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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 mdreissmd@gmail.com. 
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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
By EMILY KAPIT
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 baby...it 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."

Seriously?

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
By LISA BRAVER MOSS
"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
By REBECCA WALD

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 Mothering.com 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


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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 CelebratingBritShalom.com and the Celebrating Brit Shalom Kickstarter campaign.Eve Ceremony-94.jpgIMG_2456 - Version 2.jpg  Rebecca Wald         Lisa Braver Moss
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BIOS
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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Countdown to Kickstarter for First-Ever Book on Celebrating Brit Shalom

Beyond the Bris - June 10, 2014 - 9:37am


By REBECCA WALD

Today I have some big news that I am excited to share. I’ve recently been working on a project with my dear friend Lisa Braver Moss. We’ve been putting together a book for families who want to hold a brit shalom ceremony for their newborn sons.

If you aren’t familiar—brit shalom is an alternative to brit milah. The baby is given a Hebrew name and welcomed into the Jewish community without circumcision. By all indicators, brit shalom is becoming evermore popular. For example, Dr. Mark Reiss’s Brit Shalom Providers List now boasts nearly 200 officiants—more than 100 of whom are bona fide rabbis.

Lisa and I decided it was time for a book about brit shalom, one that families and officiants could turn to for advice and inspiration. The book will include a choice of ceremonies, original songs, information about brit shalom and tips for hosting a service.

On June 17—that’s one week from today—we’ll be launching a 45-day Kickstarter campaign to officially announce our book, Celebrating Brit Shalom, and to raise needed funding so we can bring this book to the public.

If you haven't heard of it, Kickstarter is a crowd-funding platform for creative projects, where "backers" receive great rewards at different funding levels.

Why do we need funding? We decided to “go-indie” (instead of seeking out a traditional publisher). This means we’re doing everything ourselves, from cover design, typesetting and graphic art to promotion and distribution. Since we’ll be including music that will be recorded and available for download, we also have expenses like professional mastering of the songs.

This Fall, we hope to get our book into the hands of prospective parents, congregational rabbis, synagogue libraries, Jewish and interfaith officiants—wherever and to whomever it takes to get our message out that a beautiful ritual exists to welcome intact Jewish boys. If we meet our Kickstarter goal, we can produce the book. If we are fortunate enough to go above and beyond our fundraising goal, we’ll be able to accomplish even more: like sending out library/donation copies, doing increased promotion, and translating the book into other languages, such as Hebrew.

Imagine a book like this in the hands of every rabbi in the U.S., Canada and beyond—What a difference it could make. What a message it would send! You can help us achieve this goal.

How can you help? First of all, get excited with us about this groundbreaking book. When the campaign goes live on June 17, share the news far and wide. Have media contacts? Let them know. A rich uncle? Well, you get the idea! Also, if you have something special you’d be willing to donate as a reward to our backers, please contact us.

An easy way to get in touch with us for any reason is via the “Inquiries” field on our new website. There's also a place on the site where you can enter your email address to receive updates about our project. And, if you feel so inclined, "Like" our brand new Facebook page.

While we’re eager to meet our fundraising goal, what we’re really hoping for is a big show of support for our project, especially early on in the campaign. When the time comes, you can go on to Kickstarter and become a project backer for as little as one dollar. That’s really all it takes to support us—and to show the world that nothing, not even religion, stands in the way of a child’s right to the body he was born with. 

And save the date: On June 17, 2014, at 8PM EST we’re having a Kickstarter Kick-Off Virtual Party, where we'll be giving away vouchers for some free copies of our book (and the downloadable songs) that can be redeemed when publication becomes a reality. To enter to win a voucher, all you need to do is say you'll attend our cyber event.


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Jewish Voices Against Circumcision — In Their Own Words

Beyond the Bris - June 4, 2014 - 8:45am
Brian Levitt holds his newborn photo
in protest of infant circumcision. Jewish feelings about circumcision—for and against—are complex. The following quotes, all of them by Jewish people and all of them real, demonstrate the diversity of thought when it comes to questioning the ancient ritual. If you are Jewish and would like to add your quote, send Beyond the Bris a note and we'll include your statement in a future posting.

