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Jewish Journal

Holy adult circumcision, Abraham!

by Brad A. Greenberg

December 6, 2007 | 1:54 pm

At your typical bris, the guest of honor arrives on a white pillow. He’s not exactly in fighting condition: 8 days old, spreadeagled, diaperless, still adjusting to non-liquid environments.

He cries throughout the procedure—cries as he’s prayed over, cries as he’s spritzed by the disinfectant, keeps crying as he’s cut by the mohel—and then, bandaged, balmed and resting on his stomach, he suddenly stops crying and goes to sleep.

Dmitry’s is not your typical bris. First off, no tears. Also, no relatives, no diaper, no white pillow. His parents don’t even know he’s here. Dmitry is laid out on a table, hands resting behind his head, shorts at his ankles, talking about life in Soviet Ukraine while Rabbi A. Romi Cohn prepares to slice away his foreskin. With a 1.5-inch needle pricking the base of his penis and a shot of lidocaine diffusing into the vicinity of his dorsal penile nerve, Dmitri, 33, stares up at the ceiling and says to no one in particular, “I’ve wanted to do this for the longest time. To be a Jew, you know, you have to go through with it.”

This snippet is from Heeb. Read on to learn about the anti-circumcision movement in Judaism, and to see what would provoke a grown men to go under the knife. (In Dmitry’s case, it’s a firm belief in Torah and a childhood in the Soviet Union.)

Under Stalin, parents could be arrested, their children placed in foster homes and mohels sentenced to labor camps for trying to arrange one in secret—and to this day most Jewish men born into the former U.S.S.R. don’t get cut. According to Biblical law, a Jew is a Jew is a Jew, but an uncircumcised male stands outside the Hebrew nation’s covenant with God—a covenant sealed when Abraham, at the age of 99, cut off his own foreskin and that of every male member of his household.

“There is no greater commandment in Torah,” says Rabbi A. Romi Cohn, chief mohel for the Jewish outreach program Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe (F.R.E.E.). “Six hundred and thirteen commandments and that is the most important one.”

Joshua also was obedient in this way, making a flint knife and re-circumcising the Israelites before they entered Caanan. In the United States, circumcision was once almost a given for centuries. But in 2004, not even 60 percent of American baby boys went sans foreskin. There have been all kinds of conflicting reports about circumcision’s health value or lack there of.

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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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