When Leo Grossinger was 8 days old, his parents invited their relatives and friends to a ceremony welcoming him into their midst, as Jewish families have done for thousands of years.
They recited Hebrew blessings, lit candles, shared wine and challah, a braided bread. A rabbi conferred Leo’s Hebrew name, Asiel, which means “created by God.” When the ceremony was over, the guests ate bagels and lox.
All in all, the event looked a lot like any other bris, or ritual circumcision. The only difference was that Leo never had to shed his diaper.
“I wanted to feel that connection with tradition,” said Leo’s mother, Erica Wandner. And it was important to her that the baby be given a Hebrew name in memory of Wandner’s mother. But neither Wandner nor her husband, Robin Grossinger, wanted to inflict pain and trauma on their new baby for a surgical procedure doctors say is not medically necessary.
The couple, of Berkeley, Calif., are among a small but growing number of American Jews who are questioning what is arguably the most sacred rite in Judaism.
First off, I think some people believe that eating bagels and lox is the most sacred rite in Judaism.
Second, despite the fact that the “rate of U.S. babies being circumcised before leaving the hospital has gone from an estimated 85 percent in 1965 to 57 percent in 2004,” it’s not universally accepted that circumcision is without health benefits. In December, the National Institutes of Health reported that circumcision dramatically reduces the transmission of AIDS in Africa.
As for why Jews have traditionally circumcised their boys—and, thank God, not their women, as some Muslim cultures promote—stems from this conversation God had with a 99-year-old, soon-to-be-circumcised Abraham.
Aside from the certain pain of Joshua circumcising the adult Israelites before taking Jericho, the bris has at times caused deeper trauma, including, in 2004, an ultra-Orthodox New York mohel’s infecting three babies with herpes, one of whom died.
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