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A Non-Traditional "Circumcision" Ceremony

Paula Hills
Mothering, p. 26-27, Summer 1987

Even before Gabriel was born, we knew that we would have a boy No lab tests, we just knew - the same way we had known that our first child, four years earlier, would be a girl. The issue of circumcision had arisen then too, in its what-if form, but we had let it drop without really resolving it. This time we agonized over it. We talked to everyone we knew - naturopaths, friends, mothers of circumcised and uncircumcised boys, our parents, and eventually the Rabbi.

As I entered my final month of pregnancy, we finally came to our decision - clear and strong. In spite of Gabriel's Jewish roots, we would not choose circumcision for him; rather, we would allow the choice to be his. We wrote to our parents, hoping that they would understand, and settled down to decide what we would do to fill the gap left by a discarded ritual.

My husband and I both felt that in recent years our rituals had taken on new importance. We had begun to share them with our friends instead of family, from whom we had been separated in our move to the West Coast. We felt that we would like to preserve as much of the traditional ritual as was possible, since the idea of making a covenant with God and entering formally into the Jewish faith seemed important, regardless of whether or not Gabriel was circumcised. We began by approaching our most traditionally religious friend and asking him to officiate. To our delight, he was honored, and we all set out to learn as much as we could about the bris ceremony. Both my husband and our friend laughed at the fact that the only bris they had ever attended had been their own, which neither one recalled. So, we relied heavily on The Second Jewish Catalog: Sources and
to help us design Gabe's bris.

We wanted to emphasize that Gabriel's covenant was to be made in his heart rather than on his body, and that it was equally binding. We held the bris on Gabe's 11th day (not the traditional eighth) because it suited our plans. Our house was filled with good friends and flowers. I waited upstairs with Gabriel as people arrived and settled in. Each guest was given a candle, which was lit one from the other to signify the bond between these people in Gabriel's life.

Grandfather/Grandson.gif (48 KB)Our friend began by leading an eerie but lovely call to the prophet Elijah, who is a customary participant in most Jewish rituals. His name was called out seven times as I brought Gabriel down the stairs and layed him in a large, stuffed rocking chair, covered with a white, embroidered cloth. He lay alone in the chair, calmly looking at all the faces and lights while a prayer was said over him. And then his grandfather, another honored participant, held him in the chair for the remainder of the ceremony, which continued according to the traditional bris ceremony, but without cutting.

Gabriel was blessed and formally entered into the Jewish tradition of loving God, studying the law, standing beneath the nuptial canopy, and seeking to do good deeds.

In using the traditional ceremony and prayers, we omitted the word "circumcision" and emphasized "commitment" and "covenant," based on our wishes for our son, realizing that we can only speak for Gabriel out of our faith and that as an adult his choices will be his own. In effect, the ceremony spoke for our intent to bring Gabriel into a spiritual tradition supported by the link of friends and family, a blessing on a tiny infant to live a life of love, productivity, and happiness.

Even for those in our family who would have wished for a more traditional bris, these sentiments were felt with great fervor and dedication.

After the Ceremony.gif (54 KB)

After the ceremony proper, we had a friend say the blessing over the wine and bread. The candles were put out, and we moved outside where, in a fine mist, we planted a fruit tree over Gabriel's placenta. With great joy we all returned indoors to a wonderful buffet. We shared the story of Gabriel's birth, and many people held him for the first time. Everyone felt warmed and blessed.

It is a tradition that the wood from Gabe's tree should be used to build his marriage canopy. This idea gives me a wonderful sense of completion, a sense that the day of his "bris," the home of his childhood, the many plums that will have filled his little belly through the summers of many years will be with him the day that he steps into another chapter of his life.

Support and information for Jewish parents on
alternative (non-cutting) bris ceremonies:

Norm Cohen
P.O. Box 333
Birmingham, MI 48012
Tel 248-642-5703
Moshe Rothenberg, C.S.W.
Alternative Bris Support
   and Ceremonies
Brooklyn, NY
Ron Goldman, Ph.D.
Jewish Associates of CRC
P.O. Box 232
Boston, MA 02133
Tel 617-523-0088
Jewish Associates of CRC makes known to the Jewish community that a growing number of Jews either have not circumcised their son or would choose not to circumcise a future son. It is an opportunity for Jews who take this position to declare themselves and to be counted. A confidential list of Jews who contact the Circumcision Resource Center for this purpose is maintained. Learn how you can join Blue_ArrowD096.gif (140 bytes)Jewish Associates of CRC.

Israeli Association Against Genital Mutilation
P.O. Box 56178, Tel Aviv 61561,  Israel    Tel 972-9-8949236    E-mail:

Af-Milah - Second Thoughts on Brit Milah The Israeli Newsletter Against Circumcision  (in Hebrew)
P.O. Box 207,  Rosh-Pinah 12000,  Israel   Tel 972-51-979568    E-mail:

Brit Shalom Providers Brit Shalom is a non-cutting naming ceremony for newborn Jewish boys.

Paula Hills (29) is a licensed massage therapist and is currently combining yoga, aerobics, and deep relaxation in teaching prenatal fitness classes. Her husband Flip (38) is a musician. Paula and Flip live in Portland, Oregon, with their two children, Marika (5) and Gabriel (2).

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