Some Jews who choose
not to circumcise but still want a ritual, change the ritual to omit
the circumcision. They may include other ceremonial elements that
are sensitive to the infant and the community. For example,
something other than the infant’s body can be cut to symbolize the
circumcision. An alternative ritual, sometimes referred to as a
naming ceremony or “brit shalom,” may or may not be led by a rabbi.
It has all the joy of the traditional ritual without the pain of the
Some Jews may question alternative rituals,
but according to Rabbi Eugene Cohen, 80 percent of American Jewish
circumcisions already do not meet ritual standards1
. Because the surgical
procedure alone does not fulfill the religious requirement, and
since many sons of Jewish parents are circumcised in a hospital by
physicians, there is often no religious component to the event, and,
some would say, no covenant with God. One could argue that a
hospital circumcision no more fulfills the divine requirement than
no circumcision. Where ritual is concerned, it is the meaning of the
act and not just the act itself that is important.
addition, the religious ritual should be performed with the
But, this cannot be forced. As
discussed earlier, many Jews circumcise their sons with great
emotional conflict, reluctance, and regret. The alternative ritual
allows for congruence of intention, attitude, action, and feeling.
The use of an alternative ritual has another advantage; it
can be used for both male and female infants. The growing interest
in an equivalent ceremony for girls illustrates how culturally-bound
practices must change to be compatible with evolving values.
Reformist observant Jews accept that each generation needs to create
contemporary forms of expressing its connection to its religious
tradition. Judaism, as a patriarchal religion, has been influenced
by the women’s movement.
Rabbi Joel Roth attempts to defend
the patriarchal practice of circumcision by stating that “by
physiology women cannot be brought into the covenant of Abraham by
However, circumcision ceremonies are performed on African females as
well as males.4
There are various types of female genital surgery. The procedure
analogous to circumcision would be to remove the clitoral hood.
Physiology is not an excuse for exclusively male ritual surgery.
Rather than perform some kind of genital surgery on females,
an idea that is repugnant and rejected by virtually all Jews, a
ceremony without surgery for both sexes is the egalitarian solution.
Ronald Goldman, Ph.D., author of Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective
, is available to lead brit shalom ceremonies around the Boston area.
For more information, please contact our