Sunday, December 31, 2017

Thank you for the honor

I am most grateful to all of the parents who entrusted their sons to my care to help fulfill the mitzvah of bris milah during the year 2017.

Every call I receive is a testament to a feeling of trust exhibited by parents in making this important decision. Some research way in advance, and some make a cold call, having received a recommendation from a friend or relative who had a positive experience.

Due to the natural tension and unease that comes (for some people) with the bris, I am grateful to be able to play the role that I play, and to hopefully make the experience positive, memorable in a good way, and one you look forward to in the future with confidence and anticipation.

Mazal tov. Blessings for many babies to have the new year's number on their birth certificates and bris certificates!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Addressing Some of the Anti-Circumcision Claims

The Forward published an article today entitled Anti Circumcision Activists are Making More Noice. Will They Make a Difference?

So I guess it's as good a time as any to address some of their claims against Jewish Circumcision (complain about routine hospital circumcision all you want, but that is not what we are doing.". Of course, it is worthy to note that nothing they say - and I mean nothing - will change how we operate. We don't do this for medical reasons, so any claim about the benefits of the foreskin or the inherent risks of circumcision are irrelevant. (Of course, it should go without saying, I am a big advocate of only trained, responsible professionals operating under safe conditions.)

One of the most inflammatory and ridiculous claims that anti-circumcision advocates make, driven by their belief that circumcision = cruelty to the child, is that Jewish circumcision is anti-Semitic.

Seriously. I am not making that up.

On the simplest level, you can’t take the defining act of Judaism, predating the giving of the Torah itself, commanded twice in the Torah (Bereshit 17 and Vayikra12) and referenced countless times in the Torah and the rest of the Bible, and say it’s anti-Semitic.

You can’t ignore all the references the Bible makes to the non-Jews living in that era, calling them ערלים (foreskinned), sometimes just as identification, and sometimes as a point of denigration, and say that removing the foreskin is anti-Semitic.

Every time I get into an argument with an anti-circumcision activist, a simple summary of the conversation is this: They produce their talking points, and I ignore them because of how fundamental Bris Milah is to who we are. And this gets them even angrier. Sad!

Put another way, they might even be polite in asking questions which go something like this: “I don’t understand why you can’t wait until the boy is 18 and then let him decide” or “Isn’t it true that if a boy has brothers who preceded him who died from circumcision that he doesn’t need to be circumcised and can still be a full Jew?” (technically yes, but for this to happen there would have be a. an undetected family case of hemophilia, b. a really really really bad mohel.) Or they’ll say, “God creates a child perfect.” Or “No God is so cruel that he wants to harm a child!” Or “Why do you sickos need your blood sacrifice?”


Firstly, I find strange irony in atheists, who don’t believe in God, using God when it is convenient for them. Really? You decry any reference to God anywhere, but then you use God to make a claim against Judaism?

Secondly, many of these people who talk about cruelty to the child have no problem at all with taking a healthy baby, while still in utero, and cutting off its limbs and draining its brain. Male or female. I would be willing to bet that every baby, if we could only poll it, would say - A. life with possibility of circumcision, or B. being murdered because I'm inconvenient? "A" please, every time.

Responses to God claims.

1. The God you don’t believe in is not the God I do believe in (thank you Yoel Oz for the great quote!)

2. God commanded circumcision. So to suggest He is cruel is asinine.
[Yes, Genesis 17 also refers to the circumcision of servants/slaves (depending on how the word עבדים is translated). So it is important to remember the following.
     a. Jewish law never mandates “you must own slaves.”
     b. Jewish law (and the Torah) address how you deal with slaves, what their status is in your household, and how you are to treat them. This certainly pertains to a time when slavery or this kind of servanthood was mainstream, as it was in every culture around the world. To suggest that Jews today have slaves (and/or are looking to circumcise them) is dishonest.]

3. When God commanded Abraham to circumcise himself and the males of his household, He first told him, “Walk before Me and become complete/perfect.” (The Hebrew word תמים can be taken to mean either complete or perfect.) Translation: before being circumcised, Abraham was incomplete/physically imperfect. Ever wonder why he couldn’t father a child with Sarah? She needed to have a circumcised husband!!

As for the anti-Semitic argument, we clearly view circumcision very differently. While I understand that some Jews are part of the anti-circumcision movement, I would suggest that by and large they are more culturally Jewish than religiously observant. In other words, they are driven more by emotion and feelings than by any base understanding of Judaism, its history and practices. I would also suggest that they are driven more by a political agenda than by any inkling of trying to at least understand the Jewish perspective. Let alone considering a perspective that circumcision has long-term benefits (we are doing it anyway, so the benefits is for the pro-circumcison outside of religion camp argument).

