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Progressive Rabbis On Creating A Jewish Covenant Without Circumcision

Peaceful Covenant Rituals Proposed Instead
Rabbi Steven Blane of New York does not perform circumcisions, but instead welcomes Jewish baby boys with Bris Shalom, a covenant ceremony without cutting.

Many Rabbis are welcoming intact males into the Jewish community, and a growing number of Rabbis feel that surgical circumcision is no longer appropriate in the 21st century. perform covenant ceremonies without surgical circumcision, and many more will do so upon request. These include Rabbis in the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and many other branches of Judaism.

Hundreds of thousands of Jewish males around the world remain intact. Most Eastern European and South American Jews remain intact, and many Western European Jews have ceased circumcision, seeing it as a barbaric remnant of pre-civilized times. Both Reform Judaism and Humanistic Judaism welcome intact Jews.

Increasingly young Jewish parents are choosing not to circumcise their newborn sons. Many of these parents want a welcoming covenant ceremony that affirms their Jewish faith without damaging their son's body. This movement exists in the United States, Israel, and around the world. Intactivists are those who believe that child circumcision is a violation of human rights and civil liberties, and a growing number of Jews are adopting this position. Jewish leaders, Rabbis, and scholars are evolving tradition to create a covenant without circumcision.

Here are some of these Jewish leaders speaking about a covenant without circumcision in their own words.

 

"I cannot support circumcision with any conviction, just because it has always been held in high regard. It remains a barbaric, bloody act, which fills the father with anxiety and subjects the mother to morbid stress. The idea of sacrifice, which once consecrated the procedure, has certainly vanished among us, as it should. It is a brutal act that does not deserve continuation. No matter how much religious sentiment may have clung to it in the past, today it is perpetuated only by custom and fear, to which surely we do not want to erect temples." - Rabbi Abraham Geiger, an influential Rabbi in the early Reform movement of Judaism.

"I believe circumcision is a major mistake...  Just as we no longer practice the animal sacrifices in the traditional temple, so let us not sacrifice an important piece of our mammal in the temple of tradition." 
- Rabbi Nathan Segal, Rabbi of Shabbos Shul, One Rabbis' Thoughts on Circumcision

"It seems very silly that people who are not Jewish would engage in circumcisions. It makes no sense to me either. And neither does today from where I'm at, neither does a brit milah work for me. Because when I see the babies crying in your film, and I've spoken with neurosurgeons as well, and I know that babies undergo - that there's a lot of pain involved. Your conclusion was absolutely right. Our faith should be about healing and joy, not about inflicting more pain. And so from my perspective I'm very interested in performing brit shalom. You can do everything you do in that ceremony - except the violent part. Everything works. You can adapt a couple of brahot and it's beautiful... That's the beauty of who we are today. We should be joyful and not hurt little babies... I too am rooted in tradition. I went to Yeshiva. I've davened with Lubbovovich. I've led services in the Conservative synagogues and in the Reform synagogues."
- Rabbi Steven Blane, Rabbi of Congregation Havurah Sim Shalom, and Dean of the Jewish Spiritual Leader's Institute.

NYC Q&A with Rabbi Steven Blane & Laurie Evans

"We do not engage in circumcision, so that we celebrate all babies being born, girls and boys and the ceremonies are the same for welcoming both girls and boys into a poetic kind of covenantal ideal of love and support. We're all born into the world vulnerable and in need of people who love us and take care of us…  we depend upon each other for love and protection and that extends in this case I would say also to creating a covenant without circumcision….  There’s no official place in our movement’s philosophy for circumcision… the welcoming ceremony has no place for it… it’s really unimportant actually… most Jewish people who have any of covenant actually focus primarily on how we treat each other…   we’re all in this together folks… we all have to live some kind of ideas… not sacrifices of children’s bits - I think that’s completely absurd at this time in history. I will say that I would not circumcise a child. … I think many Rabbis actually if they were going to be honest would say that circumcision is an unimportant part of Jewish life.”
- Rabbi Binyamin Biber, President of the Association of Humanistic Rabbis
Georgetown University,
Q&A with Ryan McAllister & Rabbi Binyamin Biber, September 22, 2011

