Pioneering Jewish mothers Lisa Braver Moss and Rebecca Wald have forged a milestone with their new book, Celebrating Brit Shalom. Coming in at just under 100 pages and a cover price of $12.95, their DIY-bris handbook need not frighten anyone: genital cutting is foregone and the Rabbi is optional. The once-elusive practice of brit shalom (a peaceful covenant without genital cutting) now has a masterpiece guidebook complete with liturgy and musical accompaniment.
Celebrating begins with an acknowledgment of and dedication to Jewish families that have recently pioneered brit shalom from relative obscurity to an up-and-coming practice. While some Jewish families have reluctantly skipped a welcoming ceremony for their boys (having no alternatives or fearing backlash), others have bravely pioneered welcoming ceremonies without genital cutting in many beautiful and unique ways. Moss and Wald have studied these ceremonies and have crafted three alternative ceremonies to choose from.
The three ceremonies are very similar in structure to a traditional bris. There’s liturgy led by a leader. The baby is brought into the room by godparents. What’s noticeably missing is the genital cutting, which is replaced by the cutting of a pomegranate (or other seasonal fruit). There are also passages to be read by parents and cues for musical interludes.
I especially like how the shehecheyanu prayer—which praises God for bringing everyone together for the occasion—is recited during brit shalom. This prayer is not recited during brit milah because the baby is in pain. The shehecheyanu is a welcome relief and addition to the ceremony.
Before getting into the ceremonies themselves, the authors devote space to contextualizing Celebrating by explaining the origin of brit shalom and its significance. Brit shalom has a direct biblical basis, appearing in the Torah in a story about Pinchas, a Jewish priest, who is offered the brit shalom as a way to transform himself from committing violence in God’s name to practicing peace in God’s name, a nice allegory for the transformation of brit milah into brit shalom.
Central to the brit milah ceremony is the inclusion of the male infant into the covenant between Abraham and God. The first time the covenant is mentioned in the Torah, there is no mention of genital cutting. The second time the covenant is mentioned, God commands all male descendents of Abraham to perform genital cutting on their newborn sons on the 8th day of life as a sign of the covenant.
Brit shalom, the authors explain, is about replacing a symbol of the covenant–cutting of the male infant foreskin–with another symbol of the covenant–the cutting of a pomegranate (or seasonal fruit). Rather than opt out of a welcoming ceremony entirely, parents who choose brit shalom strengthen ties with family, synagogue and community and raise their child in the Jewish tradition.
The first ceremony, Peace and Wholeness, follows closer to a traditional bris, and expounds upon how peace and wholeness can’t be had one without the other. My favorite ceremony is the second one, Faith and Trust. Much is made of the newborn’s trust for his parents and community which is compared to the biblical story of Abraham’s faith and trust in God.
I found the third ceremony, Celebrating Equality, to be very inspiring. Progressive ideals have been influencing Jewish practice for thousands of years, with equality being a central theme. The prayers are gender-neutral and are inclusive of single parent and same-sex parent families.
The musical accompaniment adds to the ceremonial feel of brit shalom. Reuben Moss and Jason Paige deliver four new songs whose lyrics are ripe with meaning and nicely complement the form and content of the ceremonies.
The first three songs honor Abraham’s covenant with God, speak to the connection between peace and wholeness, and honor Miriam and Elijah, the protectors of children. The last song, Rimonim, Rimonim, expounds upon the pomegranate as a symbol of fertility and wisdom.
The recorded tracks on Songs for Celebrating Brit Shalom have a musical theater production quality to them, especially the vocals, and are sure to get children and adults singing along. Sheet music and lyrics are included in Celebrating and the songs are available for download on iTunes in both full and instrumental-only versions.
The authors advise parents to give lead time to family as some may not be accepting of brit shalom and may need some time to accept the practice. Unfortunately, a brit shalom could lead to a major family conflict, so great care should be taken when raising the issue. The authors suggest giving a copy of Celebrating to family members who may not be on board. I think it’s a great idea, since Celebrating is non-judgemental about the practice of genital cutting and doesn’t vigorously defend brit shalom, but simply and gently is.
In terms of art work, the cover design is fantastic. The illlustration inside the book of a properly set brit shalom table takes me straight back to my childhood days reading the Passover Haggadah.
Don’t forget to read the glossary, an opportunity to brush up on some Hebrew and to learn some insights.
I’m excited to be partaking in a major shift in Jewish consciousness and practice, especially having had the pleasure to review an early manuscript and to review the first edition of Celebrating Brit Shalom. For many of us, Celebrating Brit Shalom is long overdue, yet fits nicely into the present moment, fulfilling a rising need to evolve Jewish tradition. Moss and Wald have paved the way forward for a more peaceful, just, and consistent yiddishkeit.
Lisa Braver Moss and Rebecca Wald have been promoting brit shalom for some time now. Moss is author of The Measure of His Grief, the first novel centered on Jewish male genital cutting. Moss was instrumental in getting her Oakland, California synagogue Temple Sinai to explicitly welcome families that have not performed male genital cutting. Wald runs the popular website, Beyond the Bris, providing a platform for Jewish challenges to genital cutting.
Celebrating Brit Shalom is published by Notim Press and is available through the authors’ website, CelebratingBritShalom.com, select booksellers, and through Amazon.com. Songs for Celebrating Brit Shalom is available on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Beats and other music sites, and contains eight tracks: four with vocals, and four instrumental only.