The Bible Says What? Why circumcision is a ‘compelling commitment’

The Bible Says What? Why circumcision is a ‘compelling commitment’

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein takes a controversial passage from the Torah and applies a progressive Jewish response

If there is one strength of Liberal Judaism above all others, it is that our movement counts Jews in and not out of our synagogues and communities.

We challenge accepted traditions to create a Judaism that works for today’s world.

We don’t just perform same-sex marriages, we led the fight that changed UK law. We offer wedding blessings for those in mixed faith relationships. Our services are truly egalitarian.

On a more every day level, we couldn’t care less whether one walks or drives to shul, or whether you need to carry anything in the process, just that you came.

Which leads to the question, why does Liberal Judaism still ‘encourage’ brit milah (circumcision)? Why haven’t we challenged this, in the way we have other ancient rituals?

After all, while the Torah clearly states (Genesis 17:10-14) that “all males should be circumcised at eight days otherwise be ostracised”, this was not the case with Israelites in the wilderness years, nor at other times.

That Jews born in Soviet States were uncircumcised did not stop us campaigning for them as Jews.

The answer, as beautifully summarised by Liberal Judaism’s Rabbi Elli Tikvah-Sarah, is that we are drawn towards certain mitzvot (commandments) as a “compelling commitment”.

There are, of course, Jews who consciously choose not to circumcise their sons, and we would never dream of “ostracising” either parent or child.

But for most Liberal Jews, circumcision is a religious obligation passed on through the generations, deeply ingrained in Jewish consciousness as a sign of the Covenant, giving a Jewish (male) identity that transcends denominations.

Liberal Judaism encourages particular ritual observance as we do the celebration of common humanity that connects the individual to God and the Jewish People. We do so with a particular focus on the ethical.

And what did I personally do, as a parent, about circumcision? Well… my children are girls.

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein is senior rabbi at Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue


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