A Father's Pain at Overseeing Son's Circumcision

Ancient Ritual Isn't Easy — Even for an Orthodox Man

getty images

By Elie Jesner

Published May 07, 2013, issue of May 10, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

I’m in the shower at 6 a.m. with a sick feeling in my gut. Today, my 8-day-old son is going to be circumcised.

This is my third round, and many people told me this time would be easier — and being an Orthodox Jew who embraces ritual in his life, you’d think it would be. But it isn’t. The first time was bad, but it all happened quite quickly so there wasn’t time for the horror to build up. I don’t remember the second one so clearly, only that it wasn’t good.

But this time I’ve felt especially close to the baby, spending the first few hours of his life alone with him while my wife was rushed into surgery for a minor emergency procedure. And my life is different now. I’m three years into my psychotherapy training, I’m more in touch with my nurturing instincts.

So it feels really alien to choose to inflict pain upon my son, to put him through the trauma of a minor procedure without anaesthetic.

Why am I doing this? What has possessed me?

God apparently told Abraham to do it, to walk before Him and be perfect.

The Forward wants to tell readers stories about circumcision. Tell us your experiences with the rite

I don’t feel perfect. I feel far from perfect.

We’ve been doing it for thousands of years.

I don’t buy that argument. Mankind has been doing horrendous things for thousands of years: slavery, capital punishment, condemning homosexuals, oppressing women.

That is not a club of actions I want to be part of: I believe in moral progress, in the continuous unfolding of values, in progressive enlightenment and revelation. When we justify with reference to precedent, when we cede the authority of our own heart and conscience, that is when we begin to step into darkness; that is when we unleash all manner of regressive passions and practices upon the world.

I don’t live that way, I don’t want to live that way, I don’t ultimately believe anyone should live that way.

I’m confused.

I stand in silence during the Amidah hoping for inspiration, for some clarity or ease of mind. But the torment increases, more than ever I don’t know who I’m praying to; the source of value and truth in the world is hidden. Where a bright light normally shines there is today merely darkness and clouds. I am abandoned, adrift, cut off from the root of life.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.