Letter to a New Mom: Don't Have a Bris

Picture the scene:

A crowded and confined space with breathing air sparse and absorbed by the body heat. You and your 8-day-old son are separated. Someone–not you or the boy’s father–carries your baby into this ceremonial area where he is delivered to a long-bearded stranger with shiny medical devices and a prayer book. The stranger chants in a foreign language then goes to work on your baby.

What I’ve described, believe it or not, is not some ritualistic punishment, but a bris, albeit stripped down to its barest elements. The bris is the religious rite of circumcision, and it is intended to be a joyous occasion celebrating birth and life or some shit like that.

It is also a traumatic experience for the baby and especially the new mother.

I’m only telling you this because you are debating whether or not to have a bris. You’re worried, which tells me you’re uncomfortable with this whole idea, but you also want to abide by tradition.

I’ve written about Jewish traditions, explaining that what makes my family happiest is choosing those that work best for us.

If you are scared of a bris–if it’s a tradition you don’t want to follow–then don’t do it.

The birth of your son should be about you and your husband and the baby. I know you. You’ve said you’re excited to introduce him to the world but that you also want your space and time to recover from giving birth.

The modern day bris creates exactly the opposite atmosphere:

A living room stuffed with friends and family, some with whom you’re not that close but invited for your parents’ sake.  It’s warm. Very warm. It shouldn’t be this warm because the AC is on full blast and you’ve taken care to close the vents in the other room for what you thought would be maximum comfort. It doesn’t matter because there are too many people in your living room. In fact you never imagined ever having to accommodate so many people.

Then there’s the Mohel. Oy vey, the Mohel.

Someone needs to explain to me why parents of newborns will do everything in their power to protect them from strangers. Yet they allow and pay a penis-mutilating crossbreed of Hagar the Horrible and Captain Caveman to perform surgery on their 8-day old son.

You have to wonder about the kind of person who becomes a Mohel, whose primary skill is cutting tiny human penises.

I’m not against circumcision. Quite frankly it looks nicer. Penises with foreskin look like rolling pins in loose gift wrapping.

My wife and I decided we did not want a bris. We’d been to enough, and the things we didn’t remember were the Hebrew names given to the baby or anything resembling a joyous family gathering. Instead we play back the gasps of adults, deafening screams of the infant boys and bloody gauze. (Well, there was one bris where they served dark chocolate-dipped Twizzlers with sprinkles, and they were fucking awesome.)

But we did want our boys to have pretty penises, so we had them circumcised in the maternity ward by DOCTORS. Then when it was convenient for us, we hosted baby-naming ceremonies a few months after their births and postpartum everything.

If–and I strongly suggest you should–decide not to do a bris, you might upset your parents and in-laws, but that’s okay. They can be disappointed. They’ll get over it. It’s not like Bubby will shame her grandson while changing his diaper:

Boychick, I cannot accept petsl not circumcised by sweaty smelly Mohel. You are not pure. I told your Zadie before I welcomed him into my pants. I said, this shmekl of yours will not go here if it has not received proper bris. He assured me. He remembered the Mohel’s name! I knew he was the one.

It can be hard to buck tradition, especially where Jewish guilt is concerned. As the great Walter Sobchak said in the Big Lebowski, “Three thousand years of beautiful tradition, from Moses to Sandy Koufax– YOU’RE GODDAMN RIGHT I LIVE IN THE PAST!”

Still, you have to do what’s right for you and your baby. Here I’ll channel another famous Jew, a non-fictitious one by the name of Hillel the Elder, who famously wrote “If I am not for myself, who is for me? And when I am for myself, what am ‘I’?”

It’s time to be for yourself, and you will be happier for it.

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Filed under: Judaism, Tradition

Tags: bris, circumcision, mohel

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    Chocolate Diapers

    I am a vitamin D-deficient former Floridian--who, despite the spring...er...extended winter--loves Chicago. I contradicted convention (and common sense) by moving FROM the beach to the Midwest, but Lou Malnati's and any Italian beef sandwich reinforce that I made the right decision. I also got a wife and two sons out of it, and I would do anything for my family, except miss a Miami Hurricanes football game. This is my take on fatherhood. You can contact me at david.telisman@gmail.com. Thank you for reading!

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