Saturday, September 14, 2013

Bris Shalom: 'Bloodless Bris' is Becoming Popular Among Rabbis and Jewish Parents

Bris Shalom: 'Bloodless Bris' is Becoming Popular Among Rabbis and Jewish Parents   

Rabbis Against Circumcision: Brit Shalom and Bris B'lee Milah (The Jewish Covenants Without Cutting).

Many Rabbis are welcoming intact males into the Jewish community, and a growing number of Rabbis feel that surgical circumcision is no longer appropriate in the 21st century. Over 100+ Rabbis, Cantors and other Jewish leaders perform covenant ceremonies without surgical circumcision, and many more will do so upon parental request. These include Rabbis in the Reform, Conservative, Renewal, Reconstructionist and many other branches of Judaism. This is another sign thatintactivism is gaining social acceptance even in the Jewish community.

Hundreds of thousands of Jewish males around the world remain intact. Most Eastern European and South American Jews remain intact, and many Western European Jews have long ceased circumcision, seeing it as a violent leftover of pre-civilized times. Reform, Humanistic, and Reconstructionist Judaism welcome intact Jews.

Increasingly young Jewish parents are choosing to keep their newborn sons intact. Many of these parents want a welcoming covenant ceremony that affirms their Jewish faith without damaging their son's body. This movement exists in the United StatesCanadaIsrael, and around the world. Intactivists are those who believe that child circumcision is a violation of human rights and civil liberties, and a growing number of Jews are adopting this position. Jewish leaders, Rabbis, and scholars are evolving tradition to create a covenant without circumcision.

For over ten years, Mark Reiss, MD, a Jewish doctor and co-founder of Doctors Against Circumcision has published a list of Rabbis who will celebrate a bloodless Bris Shalom. Among the members on this list are Rabbis with intact grandsons and Rabbis who after decades of officiating at circumcisions, have stopped doing so for moral reasons. Many parents are also finding that their regular Rabbi or Cantor are happy to do so as well, even if they are not on this list.
Jewish parents can find a Rabbi, or Cantor to lead a Brit without cutting on this Bris Shalom Celebrants List

The Intact Male Foreskin and Human Rights.
The human body is a delicate biological eco-system and surgery on any part of it has an effect on the whole system. The intact male foreskin is an innate part of the human anatomy with a valid protective purpose. Read a medical appraisal of the protective biological value of the foreskin. The presence of the Intactivist movement has thankfully brought these human rights issues to the forefront of the American consciousness.

Judaism has evolved enormously over the last two hundred years. Jews were active in the early civil rights, peace, women’s, gay rights, and environmental movements, making huge advances for human rights in many areas. The prevalence of female Rabbis and the acceptance of gays and lesbians in most Jewish communities shows just how quickly Judaism can evolve on issues of fundamental human rights.
Here are some of these Rabbis and other Jewish leaders speaking about a covenant without circumcision in their own words.

"I cannot support circumcision with any conviction, just because it has always been held in high regard. It remains a barbaric, bloody act, which fills the father with anxiety and subjects the mother to morbid stress. The idea of sacrifice, which once consecrated the procedure, has certainly vanished among us, as it should. It is a brutal act that does not deserve continuation. No matter how much religious sentiment may have clung to it in the past, today it is perpetuated only by custom and fear, to which surely we do not want to erect temples." - Rabbi Abraham Geiger, one of the founders of the Reform movement of Judaism.

"I believe circumcision is a major mistake...  Just as we no longer practice the animal sacrifices in the traditional temple, so let us not sacrifice an important piece of our mammal in the temple of tradition."
- Rabbi Nathan Segal, Rabbi of Shabbos Shul, One Rabbis' Thoughts on Circumcision
"After officiating at [traditional bris] ceremonies for over three decades, I've concluded that it's just too painful and traumatic for me to inflict on a neonate... If I doubt it's something I'd subject myself to as an adult, I'm certainly not keen on inflicting it on a baby."
Rabbi Jay Heyman quoted in Some Jewish parents break ranks over circumcision, By Judy Peres, Chicago Tribune, May 22, 2007.

