I believe in going with my gut.
Getting to know my gut happened – if you’ll excuse the imagery – during my first pregnancy. The decision wasn’t what couples usually labor over (names, nursing, daycare – these were easy), but it was what we called the “circumdecision.” Do we, or don’t we?
At first I thought of course we would; everyone is. Besides – I’m Jewish, and it’s what Jews are commanded to do. My dear husband challenged me by suggesting a bit of research first. Ah, I love research! You bet, darling – let’s research.
I decided to tackle two areas of study. First, the medical. I figured that if I were about to lop off my son’s foreskin, I better understand why it was there in the first place. Second, the religious. How important, really, is circumcision to Judaism?
The medical sobered me. What I thought was a useless flap of skin turned out to be the body’s uniquely appointed, highly sensitive organ of touch. The foreskin protects, moistens, internalizes and sensitizes. It is an integral part of male sexuality. The foreskin is adhered to a baby boy as our fingernails are adhered to our fingers. It’s extremely painful to remove, and so much is lost when you do. Some medical articles actually stated that doctors who perform non-religious circumcision are not upholding the first tenet of medical practice: First, Do No Harm. I found no medical basis for the surgery, and plenty against it.
So now came the tricky part – how to reconcile being Jewish with being uncircumcised. And when faced with God’s first commandment to Abraham, did medical evidence even matter? It is, after all, scripture. It transcends everything. I approached several rabbis with the single question: If you knew this boy were not circumcised, would you consider him Jewish?
The answers were shocking. At best, one rabbi called him an “unfulfilled Jew.” Others simply said no. None wanted to perform the traditional life cycle ceremonies so important to being part of the Jewish family. There seemed to be no compromise.
I grew up Jewish, yet well before the birth of my first child I became an instinctive mother. Never did I consider Jew and mother conflicting, but now I was faced with a decision that forced a wedge between these two selves. Jews circumcise – mothers protect their babies from pain and loss. Could I continue being part of the rich cultural and religious family of Judaism by standing alone, a mother who obstinately allowed her son to keep the most sensitive part of his body?
Animal instinct put my relationship with my son higher than everything. Human experience pulled me in the other direction with the strength of faith, tradition, history. My son, safely cradled inside my belly, deserved a decision that came from that same place. A decision that no amount of research would alter. I have never been happier with my gut; it protected my growing family. One day I’ll reconcile with my Jewish one.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.