"I have already written about my opposition to infant circumcision.  Now, with the release of a new film and a new website, there is finally some momentum building among Jews to do away with this antiquated and barbaric custom.... I cannot imagine why any sane person would put their baby boy through an unnecessary and painful surgery without even the benefit of anesthesia.  Yet, until recently, no one in Jewish leadership has challenged this obsolete and primitive ritual."
- Rabbi Jeffrey Falick, Eliminating The Cruelest Cut, October 4, 2011

"We're seeing [circumcision's] decline, and we're seeing Rabbi's like me and others in other communities saying these practices are not warranted and we're seeing a generational shift away from them. One of the things that I think that's also critical is the growing popularity, and I think a rightful popularity of natural medicine and natural childbirth ideas. And I think that this is clearly seen as inconsistent - circumcision, male infant circumcision, female infant circumcision or genital mutilation - not consistent with natural childbirth, natural health. To the extent we see within nature patterns of evolved health and wellness. This is clearly not one of them. Inflicting a wound on an infant is clearly not one of those... If circumcision is ever wanted, it's not warranted at this point. “
- Rabbi Binyamin Biber, President of the Association of Humanistic Rabbis

Georgetown University, Washington DC Q&A with Ryan McAllister & Rabbi Binyamin Biber, September 22, 2011

More and more Jews are choosing to not circumcise their boys.. (Thank God!) And just as we accept Jews who do not keep kosher or observe as we do, we recognize the amazing diversity of practice and belief that is part and parcel of our astounding heritage.
Genital cutting does not create a 'mensch' (a conscious-caring individual). Indeed it is more of an obstacle to our natural development and [a] source of anger and confusion. Coming from an Orthodox background and having lived in Jerusalem, i am very aware that the problems of domestic violence and sexual pathology are just as prevalent in the observant communities as in the secular. Deuteronomy 10:16 says: "Circumcise the foreskin of your heart..." In Hebrew, the word foreskin is 'orlah'... there is an 'orlah' covering the ear and the heart... What is preventing us from 'hearing the word of God and opening our hearts in love and compassion.. This is the real circumcision that needs to occur. and it is a life-time learning ceremony…. 'Brit Milah' is the Hebrew for the covenant of 'circumcision'. 'Mila' also means 'word'.. We can welcome the child with songs and praises and holy words, gentle tones, and soft touches and smiles.”
- Rabbi Nathan Segal, Rabbi of Shabbos Shul, One Rabbis' Thoughts on Circumcision

"The issue of circumcision, in my view, is whether we want submission and wounding, as a symbolic act, to mark a man's relationship to God and to the community in general. I no longer believe such a wounding is defensible." 
"There is more emotion about eliminating circumcision than perhaps any other traditional practice. But it is time to find a different symbol of a boy's entrance into the community. Instead of cutting our sons, we might celebrate their masculinity. A more appropriate symbol would be a nurturing act, one that would affirm a boy's relationship to a loving father, both his own and that of his God. We might, for example, feed our sons, since a meal is also a traditional symbol of covenant. Indeed, in one text, Moses and Aaron and the elders go up to the top of the mountain, and when they see God, they eat and drink. Feeding our sons, rather than wounding them, would be a symbol of our nurturing relationship to them." 
- Rabbi and Professor Howard Eilberg-Schwartz, A Masculine Critique of a Father God, Tikkun, Magazine, September/October 1995

"…the ritual and religious consequences of not being circumcised amount to nothing. There is absolutely nothing that an intact Jewish male today cannot do. Contrast this with - I'm talking from the Orthodox perspective - non-Sabbath observance. Jews who are not Sabbath observant are not trusted in Halachic courts of law, they cannot be witnesses at people's weddings, they cannot be trusted with issues of Kashrut, making sure that things are Kosher... Here's an issue that is very easy to solve. You don't even have to argue for the eradication of male circumcision in the Jewish tradition for everyone to be happy. All you have to do is say that this will be a decision that an individual makes at an age when they can make the decision.”
- Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon, NYC Q&A with Rabbi Steven Blane & Laurie Evans