I will never conduct a “bris” service or be present for a male ritual circumcision."
- Rabbi Jeffrey Falick, Miami Beach, Florida. 
"We do not engage in circumcision, so that we celebrate all babies being born, girls and boys and the ceremonies are the same for welcoming both girls and boys into a poetic kind of covenantal ideal of love and support. We're all born into the world vulnerable and in need of people who love us and take care of us…  we depend upon each other for love and protection and that extends in this case I would say also to creating a covenant without circumcision….  There’s no official place in our movement’s philosophy for circumcision… the welcoming ceremony has no place for it… it’s really unimportant actually… most Jewish people who have any of covenant actually focus primarily on how we treat each other…   we’re all in this together folks… we all have to live some kind of ideas… not sacrifices of children’s bits - I think that’s completely absurd at this time in history. I will say that I would not circumcise a child. … I think many Rabbis actually if they were going to be honest would say that circumcision is an unimportant part of Jewish life.”
- Rabbi Binyamin Biber, Georgetown University, September 22, 2011

"I have already written about my opposition to infant circumcision.  Now, with the release of a new film and a new website, there is finally some momentum building among Jews to do away with this antiquated and barbaric custom.... I cannot imagine why any sane person would put their baby boy through an unnecessary and painful surgery without even the benefit of anesthesia.  Yet, until recently, no one in Jewish leadership has challenged this obsolete and primitive ritual."
- Rabbi Jeffrey Falick, Eliminating The Cruelest Cut, October 4, 2011

"We're seeing [circumcision's] decline, and we're seeing Rabbi's like me and others in other communities saying these practices are not warranted and we're seeing a generational shift away from them. One of the things that I think that's also critical is the growing popularity, and I think a rightful popularity of natural medicine and natural childbirth ideas. And I think that this is clearly seen as inconsistent - circumcision, male infant circumcision, female infant circumcision or genital mutilation - not consistent with natural childbirth, natural health. To the extent we see within nature patterns of evolved health and wellness. This is clearly not one of them. Inflicting a wound on an infant is clearly not one of those... If circumcision is ever wanted, it's not warranted at this point. “
- Rabbi Binyamin Biber, Georgetown University, September 22, 2011

More and more Jews are choosing to not circumcise their boys.. (Thank God!) And just as we accept Jews who do not keep kosher or observe as we do, we recognize the amazing diversity of practice and belief that is part and parcel of our astounding heritage.
Genital cutting does not create a 'mensch' (a conscious-caring individual). Indeed it is more of an obstacle to our natural development and [a] source of anger and confusion. Coming from an Orthodox background and having lived in Jerusalem, i am very aware that the problems of domestic violence and sexual pathology are just as prevalent in the observant communities as in the secular. Deuteronomy 10:16 says: "Circumcise the foreskin of your heart..." In Hebrew, the word foreskin is 'orlah'... there is an 'orlah' covering the ear and the heart... What is preventing us from 'hearing the word of God and opening our hearts in love and compassion.. This is the real circumcision that needs to occur. and it is a life-time learning ceremony…. 'Brit Milah' is the Hebrew for the covenant of 'circumcision'. 'Mila' also means 'word'.. We can welcome the child with songs and praises and holy words, gentle tones, and soft touches and smiles.”
- Rabbi Nathan Segal, Rabbi of Shabbos.

"The issue of circumcision, in my view, is whether we want submission and wounding, as a symbolic act, to mark a man's relationship to God and to the community in general. I no longer believe such a wounding is defensible."
"There is more emotion about eliminating circumcision than perhaps any other traditional practice. But it is time to find a different symbol of a boy's entrance into the community. Instead of cutting our sons, we might celebrate their masculinity. A more appropriate symbol would be a nurturing act, one that would affirm a boy's relationship to a loving father, both his own and that of his God. We might, for example, feed our sons, since a meal is also a traditional symbol of covenant. Indeed, in one text, Moses and Aaron and the elders go up to the top of the mountain, and when they see God, they eat and drink. Feeding our sons, rather than wounding them, would be a symbol of our nurturing relationship to them."
- Rabbi Howard Eilberg-Schwartz, A Masculine Critique of a Father God, Tikkun, Magazine, September/October 1995

"…the ritual and religious consequences of not being circumcised amount to nothing. There is absolutely nothing that an intact Jewish male today cannot do. Contrast this with - I'm talking from the Orthodox perspective - non-Sabbath observance. Jews who are not Sabbath observant are not trusted in Halachic courts of law, they cannot be witnesses at people's weddings, they cannot be trusted with issues of Kashrut, making sure that things are Kosher... Here's an issue that is very easy to solve. You don't even have to argue for the eradication of male circumcision in the Jewish tradition for everyone to be happy. All you have to do is say that this will be a decision that an individual makes at an age when they can make the decision.”
- Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon.

