Authors offer ceremonies that don’t involve circumcision

By Maggie Sharpe, Correspondent

Posted:   10/01/2014 03:57:24 PM PDT


Updated:   10/01/2014 03:57:26 PM PDT

PIEDMONT — Piedmont resident Lisa Braver Moss is collaborating with Rebecca Wald of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on a book called “Celebrating Brit Shalom,” to be published in the spring.

Brit shalom, which means “covenant of peace” in Hebrew, is a naming ceremony for newborn Jewish boys that does not involve circumcision as in the traditional bris milah (covenant of circumcision).

The book offers families who don’t want to circumcise their infant sons the choice of three original brit shalom ceremonies that include prayers, readings, new music — and the cutting of only a pomegranate, a fruit that symbolizes wisdom and righteousness in Judaism.

“There’s more than one way for Jewish families to bring their sons into the covenant, and that’s what our book is about,” Moss said. “Sometimes, bris just seems like this big controversy — something to argue over. But it’s also about families needing resources.”

Moss and Wald met through their mutual interest in the topic of circumcision — Moss published a novel in 2010 entitled “The Measure of His Grief,” with circumcision as a central theme, and blogs on the subject on the Huffington Post. She also made a presentation on circumcision at the “Genital Autonomy and Children’s Rights” symposium in Boulder, Colorado, in July. Wald writes what Moss describes as, “The go-to site for Jewish parents questioning circumcision,” called “Beyond the Bris.”

“Lisa and I have a lot of similar mindsets and approaches to this issue, so it was a natural for us to collaborate,” Wald said. “Our book offers families who don’t want to circumcise the choice of three complete and unique ceremonies, along with tips and advice on how to hold the service. There are also four original songs in the book that can be sung during the ceremony.”

Moss said that creating new Jewish traditions — including new music — was one of the most exciting aspects of the project.

“There is no music uniquely associated with the traditional bris, so it’s wonderful that we can create a new ritual going forward,” said Moss, whose son Reuben Moss composed the songs, which are being produced by Jason Paige, former lead singer of Blood, Sweat and Tears.

Circumcision in the United States declined by about 10 percent in the past 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This trend is mirrored in the Jewish community.

“Fewer Americans are circumcising their sons because they’re becoming educated about the drawbacks — not just the pain of the procedure but the lifelong consequences of altering the natural anatomy,” Wald said. “Of course, some Jewish people are among those who are now deciding to opt out.”

Wald said it struck her a long time ago that circumcision is a brutal act to do to a child.

“You are performing surgery on a baby’s genitals that can’t be undone,” said Wald, who comes from a family of physicians. “There’s a risk of medical complications, plus it damages the natural sexual functioning of the child down the road.”

Moss said that families who choose not to circumcise are now widely accepted into Jewish life.

“From what I know from my research, there doesn’t seem to be any stigma,” Moss said. “Jewish families should understand this when making a decision about circumcision — that in most cases, they won’t be shunned if they decide to opt out.”

Similarly, there’s been a positive response from the Jewish community about the new book.

“We might have expected a backlash from the Jewish community, but instead there’s been a very positive response to what we’re doing,” Wald said. “I’m always surprised by how interested and open Jewish people are when it comes to this issue.”

To fund the publication of “Celebrating Brit Shalom,” the authors turned to Kickstarter, billed as “the world’s largest platform for creative projects.” They set a goal to raise $8,200 — the amount they estimated they’d need to publish the book, including such extra costs as promotion.

“We raised more than $10,000 in donations, so we surpassed our goal,” Moss said. “Beyond Kickstarter, there are a lot of people who supported our project behind the scenes.”

Wald said Kickstarter not only raised money and helped spread the word about the book and brit shalom, it is helping them to reach out to rabbis and other officiants of the bris. Donors to their Kickstarter site have the option of purchasing one or more copies of the book to be distributed to interested rabbis.

“Our goal is to get the book into the hands of as many rabbis and officiants of the bris as possible, so they can be responsive to all Jewish families, whether the families are thinking traditionally or not,” Moss said. “We want to help rabbis meet the ceremonial needs of parents.”

Moss thinks “Celebrating Brit Shalom” has been well received because it’s adding, not subtracting, from Jewish tradition.

“I think it’s because we’re adding a ritual to the Jewish canon with prayers and reading and music, we’re not taking anything away,” she said.

Wald said Jewish parents who decide to leave their sons intact are in good company.

“Our children attend Jewish schools and are otherwise fully integrated into Jewish life,” she said. “This is a new generation. In a decade or two, we will have the unprecedented situation of intact Jewish fathers whose sons look like them.”

FYI “Celebrating Brit Shalom:”

Lisa Braver Moss’ website:

Beyond the Bris:

Lisa Braver Moss’ presentation at the 2014 “Genital Autonomy and Children’s Rights” symposium:

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