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Monday, March 19, 2012

A Circumcision for Conversion

Here I explain my personal philosophy regarding my role as mohel for conversions and an alternative those looking for my services might want to consider. Here is my previous post on this subject - along with earlier links to related topics

I get calls and emails from people across the spectrum of Judaism: Orthodox Jews, Conservative Jews, Reform Jews, unaffiliated Jews, Jews by birth, Jews by choice, "Messianic Jews." I also get calls from those who identify themselves as "non-Jews."

While I am not picky about my clientele per se, I do try to distinguish between "circumcision services" and "bris services." While both obviously include a circumcision, the former is without a ceremony and without blessings. It is not meant to serve as a fulfillment of the Jewish "bris" and it is typically requested by those who are not Jewish.

The "bris services" are for Jewish babies, born of Jewish mothers, who are Jewish either through matrilineal descent - a line of Jewish mother after Jewish mother - or through a conversion I might have officiated over myself, were I in the business.

Due to the unfortunate reality of the manifold kinds of conversions out there, some of which do not demand very much from the converts in question, I try to shy away from them. Rarely do I perform circumcisions for the sake of conversion, and I have difficulty providing a "bris" for those mothers whose conversions I cannot personally qualify - simply because I do not have enough information about the process, the rabbi, the bet din, the method, etc.

[There are some mohels who will accept every case without question - will always do the circumcision, and may or may not tell you afterwards that your son's circumcision was for the sake of conversion and that should your child one day want to pursue his Judaism, he'll need to go the mikveh, etc. This translates to a question of whether, up front, your mohel accepted your Jewish status - either he did or he did not, either he was up front with you about it or he was not, as well as misinformation possibly being provided as to how others will perceive your son as a Jew longer-term.]

I am not interested in playing games. So this is what I offer:

If you are either adopting a non-Jewish baby or you (the mother) have converted to Judaism through a program I can not adequately verify or approve of (for other outside reasons), or if only the father is Jewish and the mother is not, I can circumcise your baby as long as the following is understood.

1. The circumcision is a "Circumcision alone." You are hiring me as a specialist, to do the circumcision in a gentler atmosphere than a hospital, to perhaps come to your home and to follow up with your son later. Same great care as I give for brisses, but under a different name.
2. I will not recite blessings.
3. Should your baby ever want to pursue a Jewish existence (especially when his mother is not Jewish at all), he may/would have to undergo a conversion process (See paragraph after the capital letters below for how it would relate to his circumcision). A Reform rabbi will probably not require the conversion, especially if the baby's father is Jewish. If the mother's conversion was Conservative, the Conservative rabbi would likely not require anything more to be done.

But if the child wants to pursue an Orthodox Jewish life, or even to move to Israel, the conversions in question will be subject to scrutiny. 

When the person in question is ready for such a conversion or a new level of acceptance of Jewish life, all he needs to do vis-a-vis the bris is have a mohel do "hatafat dam bris" in the presence of the Bet Din (Rabbinical court) who will certify his conversion. This is a minimal procedure, hardly invasive, which draws the tiniest speckle of blood from the circumcision scar to signify and symbolize the blood of the covenant. 

If done by parents with their rabbi (separately from my role) it can be quite significant for them.
If done by the individual himself when he reaches a certain level of maturity and appreciation for the significance of the commitment he is undertaking, the "hatafat dam bris" ceremony takes added meaning.

This is not a question of judging or mistreating. This is about a standard that I try to adhere to.

I thank you for your understanding.

[With regard to Hatafat Dam - If you hire a mohel to do this, it might be appropriate to compensate him for his time - especially if he traveled to you. But the medical attention needed for this is nothing in comparison to at a full bris. He may have a "price" and he may insist on your giving NOTHING (this is my practice when people bring a baby to me), but $150-$250 is suitable compensation for the service in question. Unlike a bris which may require multiple visits, the hatafat dam is a one-time episode that does not require follow-up.]

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