I’m anti-circumcision and am invited to a bris — how can I make it through without being rude?

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By: David SifryCC BY 2.0
I have a friend who is pregnant, and as it is wont to do, the topic of circumcision recently came up. My friend’s husband is Jewish, and a bris is expected.

I am very anti-circumcision, but I don’t make a habit of preaching about it and my friend has no idea. I know my partner and I will be invited, and I’m not sure how to do deal with being there. I don’t want to be present for the occasion, but I want to support my friend and meet her baby.

Does anyone have any tips for keeping my opinions to myself and focusing on supporting my friend and her family? — LG

We asked Offbeat Families contributor Sarah Tuttle-Singer (you may have also read her on Kveller and The Times of Israel to weigh in on the topic:

Sarah says…

Let me start by staying — straight up — that the Circumcision Decision is a tough one. I grappled with it, and I’m grappling with it now while I try to formulate how to best answer the question “What is a bris, and why is it performed?”

There’s a quick answer: A bris (brit milah in Hebrew, “covenant of circumcision” in English) is a rite of passage central to Jewish identity where the foreskin of an infant (typically on the 8th day of life) is removed during a special ceremony.

Simple enough, but here’s the tricky part. “Why is it performed?”

“Uh, because the Torah says so” is a crappy answer, but there ya have it. It IS tradition that has been handed down since biblical times — and probably before, as well. However… the Torah does NOT specify WHY.

There are theories. Many believe that back in the day, it was healthier and cleaner to remove an infant’s foreskin. That argument still holds merit amongst many in the medical field, while others correctly note that proper hygiene and safe sex practices make it less relevant. Circumcision also marks Jewish men as different — yeah, this is less
the case now that so many non-Jews are circumcised in the US — but during the nascent days of the Jewish people, it was a big deal, and a big part of the tradition. It’s also a huge test of faith and determination for a man who wants to convert — after all, if you’re willing to have part of your foreskin removed in order to be a Member of the Tribe, then you must really want to join.

But regardless of the reason why your friend has chosen to circumcise her son, the fact is that’s what’s happening. And I applaud you for wanting to support her.

Still, I understand that you want to be authentic and true to your own feelings about this issue — so here are three things you can do:

  1. You can simply opt out of the ceremony, and come after for a nosh and a shmooze.
  2. Or, many times the mother does not want to watch the actual brit — I cowered in another room and buried my head in a pillow. (Incidentally, my son slept through the whole thing.) If she is planning on NOT being in the room, another option is to sit with her and hold her hand.
  3. If you really cannot be there, don’t go. Call her before, explain you can’t make it (any excuse will do — but I would strongly suggest NOT to tell her it’s because you don’t approve of her decision) and make time to see her the following week.

I hope this helps.

REMINDER: We are not here to debate circumcision. We’re here to discuss how LG can best support her friend, while also honoring her own values.

Comments on I’m anti-circumcision and am invited to a bris — how can I make it through without being rude?

  1. So many parents are torn about this one, myself included. Do we go against 5,000 years of history and tradition and declare ‘no, i will not have this brutal (yes brutal) act performed on my child?’ or do we hold it all in, cry, scream and deliver our child up for the ritual. I personally think by attending you are not saying ‘I agree and support this act’, you are saying ‘I support my friend no matter what’. I would have been upset if close friends had not come, because I needed so much support that day, without judgement. Then again I did not face that decision as both times my sons went through the bris we were overseas, living in new countries. Just remember, the parents might feel like you, but be in a bind, directed by a tradition which is still one of the cornerstones of the faith and very, very difficult to challenge. Think of how they might feel and how you can help them, your prejudices aside. You might be surprised by some of the emotional nuances of the event. I certainly was.

  2. Not all Jews are circumcising these days (especially outside the USA). Here are contact details for more than 100 celebrants of Brit Shalom (non-surgical baby naming ceremonies) in 34 US states and DC, 2 Canadian provinces and several other countries, 53 of them rabbis, so it’s not so unthinkable as it once was. http://tinyurl.com/britshalom
    I would alert my friend to the existence of these celebrants well in advance, and privately make my attendance conditional on them having a Brit Shalom (or a girl). Otherwise I would politely decline and give no reason. It is important not to even appear to threaten them with non-attendance: blackmail is not nice, but you are NOT obliged to “support” something you don’t support.

    • Unless someone is actively opening herself up to a conversation about her parenting choices, please do not “alert her to the existence” of alternatives to a choice she has already made. Since when has an invitation to an event been an invitation to criticize said event? Hey, come to our wedding, but please let me know if you would rather it be at a different venue with different food and a different officiant! You are under no obligation to attend an event, but I would immediately cut off a friend who conditioned his or her attendance at my celebration on how I celebrated it.

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