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For Convert and Mother-to-Be, Bris Is Ultimate Measure of Commitment

How do you measure commitment? That’s the question I was left pondering after reading Elana Sztokman’s post on the double standard for Orthodox women. Some women’s tardiness for services has become a justification for shutting out the entire gender from a whole host of responsibilities, as late arrival to shul apparently signifies a lack of spiritual commitment.

Now, I converted to Judaism earlier this month, and as a Reform Jew-come-lately I don’t expect my two cents to count very much in this larger and very important debate about women’s roles in Orthodox Judaism.

But my thoughts immediately turned to a conversation I recently had with a fellow conversion student who, like me, is pregnant with her first child. As soon as we established that we’re both expecting boys, we exchanged a meaningful glance.

“So are you doing the…” she began.

“Yup,” I said. “Definitely.”

“Me too,” she said, her voice low and serious.

We could only be talking about one thing: Circumcision. It’s not a decision that any mother can make lightly or easily, I think, and especially not a recent convert.

Marrying a Jewish man? Sure, that’s a commitment. Studying for a year with a rabbi and converting to Judaism? That’s a commitment. Handing your eight-day-old son over to a near-stranger who will snip off a tender part of his anatomy in order to fulfill a covenant your newly adopted ancestors made with God thousands of years ago? That’s an all-caps COMMITMENT, baby. No going back from that one.

Knowing how hard it will be to watch someone take a knife to my precious little baby (however skillfully, however gently), I have to laugh at anyone who questions an Orthodox woman’s commitment to her faith. A mirthless, bitter laugh, but laugh nonetheless.

Have they seen the size of the average Orthodox woman’s family? Have these men taken a moment to consider who bears the burden of following the command to be fruitful and multiply? Would they question the commitment of Rachel Krishevsky, a Jerusalem woman and mother of 11 who passed away at the age of 99 earlier this month? Go ahead and take it up with the 1,400 descendants she gave to the world.

I understand that by emphasizing women’s role as mothers, I may be playing into the hands of those who seek to exclude women from holding positions of religious responsibility on the basis that a woman’s only source of spiritual authority is as a mother and caretaker. But if they’re going to claim the power to look into a woman’s heart and gauge her spiritual commitment, let’s be honest about what they’d find there.

Getting to shul on time? Serving as part of a minyan? Please. That’s nice and all, but perfecting the outward motions of an observant life is hardly proof of a pure heart.

Bearing and raising Jewish children? That, as I’m discovering first-hand, is a commitment.

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