My son is seven days old. I am holding him on my lap; he’s just fallen asleep, and his little fingers unfurl like ribbons. He has no idea what’s going to happen tomorrow. No one is talking about it; family members fly around me like birds as tears run down my cheeks. Finally my mother notices.
“What’s the matter, honey?”
I look up at her. “Brit tomorrow.”
“That’ll teach you,” she says, “to have a boy.”
Right, Mom. Thanks.
I married a cantor. Had a son. Now I have to watch while someone, uh, cuts his, uh, what?
God. Ha Shem. We lost your Name.
Get me Rewrite. Now.
The cats stare with what I perceive to be sympathy. I tell them (telepathically, so no one hears) that I don’t think there should be a party tomorrow. Shouldn’t this be private?
Across the room, everyone is laughing at a joke, but I can’t hear it. If there are thoughts about the ceremony, no one is discussing them and I don’t feel comfortable sharing mine.
Years ago a friend told me that after her son’s brit, she looked under his blanket. “Seeing this perfect little body with bandages. I hated that.”
I was at that brit and from what I remember, some sort of topical anesthetic was used. I make a mental note to ask someone, remembering Josh’s dad engaged a pediatrician who doubles as a circumcisionist, known in the trade as a mohel. Funny word for an unfunny job.
I think of all the brit ceremonies I’ve been to, never guessing at how a mother might feel until now.
I just got this beautiful, adorable, tiny little present. We just named him. Joshua. I don’t want to hurt him. I don’t want to see him hurt.
At this age, it is supposed to cause a minimum of pain and will never be remembered by the baby. At least that’s what some people say. But they also say lobsters don’t feel pain when they’re being boiled to death. I wonder if the lobster knows better.
I look down at my son again. What if we slipped away?
Two imaginary doors open in my mind. One to a brit milah ritual with food, friends, family; the other to me and my kid at the Greyhound Bus Station.
“Where you headed, Miss?”
“Oh yeah?” says my imaginary bus driver. “What’s there?”
“Renegade Jews that don’t circumcise their children.”
If there is such a group, wouldn’t California be the place for them to be?
Maybe, like the cats, I can defy gravity and climb up to the ceiling with my son, hiding in plain sight until our demands were met. Wait a little longer, I’d say. Like until he’s 80 or so?
Fantasies always end badly when you bump up against the Real.
That night in bed I listen to my son snoring in the bassinet. How does such a tiny nose make such big sounds?
I need to talk to someone. But who? If there really is an afterlife, I would ask for God’s attorney. So many questions I’d want answered, and I think God would be too busy. Right now I have some questions about the brit.
I can wrap my mind around some of the other stuff. Shabbos. Kashrut. Even the mikveh, though I may not agree. But this one, I just don’t understand. And there’s no real explanation for it that I can see.
And God said unto Abraham… ye shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of a covenant betwixt Me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every male throughout your generations… and the uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that should shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken My covenant.
Got to give it to ‘em for clarity, though.
In the Guide for the Perplexed (which would be me) the Rambam says: “No one, however, should circumcise himself or his son for any other reason than pure faith.”
So though there is some scientific evidence about preventing cancer, urinary tract infections and HIV, the tradition is actually focused on one thing and one thing only; God’s commandment.
There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who believe, and those who do not. Which am I?
My son stops snoring and I think he is going to wake up. I look over at him, but nothing happens.
Why do I think an attorney would help, anyway? Lawyers are so good at spinning things. Today I need the truth.
I can’t say no right now, being in the middle of a cantor’s family, and I’m not sure I could anyway, because You seem to be so set on this. But why?
It feels to me like a symbol of everything I can’t do; every possible way that I cannot protect my son. Is that the point? Is it that he’s Yours, and I’m only borrowing?
If so, I get it. We don’t need to do this now. Do we?
The next day is bright and sunny. Josh’s dad carries him out to the living room in a royal blue velvet shirt and pants. Everyone is cooing at him. When the doctor/mohel arrives we talk a bit and I receive some reassurances. Some sort of numbing gel is applied and the deed is done.
Suddenly, everyone is cheering and celebrating, but I can’t wait to get my son back into his room. I try to remember little details but I’ve blocked them out; whether the mohel was a man or a woman, if Josh cried, how much gauze there was and how long it stayed on.
I do remember leaving the guests and just sitting with my son for the rest of the day while he slept. I love so many of the things I celebrate Jewishly, light spiraling through candles, Chevra Kadisha, Sukkot and Tashlich, the ceremony of forgiveness. But this one. I don’t know.
I took a leap of faith for brit milah. I took it because there are two kinds of people in the world, believers and those who don’t believe. I don’t know which I am yet. But I think I know who I want to be.
Guess I have a ways to go.
Filed Under: Raising the Tribe