Lisa says:

I believe that G-d instituted circumcision as a way of setting His people apart, but given how many other cultures and religions have adopted this practice, it is no longer a means of setting apart. Like many other commandments once practiced by Jews (that have now been set aside) there is now no more compelling religious or cultural reason to do so. I have a now-adult son for whom we had a “brit shalom” (no cutting) when he was eight days old.... This doesn’t make him any less Jewish or any less observant. He is a respected young man at shul, involved in many different areas and loved by all. I do not regret my decision at all to let him make his own choice, and it is my hope that other Jewish parents will also consider a brit shalom as a viable alternative to brit milah.

Jim says:

The importance that people attach to this act [circumcision] is almost laughable. Of all the behaviors we aspire to (charity, grace, forgiveness, kindness, industriousness) the amount of time spent thinking about foreskin just baffles me. We need to be good people and observant Jews. If this involves circumcision, fine. But what is peoples' hang up with this mitzvah? Out of the 613, there are about 612 I’d rate higher in importance.

Amanda says:

I feel so blessed to have been able to find a rabbi that was willing to do a bris for our son without a circumcision as well. I wish I had found this wonderful organization when my son was first born—it was a long road and I didn't know of any other Jews who were anti-circumcision.

Ronald says:

Circumcision is an exception to accepted principles like the Golden Rule; adults would not tolerate circumcisions forced on them. If circumcision were introduced today, we would be horrified, as some are horrified when they first learn about the procedure. If any other body parts of children were cut off, we would adamantly object. The harm starts the moment an instrument penetrates or clamps a healthy, natural, functioning body part — any body part. Though circumcision defenders routinely deny harm, common sense and dozens of studies confirm significant physical, sexual, and psychological harm. We owe it to the children to be open to examining this harm. Medical opinions in support of circumcision are explained by psychosocial factors, serious omissions, and medical and cultural bias. Mothers, speak up and act on your instincts!

Genie says:

As a Jewish mother I watch my son tortured at 8 days old, to have a procedure done on a part of his body that hardly anyone will see. His penis does not identify him as a Jew. It is his belief and upbringing. He is Jewish because I am. He suffered for months with his protective skin removed causing exposure to the most sensitive part of his genitals. As a cried with regret after each nappy change for months and months, I swore I would never put another son of mine through this needless pain. I was blessed with another son and at 7 months old he remains intact. I feel proud of my decision. I live by what feels right and makes sense to me. Protecting my children from pain and suffering is my priority. No mother should ever need to feel pressured, coerced or oppressed to conform in the name of religion.

Brant says:

It's time even we Jews faced up to the fact that the foreskin is a normal, healthy, functional and valuable part of the male anatomy. Its removal is a loss and a harm, both surgically and functionally. We can pretend otherwise, but that is beneath us as inquisitive and honest people. Most of all, such an invasive and permanent change to another’s body is a gross violation of their dignity and rights. Children are not property.

Miriam says:

Anti-Semitism is a very real and growing threat. It is important to expose, name and combat whenever it appears. Questioning the ritualized reduction of a newborn's penis is not ipso facto anti-Semitism. Circumcision has short and long term consequences which have been either ignored or trivialized by both traditional Judaism, as well as the shameful disingenuous position of official U.S. medical authorities, which stands in sharp contradiction to the medical societies of numerous other developed nations. Questioning circumcision is a sacred act because it comes from the deepest instinct to protect life, particularly the most vulnerable among us.

Eric says:

I was born Jewish so no baptism, instead, they had a brit milah for me at 8 days old and painfully cut part of my penis off (a part that I should mention I wanted to keep). I would definitely have preferred them pouring water over my head.

Diane says:

Proud Jewish mama with Jewish, intact son.

Issac says:
Moses himself was not circumcised, and up until the destruction of the second temple brit milah may have been performed, but it is now brit priah, far more mutilating, and no longer done with a flint knife. Many of the things listed in the Torah and the Tanakh are illegal now. Mutilating our own children’s bodies (out of fear?) should be one of them. And by the way—I am jewish, and I have a foreskin, and if you think it should be removed only because of my own or my mother’s ethnicity than I think you are anti-Semitic. Worth thinking about no?

