Brit Shalom

Covenant of Peace

Brit Shalom is a non-cutting naming ceremony for newborn Jewish boys. It may be performed by a Rabbi or an experienced lay leader. If desired, Celebrants can aid parents in devising their own ceremony. This ceremony replaces Brit Milah (ritual circumcision). It has also been termed Alternative Brit (or Bris), Brit b'li Milah (Covenant without cutting) and Brit Chayim (Covenant of Life). It is similar to the naming ceremony for girls.

In the 613 mitzvos, we are commanded to:

Loving Kindness Healing the World
The Covenant Tradition
Literalism Take Responsibility
Identity Celebrants
Flyer

Loving Kindness

Among the great strengths of Judaism are its rationality, its commitment to learning and scholarship, the tradition of gemilut chasadim, acts of loving kindness, and the prohibition on deliberately causing pain. Cutting off part of a baby’s penis violates all of these traditions and strengths.

The Covenant

The argument that Jewish babies have a right to have part of their penises cut off before they are old enough to give or withhold consent, because to do otherwise would deprive them of their heritage, is irrational. Heritage here means doing what we have done. It may seem, at first, to insult one’s ancestors to do other than what they did, but it is equally an insult to our own and our descendent’s intelligence, to cling blindly to customs of the past.

To be meaningful, a covenant must be entered into by a consenting adult who intellectually understands the covenant. A newborn baby is incapable of this understanding. Therefore, if a man decides to be circumcised later in life — based on his adult understanding of the Covenant — only then is the covenant valid.

Additionally, halacha provides for the ceremony of hatifat dam berit (shedding of a token drop of blood) for babies who can not be circumcised due to health reasons. This is deemed to be completely valid in marking the Covenant.

Even the great Rabbi Mainmonides recognized the problems with circumcision:

”...How can products of nature be deficient so as to require external completion, especially as the use of the foreskin to that organ is evident?

 The bodily injury caused to that organ is exactly that which is desired...there is no doubt that circumcision weakens the power of sexual excitement, and sometimes lessens the natural enjoyment; the organ necessarily becomes weak when it loses blood and is deprived of its covering from the beginning.”

Rabbi Moses Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, The University of Chicago Press, 1963

Literalism

Some people believe that God commanded that Abraham circumcise himself, his family and their heirs forever, yet there are many doubts to this belief.

Modern Jewish scholars have found that circumcision is not even mentioned in the earliest, “J”, version of Genesis nor the next three rewrites by other authors. Most importantly, the story of Abraham is there in its entirety, except the part about the Covenant being “sealed” with circumcision. So do not be afraid of divine punishment. God did not mandate circumcision.

Identity

Being circumcised is not a condition of being Jewish. Girls do not need to be circumcised to receive the gifts of covenant, i.e., being bat-mitzvahed. A boy is Jewish if his mother is Jewish from the moment he is born. In fact:

Thus, the claim that circumcision is essential for the survival of the Jewish people is, therefore, invalid.

Healing the World

A central purpose of Judaism is tikkun olam, repairing the world. Much of the pain in the world is a result of repeating old harmful patterns of behaviors. Forgoing circumcision contributes to our healing. As we heal from this pain, we will be better able to heal others, and reach our ethical and spiritual potential.

Tradition

Many people invoke the power of tradition. The following acts are traditionally punishable by death according to the Torah:

Obviously, we no longer apply capital punishment for committing the above mentioned acts because we are no longer a primitive society and we have come to believe in human rights.

Other practices sanctioned by the Torah that we no longer permit because we are educated and enlightened are:

Many of our traditions have been abandoned, changed or modified over the centuries. Even the tradition of circumcision has been changed over the years.

Take Responsibility

Flyer

Need a flyer on Brit Shalom to show your Rabbi and other Jewish friends? Click here to download.

Celebrants

A list of Brit Shalom Celebrants in your area.

Text for alternative Brit ceremonies can be found in "Questioning Circumcision, A Jewish Perspective" by Ron Goldman, PhD. http://www.circumcision.org/qcjp.htm

Other Resources: