October 10, 2021 — Last week news outlets reported on Bruchim’s efforts to seek greater inclusion for non-circumcising Jewish families in Jewish spaces of all kinds, including synagogues.
Leaders from multiple Jewish denominations weighed in, making supportive, inclusionary statements that will shape the landscape going forward for those wanting to be involved in Jewish life and who, for whatever reason, opt not to participate in the circumcision tradition.
One large concern for non-circumcising Jewish families is how they and their children can participate in Jewish lifecycle events. Will a rabbi officiate at a covenantal birth ceremony that doesn’t include circumcision? Will a rabbi refuse to bar mitzvah a male who has not been circumcised? Some rabbis may refuse one, or both, of these services.
Rabbi Elyse Wechterman, who heads up the Reconstructionist movement, emphasized the obligation on the part of Jewish parents to bring their children into “the covenant.” Historically this has taken place with brit milah, a ritual that includes circumcision, but some Jewish parents are choosing to hold birth ceremonies where circumcision is replaced by another symbolic marker, such as cutting a pomegranate. “How it’s done [bringing one’s child into the covenant] — there are many equally valid options,” Wechterman said.
In the early 1980s, the Conservative movement issued an opinion stating that males who had not been circumcised should not be called to the Torah as a bar mitzvah. However in response to Bruchim’s efforts, Rabbi Elliot Dorff, the leading bioethicist in the Conservative movement and the chair of its top Jewish law authority, said last week that there is no basis in Jewish law for denying a male who has not been circumcised access to religious life, including bar mitzvah.
The leader of the Reform movement, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, stated: “Connecting oneself to the Jewish community may take many forms, and we understand that some families and individuals are making the choice to not circumcise as part of the brit ceremony. There will always be a place for everyone in the Reform community, regardless of how they or their family choose to express their faith.”
Across the board, Jewish religious leaders offered widespread support for the inclusion efforts Bruchim is seeking but not all rabbis agreed. One Conservative rabbi, who refused to be named, said he’s turned away about a half-dozen families who have chosen not to circumcise their boys, refusing them bar mitzvah.