Who is a Jew?

At the end of this month, we will bring our boys to the mikveh, meet with the Bet Din, and, assuming all goes as planned, each boy will go into the mikveh (with my dear husband, who will be immersing for the first time himself), emerging from their immersion as Jews.

J in hospital gown, socks on hands

This act will complete the process that we began almost exactly a year ago, with a bris (circumcision) performed by a wonderful pediatric surgeon who is also a certified mohel. Dr M was recommended by our dear friends and neighbors, the S family. He was wonderful! It was such an interesting combination of a surgical setting – with the patient gowns, paper hair-coverings and hospital socks -and the standard features of a religious ritual – with a tallit (prayer shawl), kiddish cup and kosher wine, and recitation of blessings. Up to that point, I think I had only attended one bris, and I hadn’t been able to hear the proceedings well, so I really appreciated Dr M’s explanations. There was a touch of sadness for me when he referred to parts of the ritual when traditionally our fathers (or mothers) would be participating; both our fathers have died, and the notion of having either of our mothers present is complicated. But, I certainly recall thinking of them, and wishing we had family to share this experience with. So, the bris proceeded, with blessings pronounced beforehand, and then each boy, first the older, followed by the younger, were given a

J seated with Tallit, nearly asleep

little oral sedative, and then wheeled fairly happily into the OR and put to sleep for the procedure.

In my work, the data supporting the benefits of circumcison in preventing transmission of HIV and STIs (sexually transmitted infections) has been very convincing, and it sometimes surprises me to find myself in conversations and discussions with educated friends of mine who resist the notion of circumcision. It has reminded me that, 20 years ago, the young “health-conscious”, but very naive, person that I was would have been horrified to imagine that she would age into the 40+ year old woman who would willingly put her sons “under the knife” to remove their foreskins. And yet, if one follows the argument that our bodies are sacrosanct, and we should do nothing “artificial” to modify them, we would never pierce our earlobes to wear earrings, those of my friends who enjoy their tattoos would have to forgo that creative expression, and we would allow people to die of cancers, an appendicitis, and suffer from hernias and torn ligaments and worn joints. Why do we draw the line at a relatively minor procedure with well-documented benefits?

So, for both religious reasons, as well as health concerns, we circumcised our boys. We did not tell them that it was required for them to become Jewish; they’ll learn that later. We have begun the conversation about the meaning on the mikveh, and how mommy became Jewish by going to the mikveh just as they will do.  They have been, unknowingly, practicing immersion in the swimming pool, and both are very comfortable with it, so I hope it goes smoothly on the day.

Stay tuned…

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