“That just raises one of the ethical problems that I think is so central. There’s not a huge number of medical accidents, but the fact is that this is an unnecessary surgery. And so the fact that there would be any medical accidents whatsoever raises an enormous ethical question. Why should there be a procedure that is unnecessary… that there'd be any medical risk at all, and that there'd be pain afflicted at all. And no anesthetic given in 50% of the cases. What the hell's going on there?... If you look at the Hebrew Bible text you’ll see a place where circumcision is actually compared with the act of sacrificing animals.“
- Rabbi Binyamin Biber, Georgetown University, September 22, 2011.

"The thought of saying Hebrew prayers over the cutting of a baby’s flesh seemed truly barbaric to me. I wondered, “if mothers had the power to design Judaism, would circumcision have played such a central role?”... My second son came into the family by adoption at eleven months of age. He was born in Guatemala (where circumcision is not a general practice) so he had not been cut. Again, I was straddling the fence about whether to circumcise or not.... I did not take him for surgery. His body is intact and un-cut. Now he is an older teen who participates actively in the synagogue. Not once have I witnessed or heard from him about a single instance of raised eyebrows or persecution about his penis... I know that there is a time-tested and very valid way to be Jewish without being circumcised. All I have to do is look at my three daughters. Fifty percent of the Jewish people have managed to be fully Jewish without any ritual cutting of skin—the females. I think this is an issue where being beyond gender in our decision-making would be worthwhile.... Twenty two years after making the decision about how to welcome my firstborn son, I am more confident as a rabbi and as a mother. If I were making the decision today, I might not have made the decision to circumcise my first baby.”
- Rabbi Julie Greenberg, Cutting and Covenant: How I Decided Whether Or Not To Circumcise My Sons,

"It seems very silly that people who are not Jewish would engage in circumcisions. It makes no sense to me either. And neither does today from where I'm at, neither does a brit milah work for me. Because when I see the babies crying in your film, and I've spoken with neurosurgeons as well, and I know that babies undergo - that there's a lot of pain involved. Your conclusion was absolutely right. Our faith should be about healing and joy, not about inflicting more pain. And so from my perspective I'm very interested in performing brit shalom. You can do everything you do in that ceremony - except the violent part. Everything works. You can adapt a couple of brahot and it's beautiful... That's the beauty of who we are today. We should be joyful and not hurt little babies... I too am rooted in tradition. I went to Yeshiva. I've davened with Lubbovovich. I've led services in the Conservative synagogues and in the Reform synagogues."
Rabbi Steven Blane, Rabbi of Congregation Havurah Sim Shalom, and Dean of the Jewish Spiritual Leader's Institute.

“There are really no practical religious ritual consequences - and I’m speaking about this from an Orthodox perspective too - to not being circumcised… The only exclusion in Jewish law – even from an Orthodox perspective, for an intact Jewish male is the Pascal Lamb, the Korban Pesach which hasn’t been brought in 2,000 years, and it won’t be brought again until the Temple’s rebuilt ostensibly. If it’s even brought when the Temple’s rebuilt, if the Temple’s rebuilt.“
- Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon, Georgetown University, September 22, 2011.

