February 8, 2001
My husband and I are expecting our first son and have decided not to circumcise him. I think the practice is barbaric; my husband is swayed by the recent medical literature. How do we break the news to our parents? -- Fearing the Folks
Finally, a question I can't answer. It would be easier for me to advise you on how to break the news to your parents that you are a gay polygamist.
The commandment in the Torah to circumcise every Jewish male on the eighth day of his life is so sacrosanct that the practice is observed by every branch of Judaism. You may have decided you do not want to hold a place for your son in the Jewish community, but as he grows older, that choice will be his to make. Think about it, do you really want to be solely responsible for his having to be circumcised as an adult? (The image is too painful to imagine, much less the procedure.) A parent's job is to open as many doors for their children as possible, not to close those doors before the child has even decided whether he wants to gain entrance.
Circumcising your son is the very least you do to be identified as a Jew in the Jewish community. On the eighth day of your son's life, close your eyes and think of Israel, for your parents' sake, if not for your son's. You will have the rest of your life to debate the medical and cultural pros and cons of your decision.
Seeking Middle Ground
I am a Catholic, and I work in a New York City hospital with many Orthodox people. I began studying the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and often go to his grave to pray for my patients. I have learned to read a siddur and recite the psalms. For some time I have been searching for G-d and find I feel more connected when praying with my Jewish friends. Perhaps I am confused, or perhaps I can see the truth of both the Old and New Testaments -- which, by the way, I think should just be called the scriptures. -- Conflicted in New York
It is no accident that the Old and the New Testaments are called by different names; they are vastly different texts. While combining the two may be good for world peace, I've yet to meet a priest or rabbi, Christian or Jew who believes the two systems could or should merge. (Consider the prospect of the Mets and the Yankees sharing a dugout.)
The great Rabbi Hillel said to a proselyte who wanted to learn the whole Torah while standing on one foot, "Love thy neighbor as thyself, and now go learn the rest!" You don't sound so much confused about God as about yourself. To find out, "go learn the rest." But the Old And New Testaments are like two different contracts prescribing two radically different ways of life. Educate yourself about which contract you wish to sign. But give up any fantasy that you can sign them both.
Honor Thy In-Laws
My 78-year-old mother-in-law lives with us and our three children, ages 9, 5 and 1. She may not be my favorite person, but I respect her and am grateful to her for helping with our children and the house so my husband and I can work. The problem is my parents. They don't like her and appear to be jealous and resentful of her place in our lives and the lives of our children. They want me to leave my mother-in-law at home when the family comes to visit. Given her age and physical condition, my husband and I do not feel comfortable leaving her alone. Nothing I say to my parents seems to get through. -- Getting Nowhere
There is nothing wrong with your parents expressing a desire to have time alone with you and their grandchildren, even if they don't express that wish as kindly as they might. And there are ways to accommodate your parents' wishes without hurting anyone's feelings. Offer your husband and his mother some well-earned quiet time while you take the kids to visit your parents. (Perhaps your husband feels the same way about your mother that you feel about his.) If you can't handle all three children alone, make it special for everyone by taking one child at a time. Finally, if your parents don't want your mother-in-law staying in their home, they could always come to visit you and check into a hotel. Encourage your parents to stay on topic. They may kvell about the grandchildren, but the subject of in-laws is strictly off limits.
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