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!
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • 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.