Karen says: 
My sons are intact and identify themselves as Jews. I did not raise them religiously, it is their own doing. My daughter identifies herself as such also. If anyone wants to judge them based on their penises, that is perverted. 

Heather says:

I believe that Judaism is a humane religion, and that by not circumcising my sons, I am not compromising my Jewish identity. In particular I call upon non-Orthodox Jews to stop this practice. If you have already decided, as non-Orthodox Jews, to follow only a small portion of the Jewish laws that fit with a secular lifestyle, why be so insistent on following the one that asks you to mutilate and traumatize your perfect newborn son?

Martin says:

This isn’t a simple issue; there is more to it than blind obedience. Every year we learn new information about what the original Hebrew circumcision entailed and how poorly its origins have come to be understood in modern times. Such issues as when it actually was implemented, what role the discredited Hebrew priests may have played in originating or promoting circumcision, and how dramatically the operation was changed by the rabbinical council as the Talmud was being written. After all, it is the Talmud—not the Torah—that specifies the extensive and intrusive circumcision that is performed to this day. The original circumcision mentioned in Bereshit was clearly a vastly different, less radical affair, done in unsanitary conditions by the child’s father himself, using crude implements. As such, it removed only the overhanging tip of the foreskin and left the major part of it still fused to the glans, to separate naturally on its own in childhood. This is the procedure Yeshua would have had done to him, by his father, since the “new” circumcision wasn’t mandated until at least 100 years later.

Amira says:

Both our daughter and our son were allowed to keep their genital integrity. It is time for Jews to realize that cutting the genitals of our children is wrong, not a cause for a party. I urge everyone to look into what our baby boys are going through. Don't blindly force your son to participate in a brit milah “because everyone else does it.” Look into your options, and give your son a choice.

Matthew says:

I am a Jewish man and I wish I had my foreskin. My body, my choice. Circumcision is genital mutilation, torture, and a violation of MY human rights!

Amy says:

Circumcision, no matter a child's sex, is genital mutilation. As a religious Jewish woman, I would refuse to circumcise any son I had due to a firm belief in safeguarding life and making sure my child was protected against anything that could cause unnecessary harm.

Rob says:

First of all, as a man who was born to Jewish parents, and as a victim of Jewish forced male genital mutilation, I would never want to be a part of any community that would force genital mutilation onto my body, and I will fight to stop such communities from victimizing others.

Julie says:

We need to protect all baby boys from this horrible unnecessary torture. If I have to choose between Judaism and hurting my son, my first duty, any mother's duty, should be to first protect her child. He can make his own choices about his own body.

Garrett says:

I severed all connection with my jewish roots BECAUSE they violate the religious rights of children. Mutilating me for life did not endear me to my religious heritage, it turned me against it.
Tarryn says:
My son is now one, intact, and while I've had a few comments from my mother and father (who both remarried non Jews) so far I have not heard anything from my extended family. I choose to ignore it anyway and I know better. He is the first Jewish boy in my family born to stay intact. I have no idea if this will create repercussions later in life in our religion, but if our religion will ostracize him based on his penis, then what kind of religion is it? I personally don't care what they say, I made the right decision. I've never heard of a rabbi to check though, so unless I'm asked, I don't talk about it. I have however had a few conversations with Jewish friends and shared my knowledge. Maybe me being strong enough to follow what I believe will be inspiration for others who feel the same way to keep their boys intact.
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Is Superman Circumcised? Howard Stern Weighs In

Beyond the Bris - May 22, 2014 - 11:05pm

By REBECCA WALD
Superman has captured the imagination of every generation of American kids since 1938 when he first appeared in Action Comics #1, but leave it to satellite radio celebrity Howard Stern to tackle the really hard questions concerning this American superhero.

Monday’s The Howard Stern Show kicked off with a call-in question from Stern show correspondent Wolfie asking: Is Superman circumcised? “Of course the first question would likely be, how on Krypton would they come up with that barbaric ritual of cutting off a piece of a baby’s skin?” Stern asked. “Now Krypton was a very advanced society, as you know. They were very advanced in science and you would assume that on Krypton they would not practice circumcision,” he continued.