1. Calling circumcision a sacrifice is silly. We don’t murder babies. We circumcise them.

2. Calling circumcision mutilation is silly. It is a practice shared all around the world, by people who are not interested in destroying the functionality of the penis.

3. Comparing male circumcision to a "similar" (?!?) procedure on females, calling us hypocrites for excluding our girls from this "rite" is similarly ridiculous. We don't circumcise our girls because a. God said "males," and b. girls don't have penises. And no Jewish woman ever said, "Hey! Why was I left out of this one?!" (For the record, our women are part of the Covenant, they just don't bear the mark of the Covenant in their flesh)

4. To suggest we don't love our children is an accusation not worthy of a response.

5. The greatest anti-Semites in the history of the world tried to outlaw circumcision because they knew it also served as an identification marker of a people who refused to completely assimilate, who insisted on observing and practicing religion quite differently than anyone else. Look at the Greeks and the Romans, and in more recent times the Communists. This is why I say that those who are against Jewish circumcision, no matter who they are and no matter how they couch their claims, are the real anti-Semites here.

6. One of the more meaningful passages I have found which describes how we view circumcision can be found in the Pesikta Rabati, a Midrashic work that is over 1200 years old. And here it is

 When you honor God through performing a commandment that He gave you, you don’t do it with what is yours, but with what is His. When you “Honor God from your substance” (Proverbs 3:9) you honor Him from that which He graced you. If He gave you a son, circumcise him. If He gave you a house, place a mezuzah [on the door] and a fence [around the roof]. If He gave you a yard, build a Sukkah [for the holiday of Sukkot] on it. If He gave you a sheep, do the commandments associated with sheep. If He gave you other animals, fulfill the commandments associated with those animals. If he gave you silver and gold, fulfill commandments with them (such as giving to the poor, or buying things that enhance your performance of other mitzvoth).” 
 פסיקתא רבתי (איש שלום) פיסקא כה - עשר תעשר 
הוי אם כבדתם את הקדוש ברוך הוא במצוה שנתן לך, אין אתה מכבדו משלך אלא משלו, כבד את ה' מהונך ממה שחננך, נתן לך בן מול אותו, נתן לך בית עשה מזוזה ומעקה, נתן לך חצר עשה סוכה, נתן לך צאן הפרש בכורות וראשית הגז, נתן לך בהמה לא תחטא בהם אלא עשה מצות שלא תחרוש בשור וחמור ולא תרביע כלאים, נתן לך כסף וזהב עשה בהם מצות, עשר תעשר את כל מהו את כל אפילו ממונך. 

In other words, nothing to see here. We view our children as a gift from God, the same God Who said to circumcise the males among us.

Those who are against Jewish circumcision don’t understand God (the way we do).
Those who are against Jewish circumcision don’t understand Judaism.
Those who are against Jewish circumcision don’t understand the Torah.
Those who are against Jewish circumcision don’t understand why we do what we do.
Those who are against Jewish circumcision don’t understand why this isn’t cruelty.
Those who are against Jewish circumcision don’t understand why we don’t obsess over our lack of foreskin.
Those who are against Jewish circumcision don’t understand what a commitment to a life different from their own could mean.
Those who are against Jewish circumcision don’t understand what has defined the Jewish people for thousands of years.
Those who are against Jewish circumcision don’t understand that just because they have ignorant-of-Judaism Jews in their camp, they will not change who we are, what we do, and why we do it.

And if you can't at least understand us, there's really nothing we can do to help you.
It really is that simple.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Bris and the Challenge of Consent

Every now and then my Facebook page is attacked by "intactivists" - these are militant online (to whatever degree you can be militant online) advocates for leaving babies alone and not circumcising them.

Aside from their unhealthy obsession with the foreskin, they are most often rude, obnoxious, foul-mouthed, relentless, disgustingly and shamelessly defamatory, one-sided, not-interested-in-facts-or-opinions-which-differ-from-theirs, and, frankly, quite boring.

They have six talking points that don't relate specifically to their misunderstanding of Judaism (they call Jewish circumcision anti-Semitic, they say God does not want this, and they note the very rarely applied halakha that if a child had 2 brothers who both died from their brisses, he is allowed to remain uncircumcised - the closest thing pre-modern halakha ever got to a recognition of a condition called hemophilia - which was concerned about the safety of this baby. In other words, the recognition was that blood loss was causing this, not specifically circumcision.)

