Rabbis Without Borders
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I have been working with a married couple towards conversion. They have completed their learning, their years of living Jewishly, they are ready to go before the beit din, a rabbinic court of three rabbis who give their approval on the conversion.
As we discussed the details of their final steps of conversion, including immersion in the mikvah (ritual bath) I asked the man about circumcision. He took a deep breath and said, Rabbi, I am not circumcised and I would like to stay that way.
I explained to him the history and the importance of circumcision. He said he understood. I told him we will need to do hatafat dam brit, a ritual where a man receives a pin prick to his penis a drop of blood is drawn, usually done in the case where a man is already circumcised. He agreed. I told him how when he showers after working out at the JCC he will be an odd spectacle in the locker room. He said that he was used to that already. I also explained that for many people, his conversion will not be legitimate as long as he is uncircumcised. He understood. I told him I would convert him as long as in his heart he felt he could fully feel Jewish with his foreskin still on. He said he could, and I agreed to proceed.
There are three reasons why I will convert an uncircumcised man. First of all, I assume my congregants are circumcised, but I have never asked. There is no box on our synagogue membership form that says check here if you are not circumcised. If I do not require circumcision of my congregants who were born Jewish, why would I require circumcision for those who have fallen in love with Judaism and want to opt in?
Secondly, I believe deeply in equality for men and women. We have no requirement for women to prick their fingers let alone genitalia to offer a drop of blood as a sign of being part of the covenant of the Jewish people. I do not think women are any more or less Jewish without this ritual. Especially when converting a man and a woman together, the lack of parity in their ritual obligations is stark and even embarrassing. I ask so little of a woman and so much of a man. It seems unfair to me. Upping the ante for women and also making female circumcision a requirement is patently absurd. When I name girl babies, I will wash their feet as a sign of entering into the covenant of the Jewish people but this is a far cry from circumcision. So if I will not require women to perform an equivalent ritual, how can I demand it of men?
Lastly, I am not a halachic, Jewish-law-following, Jew. I do not require or expect the people I convert to be halachic Jews. I am a person who delights in welcoming people into the big tent of Judaism where I believe with all my heart there is room for everyone. Why, in the case of conversion would I require someone to follow a particular law in a legal system to which I am not beholden? Especially since Jewish law is not binding in my life or the lives of the people I convert and Jewish law can be a barrier to entrance into the big tent.
Let me be clear: I believe circumcision is an important and powerful ritual. If I had a son I would circumcise him. When I meet with men who are not circumcised, I encourage them to perform the ritual of circumcision. At the end of the day, I believe in a person’s right to choose what they do and do not do with their bodies. I trust in an adult’s ability to decide what will be ritually, spiritually, and religiously meaningful for them. And I feel my role is not to be a gatekeeper but a door holder.
Pronounced: huh-LAKH-ic, Origin: Hebrew, according to Jewish law, complying with Jewish law.