Intact and Jewish

jewish mother and son

When, in the dimly lit room, in my twenty-first week of pregnancy, I saw the sepia-colored 3D ultrasound screen settle for a moment on what were unmistakably boy parts, my mind was already made up. No child of mine would be circumcised.

Big whoop, right? Roughly a third of little boys born in the United States are circumcised these days, so my decision to keep my own kid intact hardly seems revolutionary. And, to me, it wasn’t.

Out of sheer politeness, I asked my partner how he felt about the matter, knowing full well that, if he came up with any of the pat reasons to cut, I could shoot them down (“But I want my son to look like me!” Are you identical in every other way? “He’ll get teased in the locker room!” By 32 percent of the boys in his class? “It’s too hard to keep clean!” All of my stuff is on the inside and I manage just fine, thanks). But he agreed — circumcision just seemed…mean.

Our baby would be perfect as he came, and his body autonomy took precedent over any cultural norms we might be bucking. Oh, yeah: cultural norms. Did I forget to mention that we’re Jewish?

So, while our decision was commonplace in part of our community — the farmer’s market-shopping, chicken-keeping, aluminum water bottle-toting part — it was decidedly less so for the other Jews in our life. In a small city with one synagogue whose congregation could fit in our living room, it followed that we probably wouldn’t find much support. And we didn’t. I avoided the issue entirely, even putting off choosing a Hebrew name because I wasn’t sure how to bestow one on my son without all the pomp and bloody circumstance. Before his birth, I’d looked forward to taking him to “tot shabbat,” but found myself altering our walks so they didn’t lead us past the temple doors, past the pacing shomer who would certainly ask questions. On the night that I worked up enough courage to attend, I packed my five month-old son into the Ergo and was met at the top of the synagogue steps with familiar music, warm smiles and congratulatory handshakes. That is, until the mouths attached to those hands each asked, “What’s his Hebrew name?” We sat alone and left early.

Part of me felt guilty, understanding that these people weren’t bloodthirsty or prudish but concerned with keeping tradition alive. And wasn’t I? The tiny kippah I sewed for my son’s first Hanukkah should attest to that. But at what cost, tradition? We were still Jewish, and we could make our own way while remaining true to our belief that you don’t mess with someone’s body unless he says it’s cool. 

I started to research other options. I knew we weren’t the first Jewish parents to keep our child intact; what did everyone else do? The internet provided a few examples of Bris shalom ceremonies: welcoming covenants of peace. Right up our alley. We found a Unitarian minister whose own sons were intact, who was delighted to help us create a meaningful, respectful rite of passage for our boy, and hours before his first birthday party we gathered friends and family in our home to name him and welcome him to Judaism on our terms. Kindly and gently. 

Since our Bris shalom, I’ve run across others in the same predicament; I’ve had conversations about whether or not we made the right choice (we did), if my son is “actually Jewish” (he is), and if we would make the same choice again (we would). The only thing I would change is my own hesitation. If there’s anything the past year and a half of parenting has taught me, it’s to trust the instincts that keep my child safe and happy. My partner and I are accountable to our son. Not that roomful of yentas with the questions in code, not the triage nurse who insists I must retract the foreskin for cleaning, not even those like-minded families who laud our decision. Just my partner and me. And when our son inevitably holds us accountable, as kids seem wont to do, I look forward to saying, “We thought you were already perfect,” rather than “It seemed like the thing to do.”

Photo Credit: Author


Natural Parents Network is happy to present an ongoing series about “Belief and Parenting.” We welcome contributors from any faith (or no faith at all) to speak about how their spirituality affects the choices they make as parents: whether you are a Buddhist whose beliefs led you to gentle discipline, an atheist whose worldview encourages consensual living, a pagan who emphasizes the beauty and reverence of nature, a Christian who seeks biblical guidance, or if you’re walking another path entirely — please share your experiences with our natural parenting community. See our Contributor Guidelines for details on submissions, and then email Dionna {at} NaturalParentsNetwork {dot} com to submit your story.

StefanieStefanie is a Jewish Southern California transplant living in the Pacific Northwest with her high-school-teaching partner and toddler son, who is a positively fantastic advertisement for gentle birthing, breastfeeding, babywearing, co-sleeping, vegetarianism, cloth diapering and remaining intact. She spends her occasional free time playing the autoharp, sewing, writing and daydreaming about goat ownership. Stefanie blogs at very, very fine.

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