How can we explain circumcision to our friends?

Answered by
Rabbi Julie Zupan

We are Jewish and pregnant with our first child. If it is a boy, we would like to have a bris. However, I'm afraid we will get some opposition from our friends. Some of them even compare it to female genital mutilation.

“Do you have some talking points we can use with our friends to help them understand our choice as parents? How can we explain circumcision to our friends who don’t support the practice?”

B’sha’ah tovah – congratulations on your pregnancy!

You may know that bris or brit means “covenant.” The ceremony to welcome your son is not primarily about the circumcision; rather, it centers on the idea of covenant, or sacred relationship. Brit milah (the covenant of circumcision) formally welcomes your son into the Jewish community – the community that pledges to serve as a support and a spiritual home for your family and help you raise your son to adulthood.

The Jewish roots of brit milah go back to the Torah, as it is a Jewish ritual that has been practiced continuously from ancient times until today. It links us to the generations who came before us, and the generations that will follow.

Brit milah is performed on the eighth day following a child’s birth. This has great spiritual significance, as it comes just after the child has experienced one full week of life, which will necessarily always include his first Shabbat.

There is no medical evidence that circumcision is detrimental to the health or wellbeing of your son – in fact, just the opposite. Medical evidence indicates that circumcised men are less likely to pass along sexually transmitted diseases to their sexual partners.

It is false comparison to liken circumcision to genital mutilation. Female genital mutilation has no medical benefit, and is often performed without medical procedure; furthermore, it is designed to prevent sexual pleasure, making it significantly differently from circumcision. Judaism values the intimate and sexual relationship between loving partners.

Many mohalim/mohalot (who performs the ritual circumcision) are also medical doctors and it may give you comfort to choose a mohel/mohelet who is also a doctor.  (Use our Mohel Search tool, a directory provided by the Berit Mila Program of Reform Judaism, to identify a mohel/mohelet near you.)

You might also appreciate this short video from BimBam, which teaches about finding a mohel, what brit milah is all about, and some popular modern spins on this ancient tradition. May you welcome your child with good health, abundant joy, and great celebration.