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]

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