1. Mohels are pedophiles and rapists
2. Circumcision is genital mutilation (they often compare it the clitoridectomy, which makes zero sense)
3. Those who circumcise have a fetish for foreskins and penises
4. Foreskin is natural (they have many pro-foreskin arguments), a child is perfect, God does not create imperfection - so leave it all alone!
5. Babies die from circumcision or are traumatized for life
6. There is no consent

Arguments 1, 2, 3 aren't even worthy of a response. They make gross (= disgusting) assumptions and are grossly so far from any sense of reality, normalcy and decency. Just regarding #5, more babies die or are truly maimed for life from bad vaccines or from traumatic birth experiences, or from (cough cough) abortions than any kind of real statistic about circumcisions, but the removal of foreskins is their issue. And the idea that anyone who was circumcised as a newborn is traumatized or remembers it is such fantastic gobblygook that only an idea-terrorist can come up with it.

(For the record, if there are practitioners who cause babies to die from circumcision, they should not be practicing. And if their actions are criminal negligence, they should be prosecuted. By and large, these stories are extremely rare. The only acceptable number of deaths from circumcision is ZERO. That is the track record of every mohel I know.)

I will leave #4 for a different time (though I've referenced it here). (and here)

So I will briefly address the question of #6, consent.

But first, a disclaimer. I don't care for routine (hospital) circumcision. Meaning, it doesn't matter to me what the medical community thinks, nor do I care what parents decide to do for their sons. I can agree or disagree with non-religion-based circumcision. But I respect that parents can make a choice either way.

So - how can we do this to a child who does not consent? Why, as the intactivists argue, can't we leave the child alone, and let him decide when he is 18, what he wants to do?

While their arguments don't hold water when submitted to the basest level of scrutiny (though they shout so loud, they don't listen to another side), there is a fundamental flaw in the question.
A child's entire life until 18 is directed upon them without consent.

They are conceived without their consent. They are born without their consent. They are put into a family without their consent. They have their umbilical cord cut without their consent. They may have surgeries, for real conditions, or for cosmetic reasons, without their consent. Anything that is "natural" (they were born that way!) is fair game, and is often enough taken care of while in infancy because the healing process is much quicker and the child will have no memory of it. They have blood tests, needle pricks, shots, vaccines, all without consent. Some of these are painful. Some may be unnecessary. And some can be life-altering (google 'life ruined by vaccines'). We educate our children the way we want, we send them to the schools we think are best for them, we make them play sports, play instrument, learn skills, all without their consent.

And those which are aborted are killed without their consent. Ask any baby - Do you prefer to live and possibly be circumcised, or killed before you are born because you are inconvenient? I bet if they could understand the question and answer, they would choose the former. 100 out of 100 times. [But, hypocritically, many intactivists are pro-abortion]

The Jewish people have a commandment, fundamental to our lives as Jews, that we circumcise our sons on the 8th day of life. Those who raise their children with the understanding of why this is essential to who we are give NO thought at any time in the year to how life might be different if we had a foreskin. We actually view the foreskin as disgusting - מאוסה הערלה. Many of the enemies of the Jewish people in the Bible are described as ערלים, uncircumcised. (It should be noted today that the biggest enemies of the Jewish people today are mostly circumcised, and that people who are not circumcised can very well demonstrate through their actions that they are friends (or at least not enemies) of the Jewish people)

Our consent is ingrained into us from birth. And reaffirmed when we circumcise our own sons. And those who don't understand Judaism will never understand this.

Could there be Jews who claim "I did not consent"? Of course there could be. (though I wonder what else is really driving their anger? I am sure there is often much deeper trauma or inadequacy from something else in life, and they are blaming life's problems on their lack of foreskin.)  And I would invite Jewish parents who are less observant to learn and teach their children why this is important to us as Jews, and to not simply do it for cultural reasons.

Along with the Torah itself, the mark of the Covenant is the most enduring and endearing item that has sustained the Jewish people through the millenia.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Tricks of the Trade

Stepping out of mohel shoes for a moment, I'm going to share with you some of the "daddy-tricks" (which are equally good for mommies!) that I've picked up over the years of having the chance to hold (and change the diapers of) many hundreds of babies.

1. Getting everything ready FIRST
Whenever a baby needs to be cleaned, whether a full bath or a simple diaper change, it is always easiest if all necessary items are laid out in advance. Those who have a large changing table will have the easiest time with this, while smaller (regular) changing tables have everything within arm reach. The less you need to search, however, the quicker your changing job will go.  Of course, with a bath, when the water-use raises the stakes significantly, the quicker baby is out of the water and in a towel, pre-set on the counter, changing table or bed, the quicker we can all breathe easily.

