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!
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • 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.