The Covenant of Circumcision

Male converts to Judaism are traditionally required to undergo circumcision or, if already circumcised, a ritual removal of a single drop of blood.

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Brit Milah--Adult Circumcision for Conversion

The requirement of circumcision for male converts has undoubtedly limited Judaism's appeal to outsiders. The prospect of submitting one's penis to the knife is physically daunting and psychologically traumatic. And yet, there have always been men willing to undergo brit milah in order to become full members of the Jewish community.

Of course, modern medicine greatly minimizes the danger and pain associated with circumcision, and since urologists and some general surgeons routinely perform circumcisions for medical reasons, the procedure itself is fairly easy to arrange.

Only an experienced urologist or general surgeon should undertake an adult circumcision, and several of the mohelim certified by the Conservative and Reform movements are qualified in these fields. A Jewish surgeon who is not a mohel can perform brit milah by saying the blessing before he does the surgery. If the only available surgeon is a non-Jew, a mohel (or indeed any Jew) may say the blessing. Finally, a medical circumcision can be performed and then followed, at a later date, by hatafat dam brit. Your rabbi should be able to refer you to a physician/mohel or help set up a kosher alternative.

Adult circumcision is performed as day surgery. The procedure takes about 30 minutes, and patients are sent home as soon as the anesthesia wears off. Local, spinal, or general anesthesia may be used, depending upon the patient's anxiety level. Most men return to work the day after circumcision, with a prescription for a mild analgesic to alleviate postoperative pain. Dissolvable sutures are used so there are no stitches to remove; however, the urologist will want to check on the healing process after about two weeks. Swelling and discoloration persist for a week or two, and intercourse is prohibited for three to four weeks. Complications are rare, minor, and easily treated.

The religious ritual for an adult brit milah is minimal: the surgeon/mohel recites the blessing for the circumcision of converts prior to making the first incision, and a beit din [a court of three] must witness the brit by viewing a drop of blood from the incision.

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Anita Diamant

Anita Diamant is a writer. Her books include Choosing a Jewish Life, The New Jewish Wedding, Saying Kaddish, and The Red Tent, a novel. She lives in Newton, Massachusetts.