2. Wipes
Don't use them. Seriously.
I know I have them listed in my list of supplies, but that's mostly because I never know the lay of the land where the bris will be taking place. And for me, in the event that I need to clean the baby, the wipes are a convenience.
HOWEVER, in my experience as a dad I've found that the number one cause for diaper rashes is... (brace yourself...) WIPES! They leave a moisture residue on the tush that gets trapped in by the diaper. Moisture of this nature is breeding ground for a rash.  My wife and I have been taking paper towels, wetting them with water and squeezing out the excess, to create the perfect wipe. No it doesn't smell like a summer breeze. But none of our babies (and we've had a bunch) over the last ten years - since we made this discovery - have gotten diaper rashes. And this moisture (water) can be patted away easily.
So use wipes as a last-ditch effort, but not as your first-attempt at cleaning. You'll save money on diaper-rash products, and you'll save your baby from the pain of the rash.

3. Method of changing 
Always put the new diaper, opened and prepared, down first, THEN put the baby on it while he's still wearing the old diaper. Open up the soiled diaper, clean baby, remove soiled diaper, CLOSE PREPARED DIAPER, then deal with folding up and throwing out soiled diaper. This method will save a lot of laundry from needing to be cleaned. You will get the occasional wasted diaper from the baby's previous mess or from his prematurely eliminating new wastes before diaper is closed. But it's a price worth paying.

4. Mohel swaddle
I really need to demonstrate it for you. Suffice it to say that you won't learn a better swaddle, not even in the hospital. (The only exception I've seen are women who have Russian ancestry (whether Jewish or not Jewish) in their blood have a good swaddle-method. )

5. Holding baby
Everybody must use common sense for how to best hold a baby. The baby might also dictate what he likes best. Some babies like being rocked in a rocking chair, while some babies hate when the person holding them is sitting down! When a baby is crying, however, other than changing his diaper, feeding him (nursing or bottle), his calmness may be dependent on how he is he held/rocked. When an adult puts one hand under baby's chest (thumb and pinky under baby's armpits) a simple and gentle up and down motion could be soothing. Also putting baby on one's shoulder, and creating a rocking sensation from the adult's knees, takes baby's soft skull concern (meaning, the worry about the damage shaking the baby could cause) out of the equation, alleviating the problem.

Hopefully we'll have clean and calm babies and households!

Monday, December 4, 2017

So... You Found Your Mohel on the INTERNET?!?

One thing I've learned over the years is that advertising mohel services in the traditional form of advertising is a useless endeavor.  Most people hire a mohel based on one of the following:

1. Word of mouth, ideally from a friend or relative.
2. Recommendation from a doctor or rabbi or synagogue office
3. Reputation or name recognition
4. Internet search

The Internet search is obviously a more recent approach, really unique to the current generation of parents, but even with the Internet search, all reservations still remain without having any of the first 3 "supporting" pieces of confirmation that the person you're hiring is right for you.

This is one of the reasons why I opted to go a very different route than others in how I built this website. It is a blog, and I have written hundreds of blog posts over the years to tweak out any information I can give over to you about what you need to know as a parent, about my own experiences as a mohel (including great stories and stories from which I learned valuable lessons), and about Bris Milah - its significance to the Jewish people and why we continue to do this.

I found that most mohel websites were the same - very little information, a bunch of smiling pictures of mohel holding baby, claims of being the best mohel. Just about every website I visited did not address the healthy tension that comes with having a bris, the feelings of uneasiness, the realities of what could happen at a bris (even though uncommon), and helpful information about the longer term healing that every circumcision undergoes. And of course the oft-repeated lie that the baby doesn't feel anything at the bris and that everything is smooth sailing from beginning to end. 

This is not a knock on their websites, per se (some are quite professional). But it is a hope that mohels can be more up front with people so that the experience they share together with the new parents can always be one looked back at fondly.

To be clear - that IS the experience many have. BUT I have met many people who found me for their second or third son who told me "I wish I knew all the things you're telling me for our first son's bris. I wish the mohel was as comprehensive and thorough and explained everything to us as clearly as you are explaining." (Many also call me for son #1, but they have nothing to compare to!!)

In sum, I am grateful to all those who called me based on the first 3 criteria. Those jobs are much easier to come by. But I am even more grateful to those who called me based on finding me on the Internet, reading through my site, liking what they read, and determining that I was the right match for them. And our experience together proved their intuition right. 

It means that the impression I was trying to leave reached where it was supposed to, and that a feeling of trust was created before you even picked up the phone. And for that I am most grateful.