"Ritual circumcision poses difficult moral and religious issues for many liberal (non-Halachic) Jews… First, there is the issue of inflicting pain on the newborn in a religious ceremony. There is always tension as we gather around for a bris. Very often the mother (and sometimes the father) prefer to absent themselves as they can’t bear to witness the event. The cutting of the foreskin violates our instinct not to inflict any unnecessary pain on our children….We regard female genital mutilation to be utterly abhorrent and immoral. Why not circumcision?
While many anti-circumcision activists focus on the important question of pain or mutilation which could be thought of as the rights of the child, I want to focus the nature of circumcision as a core element of a Judaism that contradicts our commitment to a Judaism that fully includes both men and women.… When my son was born some thirty years ago, I felt I couldn’t break that tradition and chose to honor the power of tradition over my ambivalence. I just couldn’t imagine breaking the tradition. Over the past three decades I have become even more ambivalent about circumcision.... There are Jews who refuse to circumcise and create an alternative ceremony. You can find more information about this on the website: <>.
- Rabbi Brian Walt, To circumcise or not, that is also a question., Congregation Tikkun v’Or Newsletter, Issue 163, July – August 2011.
"The code of the Jewish law is called "halacha" (the way). Within the Code, there is a provision that if a mother loses a son because of circumcision, she is NOT obligated to circumcise her next son. I extrapolate from this, the inter-connection of my human family, that enough deaths and maiming have occurred because of circumcision. Therefore - circumcision is no longer a requisite! Just as we no longer practice the animal sacrifices in the traditional temple, so let us not sacrifice an important piece of our mammal in the temple of tradition."
- Rabbi Nathan Segal, Rabbi of Shabbos Shul.

Jewish Intactivist Link List
Bris Shalom and Brit B'lee Milah Writings for Jewish Parents.
HowJudaic is the circumcision? An Israeli Hebrew scholar on Biblical intactivism.Rabbis who lead covenant without cutting ceremonies worldwide.
Naming and Welcoming Ceremony on the Birth of a Child by Rabbi Jay B. Heyman.
Brit B'lee Milah Ceremony
A Brit Shalom Ceremony
Song for an Intact Jewish Boy’s Welcoming

Judaism, the Foreskin & Human Rights.
Rabbis on a Covenant without Circumcision
Jewish Evolution, the Foreskin, & Human Rights | Part 1.Jewish Evolution, the Foreskin, & Human Rights | Part 2.Jewish Evolution, the Foreskin, & Human Rights | Part 3.

Jewish Intactivist Families: Jewish Parents' Experiences Keeping their Sons Intact.
Laura Shanley: A Jewish Woman Denounces Circumcision | A Jewish Childbirth Educator keeps her sons intact.Moshe Rothenberg: Ending Circumcision in the Jewish Community? | Envisioning an Intactivist Judaism.Michael Kimmel: The Kindest Un-Cut: Feminism, Judaism, and My Son's Foreskin | Published in Tikkun. Intact & Jewish | Published on the Natural Parents Network.The Naming | Published on Very, Very FineDiane Targovnik: How "Cut" Saved My Son's Foreskin: A Movie Review | Published on Beyond the Bris.Humanistic Judaism is Increasingly Intactivist.Circumcision
Questions (letter from an intact Jew)
. |  Published in the Northern California Jewish Bulletin.
Outlawing Circumcision: Good for the Jews? By Eli Ungar-Sargon. Published in the Jewish Daily Forward. 
Dear Elijah: A Conservative Jewish Father's Letter to His Intact Son | Published on Peaceful Parenting.Stacey Greenberg: My Son: The Little Jew with a Foreskin | Published in Mothering Magazine.


  1. I was neonatally circumcised at a NJ hospital by the doctor who delivered me. It completely injured me. Infant circumcision is invasive, injurious, and traumatic, and has lifelong consequences. World wide, only about 20 out of every l,000 newborn male infants are circumcised—and 18 of those 20 are in the United States. The medical evidence however is overwhelmingly against circumcision in infancy. Studies show that neonatal circumcision causes significant pain and trauma, behavioral and neurological changes in infants, potential parental stress from persistent crying (colic) of infants, disrupted bonding between parent and child, and risk of surgical complications. Other consequences of circumcision include loss of a natural, healthy, functioning body part, reduced sexual pleasure, potential psychological problems, and unknown negative effects that have not been studied (See:

    Today's parents are educating themselves in every way they can about infant circumcision. This includes watching videos of the surgery (thank you Internet!) and the effect on the babies. They are also thinking about how their adult son might feel about having been circumcised. Today's parents, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, are protecting their children from unnecessary pain and suffering and are protecting their right to bodily integrity. Today's parents are saying NO to circumcision. God made us in God's image and likeness.

  2. 65 years ago British doctors stopped genital cutting because they were no longer paid to do it. Very few men if left intact as children will ever want or need to have his foreskin cut off. That should tell you all you need to know.