Robin Quivers pondered whether Superman might be able to circumcise himself using his heat vision. To which Stern replied: “Why would any guy want to circumcise himself?”
Stern, who is Jewish, considers male infant circumcision to be barbaric and a mutilation, and supports efforts to make the practice illegal

Questions about the mythical Superman are common among a certain (nerdy) set. Is Superman real? Is Superman immortal? Is Superman faster than Flash? Apparently there is also considerable speculation about Superman’s Jewish roots.

An NYU thesis by adjunct English professor Roy Schwartz attempted to answer the question: Is Superman Jewish? Writing for The Jerusalem Post in 2013, Schwartz noted that the creators of the Superman comic, Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster, were Jewish and that Superman’s Kryptonian name, Kal-El, has Hebrew roots.

So Superman is Jewish, and he isn’t circumcised. Go figure.
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Why I Didn't Choose Circumcision

Beyond the Bris - May 19, 2014 - 12:41pm
BY Brian Leaf
I'm a bit depressed. Our midwife gave me a book about circumcision. I've started the book and can't put it down. I'm not sure that I'll ever fully recover.

The book tells me that the foreskin is like an eyelid protecting the sensitive mucous membrane underneath. Circumcision removes this protective skin, so the skin underneath keratinizes, meaning it hardens and desensitizes, like a callus. Therefore, the book posits, circumcision removes length and girth from the penis and decreases enjoyment of sex.

You do not say these things to a man. I'm trying to climb out of the hole. I tell myself that most men in the United States are circumcised, so it's a level playing field. It just means that uncircumcised men are heroes and that we are at a disadvantage when we leave the country.

Now, keep in mind that whether or not sex is less pleasurable without a foreskin is, of course, very difficult to test. Nobody is lining up for a double-blind controlled study: Have sex. Rate it on a scale from 1 to 10. Then lose the foreskin, heal, have sex again with the same partner, and rate it again from 1 to 10. Any takers?

So it's difficult to test the reduced-pleasure hypothesis. And people don't talk about it much, so we don't gather much anecdotal evidence, either. Unless you are a professional sex worker or my friend Adeline, you probably rarely talk about sex, especially the specifics. I don't even know which of my friends have a foreskin and which don't. Maybe I'll ask the question on Facebook: "Share or Like if you have a foreskin."

We all know about circumcision's Jewish roots in the covenant between God and Abraham, but whom do we have to thank for the mass popularization of circumcision? When did it cross the gentile line? In Victorian England, of course. Yes, the same folks who made sex and farting socially unacceptable. Will Ferrell and Judd Apatow owe Queen Victoria big-time. What if nudity, masturbation, and farting weren't funny?

In the 1800s, germ theory was gaining attention and people believed circumcision could fight the ultimate germ demon, smegma. Sounds like a Batman villain. They incorrectly believed smegma to be a breeding ground of bacteria. This is hogwash. Smegma is actually found in most animal genitalia and, in fact, serves to clean and lubricate the genitals, moistening the sensitive mucous membrane between the foreskin and the penis. The word smegma itself is Greek for soap.

Circumcision was the new snake oil. It was touted to prevent or cure syphilis, epilepsy, hernia, headache, clubfoot, alcoholism, gout, and, god forbid, masturbation! As I read older parenting books, I am absolutely astonished at how often people bring up masturbation. They were obsessed. "We must stop this epidemic!" I suppose things have changed. Just last night I watched Seth Rogen masturbate right on screen at the cinema.

Lots of folks, these days, defer the decision of whether or not to circumcise to the thinking of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Seems sensible. But the AAP is about as reliable on the matter as Steve Martin's Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber. The AAP has flip-flopped its position at least four times. In 1971 the academy officially concluded that it was not a medical necessity. In 1989 they announced that there were good medical reasons for it. In 1999 they were neutral, stating in a report that the health benefits of the procedure were slim. And most recently, in 2012, the AAP changed their official stance, saying that the health benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks.

One of the founders of the American Medical Association, Lewis Sayre, in the late 1800s started recommending circumcision to cure paralysis and gross motor problems. He believed that a tight foreskin threw off the nervous system. "Hmm, this patient is paralyzed. Must be a tight penis."

All this is another perfect example of why we must, in parenting as in life, gather data, but ultimately stay grounded and follow our own hearts and intuition.

