In my last post, I mentioned that LDS friends of ours who had just had a boy were planning to hold a bris for him that would be conducted by a Jewish mohel. In response, I received a few inquiries from Jews who were curious as to why Mormons would want to hold a Jewish circumcision ceremony for their son. Brian was kind enough to respond to my written request for an explanation, and I have printed his (slighty edited) comments below. Brian and his lovely wife Christina are both attorneys, and his father is a Jewish convert to the LDS Church.
The one comment that I have added to Brian’s response is indicated by brackets [ ].
Thank you for these questions, Bishop Paredes. I gave a summary of my reasoning during the Brit Milah, which most who attended appreciated. I apologize for the length of the following discourse, but I feel it appropriate to fully explicate the subject in response to your inquiry.
Before I begin, I recognize that there may be some who feel that I am improperly appropriating the traditions and rituals of a different faith, and I recognize the validity of some of their arguments. Nevertheless, the mohel and those who attended my services, including quite a few Jewish and non-Jewish relatives and friends, felt that the ceremony was respectful, appropriate, and justified.
As we know from Torah, God made a covenant with Abraham:
And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan , for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations.
And I will make thee exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations come out of thee, and kings shall come of thee, and of thy seed.
And this shall be my covenant which ye shall keep between me and thee and thy seed after thee; every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of
your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations; He that is born in the house, or bought with the money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed.
(Excerpts from what we refer to as Genesis chapter 17, inspired version).
We refer to this as the Abrahamic covenant. The covenant is that we (meaning Abraham and all of his generations) will take the Lord to be our one and only god, that we will keep the covenant, and he give us eternal increase and seal us to our generations forever (more on this later). The important characteristics of this covenant include that it is (1) between Abraham and his descendants and (2) everlasting. Note that circumcision itself is not the Abrahamic covenant; circumcision is the token or sign of the covenant. Accordingly, the covenant could exist without the token or with a different token or sign. Note, too, that those entering into the covenant undertake to circumcise not just their own seed but all male children within their household.
Jesus the Christ came in the meridian of time, and he declared the Gospel to the Jews because, as the chosen people, they had the right to hear the Gospel of salvation first. But Christ then sent his disciples among all nations. After his ascension, God revealed to Peter in a dramatic revelation (recorded in Acts 10) that the Gospel should be preached to all, and all could receive it and be accepted, whether circumcised Jew or uncircumcised gentile. Accordingly, the doctrine of the LDS Church (and most Christian faiths ) is that it is not necessary to be circumcised to receive the Gospel and salvation.
But allow me to make a lawyerly point. Even though the revelation that God gave to Peter made clear that it was not necessary for non-Jews to adhere to the law of Moses or other Jewish ordinances in order to receive the benefits of the Gospel, it did not erase the separateness of the Jewish nation. In fact, it is a point of doctrine in the LDS Church that Israel is and should remain a separate and peculiar people unto the Lord. See Article of Faith 10. Therefore, those who are Jews remain Jews, and those who are gentiles remain gentiles. Even Jews who accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ remain Jews. [Note from blogger to Jewish readers: While Brian and many other Mormons of Jewish descent believe this, most Mormons do not make this distinction among members of their church, believing instead that Galatians 3:28 – there is neither Jew nor Gentile in Christ -- is the controlling doctrinal principle.]
I acknowledge that this statement may draw some fire, but consider the following. One cannot change lineage, and the orthodox definition among Jews themselves is that matriarchal lineage is determinative. I find it odd (but consistent) that a number of my friends who are agnostics or even avowed atheists are accepted as Jews.
When faced with the question of whether to circumcise my son I had to ask myself whether I was accepting the Gospel as an uncircumcised Gentile or as a circumcised Jew. Although I identify as Jewish culturally, I recognize that I am not Jewish according to the orthodox definition. My father is Jewish (both of his parents were Jewish), but my mother is not as far as I know.
My patriarchal blessing, however, identifies me as a member of the tribe of Judah. For those who are not familiar with patriarchal blessings, suffice to say that they are personal revelation given to each church member that identifies, among other things, lineage and responsibilities in the Kingdom of God. I was told that I was a member of the tribe of Judah, a lineage rarely declared in a patriarchal blessing. Although I recognize that Jews would not accept this as indicative of my being Jewish, I feel that I am Jewish and have special responsibilities and blessings in the Kingdom of God.
But even setting my own feelings on the matter aside, suppose that I am a gentile (albeit a circumcised one) and I accept the Gospel as such. The inquiry does not end there.
Did I or my son still have need to be circumcised for another reason? Quite clearly the answer is yes. We are part of my father's household (In fact, we are literally moving back into my father's house in a few weeks). My father, who is Jewish, is required by covenant to circumcise all males in his household, whether of his seed or not; that injunction certainly includes his arguably non-Jewish son and grandson. Therefore, to honor my father's obligation and bring to remembrance his grandfather's heritage and the covenants he is bound by, I had my son circumcised. It was my father's obligation to do so, and I honored him in doing it.
I will send my son to Hebrew school when he is a young man to learn the traditions of his grandfather. I want him to have an understanding of that part of the legacy he was born with. He will be bar mitzvah if he so chooses and if we find a synagogue who understands and accepts that we value learning, family, heritage, remembrance, tolerance, peace, Torah, and mitzvoh. His middle name is Brandeis, after Justice Luis Brandeis, the first Jewish justice on the United States Supreme Court and a tremendous servant of the people who accomplished so much good with his learning.
Other questions: Why would I use a mohel? If ever there was a situation that required the steady hands of an experienced specialist, this is it. I got a mohel who was not only a mohel, he is a practicing urologist. The royal of family of Great Britain use a Jewish mohel to circumcise their sons, so why shouldn't I? Why have a brit milah rather than just have it done at the hospital? To honor my father, to gather and celebrate the goodness of God with family and friends, and to continue a pattern and tradition in my family.
One last observation: Brothers and sisters (and I mean that quite literally), the Abrahamic covenant is still in effect. God said, after all, that this was an everlasting covenant for all of our generations. Circumcision is the token of that covenant among the Jews and many others, including Muslims. You cannot deny that there are many, many peoples and nations descended from Abraham who are non-Jews. The Abrahamic covenant today is found in the Holy Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The token or signs may be different, but the covenant is the same. We, like the Jews in the time of Solomon, have a Holy Temple . Today, we go to the Temple where we enter into the Abrahamic covenant and are sealed forever with our generations, both those that came before and those that come after. In fact, we refer to children born into a household with parents sealed in the temple as “children born under the covenant.” They are sealed together with their parents forever.
I hope that this clarifies my reasoning for having my son circumcised and why I felt it justified, rational, and appropriate. Although I seek not to offend, I know that some people would take the position that I am improperly appropriating a Jewish tradition. I have to do what I know is right in my heart and as reasoned above. I believe very strongly that we worship the same God, and that while God is rightfully a jealous God, it is inappropriate for us to be jealous of others who also choose to worship the one true God. I hope that any who take offense will reconsider in light of that which is set forth above, particularly the need for my son to be circumcised as part of my father's household. God is wonderful and good to those who love Him. He has blessed me and my family with a son, and I will return my love for God by ensuring that my son is well loved and educated in the traditions of his fathers.