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

(page 3 of 3)

If he’s going to experience it, then so am I. As closely as possible.

The diaper comes off as my father holds the baby. It’s a small mercy that the baby screams every time his diaper comes off. That takes a little of the edge off this particular scream.

But then the mohel starts using his tools, separating the foreskin, poking and gripping it carefully. And then the clamp goes on.

Here we go. It’s like the final moments of ascending a huge rollercoaster climb. The adrenal fear is peaking.

I know the mohel’s trick: He tries to direct you to read the brakha, the blessing, so that you miss seeing the actual moment. I’m not falling for it; my eyes are glued to the clamp, to the foreskin. I have to see this, to know what I’ve done.

He checks to make sure that I don’t want to do it myself. I assure him that I don’t. I suppose I should, that I should really experience the horror of cutting him myself. But it’s much easier not to; this way we can almost convince ourselves it’s a medical procedure, a palliative fabrication helped by the mohel being a doctor.

I watch carefully. And with a quick flick of his wrist, the deed is done. There is blood, and there is screaming.

It’s my turn to say the brakha — to praise God, who has commanded me to bring my child into the covenant of Abraham. I feel very ambivalent. I’m generally proud of the Abrahamic tradition; I feel enriched by rooting myself in that much history. But isn’t there a less traumatic way to forge the connection?

Some might argue that it should be traumatic, that without a little trauma there’s no sacrifice. And without the price of sacrifice you can’t be part of the club.

The thought leaves me cold; I’m not sure I want to join a club that prizes the trauma of afflicting our children in this way.

The deed is done. My finger is straight into his mouth, something to suck on, to soothe him, along with plenty of Kiddush wine. Anything to ease the pain for both of us — anything at all.

My wife speaks beautifully, movingly, and there’s barely a dry eye in the house. Everyone gets that we’re doing this with difficulty.

At the other britot I felt better once it was done, relieved it was over, relieved there were no complications.

Not this time. This time I still feel sick, and as everyone comes to wish me mazel tov I can’t help but let them know that I’m not happy about it, that I’m seriously shaken up.

I’m not going to say we need to change this ritual, but at the very least we need to have a conversation about it, to explore what we think and feel about it. If it’s somehow necessary for us to go through this trauma as both parents and children, then it’s doubly necessary that we talk about it, that we give the wounds a chance to breathe.

To do any less would be to curtail our freedom of thought and feeling, to perform upon ourselves the ultimate mutilation.

Elie Jesner is a London-based writer and educator who is currently training as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist. His blog can be found at thinkingdafyomi.com


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!
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • 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.