fundamentalist Christian friends. Intact boys were foreigners or the kids who spoke … Continue reading →
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SWAZILAND: Mass HIV infection, shortage of medical personnel, and now false hope

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 11, 2013 - 4:06pm
In a nation where the HIV infection rate is said to be nearing 50%, people are desperate. Getting sick with wholly curable diseases can be life-threatening. Getting HIV is a short-order yet slowly unfolding death sentence. It may take 10 … Continue reading →
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GENITAL CUTTING: Geese get equal treatment in Africa at Dr. Piot’s urging

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 11, 2013 - 3:46pm
When the Kenyan and Ugandan studies were announced linking lower HIV infection risk with male circumcision, many sober voices immediately called for safe and consensual procedures by trained clinicians instead of those provided in the wild by folk doctors, if … Continue reading →
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