A Bris is a covenant and through the millennia, Jews have kept this
mitzvah like no other and have thereby maintained their eternal
covenant with G-d. There were times when giving one's son a bris was
punishable by death. Jewish parents still kept the covenant. My wife's
grandfather, Reb Elchonon Shagalov, became a holy martyr for his faith because in Stalin's
Russia he dared to practice as a mohel circumcising Jewish children in
the town of Homil.
One day he was taken by the KGB and never seen again. His wife and children
struggled valiantly and eventually made it to the free world where they raised
dedicated families of faithful Jews.
Today, so many young--and not so young--Jews throughout the Former Soviet
Union are embracing the covenant knowing full well that it would have been far
easier at eight days old. And though we now hear voices from so-called
enlightened quarters suggesting that circumcision is barbaric and an invasion of
an infant's human rights, it still remains the most widely practiced
mitzvah in the world. And, please G-d, it will retain that distinction
I have no intention of getting into the health debate. I am a rabbi,
not a doctor. There are enough medical experts who can prove the physiological
benefits and certainly justify it even were there no compelling religious
motivation. Nor do I intend waxing philosophical here on the underlying
symbolisms of circumcision. Simply speaking, from a traditional Jewish point of
view this is the way we connect to G-d. It is an indelible, eternal connection
between the Jew and his Creator.
The fact that it is performed on a newborn child who wasn't asked for his
opinion only emphasizes the idea that the covenant is not limited by our finite
rationale but transcends the boundaries of human understanding. Our bond with
G-d is not something that can be explained rationally. Were that the case we
would have long ago ceased to be. The continuing saga of Jewish survival defies
logic. Logically we shouldn't exist. The bris represents that
transcendence, and the Jewish people's never-wavering commitment to the covenant
has always been reciprocated by the G-dly miracles that have delivered us time
Some years ago, my wife and I were leading a discussion group with young
couples. At one point in the evening a young man poured cold water on my
arguments by declaring himself an agnostic. I asked him if he had any children.
He said yes. I asked did he have a son. Again, he answered affirmatively. "Did
you give your son a Bris?" I asked. At which point he looked at me as
if I had just arrived from another planet. "What kind of ridiculous question is
that?" he demanded. I explained that if you're really not sure that there is a
G-d out there, then why subject your child to unnecessary surgery? Without
religious motivation it might very well be considered barbaric. Through his
son's bris he realized he wasn't such an agnostic after all.
As a rabbi, I have attended hundreds of circumcision ceremonies. Personally,
I find it very moving to see parents, including those who are not at all
religiously observant, cry with emotion as they experience the continuing link
of Jewish peoplehood being manifested in their very own family dynasty.
guess most fathers would probably have trouble explaining why they gave their
son a Bris. But I imagine they'd have much more difficulty if they had
to explain why they didn't.