Contemporary Issues in Baby Ceremonies

Modern questions bring new challenges to, and stimulate debates about, several facets of ceremonies for babies.

Most prominent among them, the contemporary debate about circumcision reflects religious, medical, political, and psychological questions. Until recently–except in the early period of classical Reform Judaism–circumcision of male babies in a religious context was a near-automatic act on the part of parents of a Jewish baby boy. But allegiance to traditional Jewish practice and to the notion of commandment has declined in the modern period. Consequently, Jews, like people of other faiths and cultures, are more open to questions coming from outside of a Jewish framework.

Issues with Circumcision

Among the questions that modern critics of circumcision raise are: Does circumcision diminish men’s sexual pleasure? Is circumcision psychologically traumatic? Is it medically necessary? While these questions are all relevant to the general North American practice of the circumcision of infants, some Jews entertain them even regarding the religious practice of brit milah. Some ask whether it is fair for parents to make such an important and permanent decision for their male children. Additionally, some Jewish feminists claim that the perpetuation of brit milah as a bodily covenantal sign laden with significance and the lack of a sign and ceremony of equivalent power for girls both represents and perpetuates a male bias in Judaism.

Defenders of the practice in a Jewish context take a variety of positions, including:

· Brit milah is a commandment, and its essential obligatory nature is unaffected by science, psychology, or sociology.

· Circumcision actually appears to provide some medical benefit to men and their sexual partners.

· There is no evidence that circumcision is traumatic.

· The development of a uniform, powerful covenantal ceremony for girls should supplement brit milah, rather than eliminating it in the name of parity.

· For better or worse, brit milah does represent a powerful connection to a long chain of Jewish tradition, particularly for fathers and sons of Jewish men.

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