“That just raises one of the ethical problems that I think is so central. There’s not a huge number of medical accidents, but the fact is that this is an unnecessary surgery. And so the fact that there would be any medical accidents whatsoever raises an enormous ethical question. Why should there be a procedure that is unnecessary… that there'd be any medical risk at all, and that there'd be pain afflicted at all. And no anesthetic given in 50% of the cases. What the hell's going on there?... If you look at the Hebrew Bible text you’ll see a place where circumcision is actually compared with the act of sacrificing animals.“
- Rabbi Binyamin Biber, President of the Association of Humanistic Rabbis
Georgetown University, Washington DC Q&A with Ryan McAllister & Rabbi Binyamin Biber, September 22, 2011

“There are really no practical religious ritual consequences - and I’m speaking about this from an Orthodox perspective too - to not being circumcised… The only exclusion in Jewish law – even from an Orthodox perspective, for an intact Jewish male is the Pascal Lamb, the Korban Pesach which hasn’t been brought in 2,000 years, and it won’t be brought again until the Temple’s rebuilt ostensibly. If it’s even brought when the Temple’s rebuilt, if the Temple’s rebuilt.“
- Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon, Georgetown University, Washington DC Q&A with Ryan McAllister & Rabbi Binyamin Biber, September 22, 2011

"The code of the Jewish law is called "halacha" (the way). Within the Code, there is a provision that if a mother loses a son because of circumcision, she is NOT obligated to circumcise her next son. I extrapolate from this, the inter-connection of my human family, that enough deaths and maiming have occurred because of circumcision. Therefore - circumcision is no longer a requisite! Just as we no longer practice the animal sacrifices in the traditional temple, so let us not sacrifice an important piece of our mammal in the temple of tradition." 
- Rabbi Nathan Segal, Rabbi of Shabbos Shul,One Rabbis' Thoughts on Circumcision

  

"I've done two Bris Shalom ceremonies so far. Both the families deeply appreciated it. The young parents were most grateful. The older grandparents were skeptical at first but then also truly grateful. For the second one, we anointed the child with olive oil, with different family members anointing and blessing different parts of his body and his being. It was quite beautiful."
- Rabbi David Mivasair, Vancouver, Canada.
 

 

Peaceful Covenant Texts for Jewish Parents.
Worldwide list of over 50 Rabbis who lead covenant without cutting ceremonies 
Song for an Intact Jewish Boy’s Welcoming Ceremony 
Brit B'lee Milah Ceremony
A Brit Shalom Ceremony 
Norm Cohen: A Brit B’lee Milah Ceremony 

Judaism, the Foreskin and Human Rights.
21st Century Judaism, the Foreskin, and Human Rights | Part 1.
21st Century Judaism, the Foreskin, and Human Rights | Part 2.
21st Century Judaism, the Foreskin, and Human Rights | Part 3.

Jewish Parents' Experiences Keeping their Sons Intact.
Dear Elijah: A Conservative Jewish Father's Letter to His Intact Son | Published on Peaceful Parenting.
Rabbi Steven Blane: Bris Shalom Symbolic Ceremony
Moshe Rothenberg: Ending Circumcision in the Jewish Community? | Envisioning an Intactivist Judaism..
Michael Kimmel: The Kindest Un-Cut: Feminism, Judaism, and My Son's Foreskin | Published in Tikkun. 
Sarah Rockwell: Lucking Into Bris Shalom | Published on Beyond the Bris.
Laura Shanley: A Jewish Woman Denounces Circumcision | A Jewish Childbirth Educator keeps her sons intact.
Stacey Greenberg: My Son: The Little Jew with a Foreskin | Published in Mothering Magazine.
Intact & Jewish | Published on the Natural Parents Network.
The Naming | Published on Very, Very Fine
Diane Targovnik: How "Cut" Saved My Son's Foreskin : A Movie Review | Published on Beyond the Bris.
Circumcision Questions (letter from an intact Jew). |  Published in the Northern California Jewish Bulletin.
Brit Milah: Inconsistent with Jewish Ethics? | Written by a Jewish parent.