In the end, my wife and I chose not to circumcise. People ask me, "What will you tell your son when he asks why his penis is different from yours?" I don't understand this concern. Why must his penis match mine? Our hair color is different. We have different noses and his teeth are better than mine. Should he get braces and a retainer to mimic my overbite?

Brian Leaf is the author of Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi. He has studied, practiced, and taught yoga, meditation, and Ayurveda for twenty-three years. Visit him online on facebook at www.facebook.com/Misadventures.of.a.Yogi. The above essay is excerpted from the new book Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi ©2014 by Brian Leaf. Published with permission of New World Library. 



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Belly Casts Give Confidence, Celebrate Beauty of the Natural Form

Beyond the Bris - May 16, 2014 - 11:59pm
Kirsten Seinfeld puts finishing touches on a belly cast.
Our bodies are beautiful—and perfect—the way they are. This is the message of the pregnancy belly cast, a commemorative keepsake of motherhood that’s become very popular. Check out belly cast Google images, or Pinterest, and you’ll see dozens of belly cast examples, often created right at home by moms- and dads-to-be. They range from whimsical (adorned with feather boas and butterflies) to humorous (the round belly is painted like a baseball) and irreverent (a monkey’s nose becomes the protruding belly button).


Fort Lauderdale artist Kirsten Seinfeld would like to elevate the pregnancy belly cast to high art. She envisions one day having a show with twenty bellies, or more, on display in a gallery. She’s already well on her way, with dozens of casts hanging in her living room. Seinfeld is known in South Florida as the go-to girl for an incredible belly cast—and she's been known to give moms a price break if she can do two castings, one to keep for her private (future gallery) collection.

For Seinfeld, belly casting can contribute to a woman's positive self image. "I do believe that our bodies are perfect the way they are and that we should be proud and respectful of our bodies….It's so amazing how resilient we all are—that our bodies grow to accommodate the baby and provide it with all it needs," she says.

Seinfeld has two girls, so she says she didn't have to face the tough decision of circumcision. Nevertheless, she says it would certainly be very hard for her to inflict such pain on a brand new human being.

Beyond the Bris hopes that as women celebrate their own bodies during pregnancy (with the belly cast and in other ways) they will also be respectful of their future sons’ bodies, which are perfect just as they are!
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Is Brit Shalom an Acceptable Alternative to Jewish Circumcision?

Beyond the Bris - May 10, 2014 - 5:44pm

Foot washing replaces circumcision in
the alternative brit pictured above. 
Is there an alternative to circumcision? This question was recently posed to two rabbis in The Jewish Chronicle Online’s “Rabbi I Have a Problem” section. At issue, an outraged uncle whose niece had decided not to circumcise her newborn son and instead held an alternative brit. Despite the growing popularity of Brit Shalom, one has to wonder: was this question really sent in by a reader or dreamed up by an editor on a slow news day? Regardless, I appreciated the response of both rabbis who weighed in. 

Orthodox Rabbi Naftali Brawer called a brit without circumcision “newfangled” and “a synthetic ceremony highlighting the absence of brit.” However, Reform Rabbi Jonathan Romain had a different take. He said, “some Jews feel genuinely ambivalent about [circumcision] because they question why the miraculous gift of life needs altering eight days later if it was so perfect in the first place.” As for the niece in question, “far from abandoning Judaism, she made a deliberate effort to induct her son into it,” Romain said.
The rabbis divergent views on Brit Shalom demonstrate the fundamental difference between Orthodox and Reform Judaism. The Orthodox believe the Torah comes directly from God, as understood by the rabbis of long ago. God is seen as a giver of laws whose literal words are to be obeyed. For this reason, Orthodox Jews will seek to understand, debate and discuss why God commanded circumcision, but the wisdom of the act will always be beyond challenge. The pious circumcise their sons as act of pure faith, trusting and believing that God knows what is best. 
Reform Judaism sees the Torah as a holy document but doesn’t view Jewish practice as rigid and unchanging. For this reason, the acceptableness of the Brit Shalom service is more likely to be upheld by those of this branch. Parents who wonder how to find a rabbi that performs Brit Shalom can consult Dr. Mark Reiss, M.D.'s ever-growing list of Brit Shalom celebrants.
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