Saturday, June 30, 2007

More on Brits or lack thereof

[N.B. If you're here looking for commentary on Tony Blair or Laurence Olivier, you're at the wrong blog.]

Having responded to a crank letter about circumcision yesterday, and then further stuck my nose in over at Oy Bay (note to self- learn to read people's names), I thought I'd conclude with a brief examination of one of the more rankling arguments raised by Sylvia and co. regarding the bloodless brit. Namely, the issue of selfishness.

I acknowledge that parents deciding not to circumcise their child does contain an element of selfishness. By the same token, however, I think there's a good argument that the alternative is similarly selfish. Either way, the parent imposes THEIR will on the child, who, let's be honest, is not in a position to give much of an opinion.

Frankly I think I come out brit-neutral more than anything else, which is to say, for cultural and nostalgia reasons-- and for some of the supposed health benefits, sure, why not-- I'd be fine with a circumcision, if not an actual brit ceremony. At the same time, I don't think the brit is THE defining Jewish act of a person's life, and I don't think not having one disqualifies you from studying with Rashi under the Tree of Life on a desert island Mandel floating in a sea of cholent when you pass on (note to self- come up with better afterlife scenario). I'd rather keep my distance from the zealots of both camps on this one, thanks very much.

Not having children, I haven't had to deal with the brit issue first-hand. However I have had other discussions about my hypothetical children which seem relevant, particularly the question of how "selfish" it is for someone like me, a post-modern agnostic, largely cultural, somewhat spiritual Jew interested in living some kind of Jewish home life and having a Jewish family, to date non-Jews.

I had one guy tell me that my decision to have a relationship with a non-Jew was selfish because it would constitute a "Jewish castration", forever cutting off my children from having a "true identity." He chided me for contemplating raising my (future) children as "fake", non-halachic Jews. "What if they want to marry someone frum, and they discover that they were never really Jewish in the first place? Do you want to put them through that?"

I told him that I thought this was bunk, and stand by it. First, given my religious views, it's extremely unlikely that any kids of mine would wind up in a situation where they would be marrying someone frum-- this would require them to be frum themselves, and in the course of this, they would encounter, and have to deal with, their halachic status. Second, irregardless of who they choose to marry, my future children's halachic status does not preclude them from converting Orthodox, should that be their choice. By the same token, I find it more than a little alarmist for pro-circ advocates to rail on about how non-circumcised Jewish males will grow up miserable with a major inferiority complex-- if it really bothers them that much, guess what? You can change it. It might be a major pain in the ass, but it's an option.

For all I know, regardless of how they're raised, my children might wind up wanting to become Scandinavian Neo-Pagans. Should I therefore lose sleep over how best to accommodate the future religious needs and possible identity crises my not converting to Paganism? I can see the fights now- "How am I supposed to marry Frigurd Power-crystal with such bad yichus?" Ok, they probably won't say yichus, but you get the idea. The best I can do is try and chart a path that's right for me and has the potential for success with my children. It makes no more sense for me to assume that a non-Orthodox (and non-halachic) family and household will hurt my children than it is to assume that they're likely to become vegans and painfully relive every chicken dinner they're subjected to under my roof. This, incidentally, is why the argument only seems to make sense to frum apologists- if you're convinced that everything not-frum is crap, of course you'll assume they'll be miserable if they're raised reform. Never mind that plenty of people don't seem to like being raised frum, either. (Incidentally, the idea that some of these kids may either join religious communities that don't circumcise, or may simply be bothered about it when they become older, never seems to cross the mind of any of the more vocal pro-circ folks. Or is the idea that it doesn't matter what their kids want, because if they're going to turn away from the derech they don't really count?)

What is unreasonable, in my mind, is to ask me to make a decision that runs counter to my own conscience and beliefs for the sake of a choice my hypothetical children may or may not make in their own lives decades from now. Is that selfish? A little, yeah. Sorry, I'm not so selfless as to let my nonexistent, presently imaginary kids, who for all I know will want to become Maoist rebels, raving Pentecostals or Al Qaeda spokespeople, run the show. (As long as they aren't Shakers or Scientologists, I'll be happy.) They'll get their turn once they actually exist.

Who knows, maybe they'll even get a brit.

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