A Father's Pain at Overseeing Son's Circumcision

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

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By Elie Jesner

Published May 07, 2013, issue of May 10, 2013.
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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


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