Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Being an Uncircumcised Jew

I recently met a Jew who was born and lived most of his adult life in Russia, before coming to the United States when he was almost a senior citizen. He is now close to 80.

At the time of his birth, the Russian Jews were no longer circumcising their sons, and while he has children who are observant, he feels he is too old to undergo circumcision.

With hints - though it was quite clear what he was asking - he wondered if he can be buried in a Jewish cemetery if he finishes his life (and he should live for a long time!) uncircumcised.

Simply put, the answer is embedded in this essay about what happens when a child dies before being circumcised. We would take care of it for him before burial.

[While the answer is simple, the circumstance is not. Many anti-circumcision activists use the argument that a male "Jew is still a Jew even if he is uncircumcised, therefore we should not be circumcising our children without their consent." This man is certainly a Jew, but he wants to be circumcised. He is only hesitant due to his age. (I didn't raise the "Abraham was 99 at his circumcision" argument) While it is true that a Jewish male is a Jew regardless of circumcision, there is another element to his Judaism which remains in limbo, and that is his obligation to circumcise to avoid the status of receiving "karet" at the time of death. Which is why we would take care of it for him when he dies, no matter what. Now, of course, one can question the need to do this after death, after all, who cares? But if one takes Judaism seriously, one takes the concept of "karet" seriously, and understands that this is a consequence/result that one would prefer to avoid. The law is very clear that first the father has the responsibility to take care of it for his child, then the Bet Din (Rabbinic court) has the responsibility if the father is either absent or derelict of his responsibilities, and if Bet Din doesn't take care of it, the young man is responsible for his lack of circumcision until the day he dies (hopefully as a very old man). At which point, the Chevra Kadisha (burial society) takes care of it for him. A Jew he is, but remember that Abraham was not considered "complete (or perfect) before God" until he was circumcised. See Genesis 17:1]

Thursday, December 3, 2015

"The Process" a.k.a. "The Procedure"

I often get calls months in advance of the baby's birth, from parents who "like to plan ahead" who are asking what is the procedure for arranging for a bris.

All mohels operate on what is in the real world a tight schedule, while in the mohel world is called "plenty of time." (Caterers for brisses also operate this way)

What do I mean? The nature of the world of bris milah is that there is - in most cases - only a week to prepare for the bris. So if your baby was already born (as in, earlier today) and you haven't called the mohel yet, DON'T WORRY! Anyone else who just had a baby has probably not called him either. You do want to call sooner than later, but don't be concerned that you didn't book him before the baby was born. The mohel expects that any bris-call is for a bris that is a week away or less than a week away. [I have received calls from people asking if I'd be available "tomorrow," but most people are a little more organized than that. In defense of some people who called at that later hour, their first mohel canceled on them last-minute, so they found themselves frantically looking for someone to cover.]

So here is the process, for anyone who is at the stage of pre-birth, whether 3, 4 5... or even 9.5 months into pregnancy.

Call the mohel to interview him
You can do this at any time before the baby is born. It is a good idea to get acquainted, or even to meet, if possible.

Call the mohel to book him
As soon as possible after the baby is born

Organize your supplies
This should be done anytime before the bris. Some people even do this before the baby is born, before things get super hectic. You can also order The Bris Bag if it makes your life a little easier. [This is an independent business who I recommend and support. I do not get any referral fees - their prices cover costs, shipping and reasonable profit.]

Figure out the baby's Hebrew name
My joke to people is that you should write it down on a paper when you figure it out, five minutes before his bris. Some people have it easy, some people put a lot of thought into deciding a baby's name.

Assign a family member the job of getting a bris outfit (though you can pick anything - it doesn't matter)
A gown, open on the bottom is best. If not, snaps that completely open the bottom of the outfit are good. (Can both be rolled up over baby's arms) Buttons are hard to navigate with gloves on. Zippers and diagonal snaps that only go down one leg just make mohel's job more difficult.
And, NO, he does NOT need a kippah

Figure out your venue, your budget, and what kind of celebration you'd like to have
And where the mohel fits in your plans

After the Bris
You'll want to keep this page handy - Post Bris Care
And these links at your fingertips
What Things Will Look Like Afterwards
Long term Care Reminder
Chubby Baby Syndrome


BEST OF LUCK!!!