Judaism is a Scripture-based faith that has continued to evolve during its 3,500 year journey. Among its earliest commandments is that of male ritual circumcision. The Hebrew term is brit milah, meaning, circumcision for the sake of the covenant. This procedure transcends its physicality.
From Abraham the patriarch to this very day, it is the sign of the everlasting covenant between God and the Jewish people. While the Torah [the first five books of the Bible] is silent about its rationale, I deduce that its location in the area of procreation indicates the actual, physical transmission of the covenant from generation to generation as it is being created, from the first Jew to the newest member of our religious community. It is our fundamental religious observance from our very beginning.
Elsewhere, the Torah records the prohibition of willful mutilation of the body. This is usually understood as a rejection of idolatrous practices. Fortunately it still permitted jewelry! Today I am often asked whether tattoos are a violation of this commandment. Brit milah is certainly not. In Judaism, performed on the eighth day, by a specifically trained and ordained person, with its attendant liturgy, it completes the birth process and indicates membership in a covenantal community. For Judaism it is irrelevant if there are any beneficial effects of medical circumcision. We only fulfill brit milah because the Torah records God's specific ordination of this commandment.
I vividly remember the brit milahs of our son, our nephew and our grandson. Of course there was concern for the medical procedure, but I had complete confidence in the mohel, the person who is ritually and medically trained and dedicated for this purpose. As I held all three babies, and looked into their faces I tried to imagine their future, even as my mind traversed our history and I said in my heart to Abraham the Patriarch: "We, too, follow in your footsteps."
Throughout history, those who sought to destroy the Jewish people always forbid brit milah, usually upon penalty of death. They thought that if they could eradicate the sign of the covenant, they could eliminate the covenantal people. They failed.
That is the issue that reverberates these days in San Francisco with the attempt through legislation to ban all circumcision. It is a thinly veiled attack upon Judaism and the Jewish people. Anyone who objects to this ritual has the democratic right not to do so. Yet as parents with a religious persuasion, we make decisions on behalf of our children. One of those is the perpetuation of the faith. This is how we do it. This attack is not new, just its method. It violates core American principles.
Which faith community will be the next to be held in disfavor and attacked? Which faith-based ritual will not pass muster? Will it be the immersion of baptism? The incense of the cathedral? The removal of shoes in the mosque? The head-coverings that bespeak several different religious values? The self-accepted religious law of a given community? Who is next? What is next? The greatness of America is the freedom to practice our different and distinct faiths without interference. The magnificence of America is revealed in the multi-textual religious communities all "present and accounted for." In our different ways we all seek the path to the One God who demands us to live moral, ethical and meaningful lives. For Judaism, brit milah enters the child into the covenant with God. I hope that the legislature and people of California understand the glory of America and thoroughly reject this attack upon American values and upon the Jewish people.
Rabbi Creditor can be reached at Rabbi.Creditor@bethelrichmond.org