A few days after each of my boys was born, my family celebrated by inviting to our home a large number of people. They got the honor of viewing our new naked son and seeing him get a piece of his penis removed. There was no pain, because the crowd had been infused beforehand with multiple glasses of Champagne.
This event, known as a bris or ritual circumcision, was for me personally a monumental occasion: It was the first and last time I could make a decision about my sons and not have them argue about it.
Asked if they remember their bris, the boys emphatically say no. That is probably because immediately before the circumcision, they sucked on a wine-saturated piece of cloth. This may explain why most Jewish males, including my sons, share a lifelong aversion to Manischewitz wine.
The happy and festive Jewish event of nudity and alcohol is what a German court has deemed to be a crime. In response to international outrage over the court’s decision, Germany, noted for its historic moral authority, may be designing new legislation. Male circumcision would be permitted if carried out with the safest, most effective anesthetic possible, such as Manischewitz wine or constantly playing the Weather Channel.
Let me state outright that I am opposed to any action that causes human suffering, such as watching all four days of the Republican National Convention. For this reason, when my first son was circumcised as an infant, I employed a mohel, a rabbi who predominantly performed ritual circumcisions. He came to our home, where the bris ceremony was conducted, and everything came off well. (Literally.) For my second son, I asked a friend who was a urologist to perform the bris. The doctor did the appropriate carving and I had no complaints, except for his nonmedical snarky opinion about the size of my son’s operative site.
From the patients themselves, there was only a brief squall following the procedures.
In short, my sons paid a small price so they could one day proudly proclaim their Jewish heritage, like receiving lifetime Jewish federation solicitations.
I keep wondering if those who object to circumcisions will find out that Jesus was circumcised as an infant. He even performed at least one circumcision. It’s also not widely known that the relic claimed to be Jesus’ foreskin has shown up throughout history. According to one author, there were eight, 12, 14 or even 18 different “holy foreskins” in various European towns.
This has never been a Jewish issue, the fate of the foreskins. In fact, my sole medical concern at my sons’ brisses was how long it was safe to leave out the cream cheese for the bagels and lox.
Of course, the outrage over circumcision is a pretext for the real target of German rage: ear piercing. Recently the president of the German Association of Pediatricians compared circumcision to ear piercing, a traumatic procedure that involves “drilling a hole in the ear of a child … like circumcision, causing irreversible damage.”
I am one of three people in America without pierced ears. No one knows pain like a person without pierced ears. (And I’m not including the time my mother accidentally lopped off a piece of my 5-year-old earlobe while attempting to trim my Buster Brown hairstyle.)
People without pierced ears endure the torment of earrings that pinch or drop off and come in only four basic styles of gold or silver: round, oval, square or a loop, all circa 1940-1950. The department stores keep recycling them. Sales clerks laugh and sneer behind your back.
Now that, my German friends, is pain.
Want to know what happens to kids if parents don’t consent to ear piercing because the procedure is considered too barbaric and painful? One day your 10-year-old son will come home defiantly carrying a small bag of Monet clip earrings. And you have to watch him turning … turning … turning the ear screws behind his ears or fastening them on, like mini-tourniquets.
And if you’re a Jewish parent, you think back wistfully to the gentler days. Like your son’s circumcision.
Trudi York Gardner lives in Benicia and can be reached at email@example.com or via her blog, www.tygerpen.wordpress.com.