Posts tagged " circumcision "

How do we explain to our son why circumcision matters?

December 18th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 29 comments

Dear Rabbi Daniel and Susan,

Could you help me out? We are reading a Torah Sidra [portion] every Saturday evening as a family.  We happened to read the Sidra that included Genesis 17.  I have three children and the oldest is a boy of 9. I am sure you can guess where this is going.  He had many questions about circumcision. 

  Circumcision is very important to me. My father, brother, husband and son are all circumcised.  My brother’s wife and my brother changed their mind and chose not to circumcise their two boys when they were born. 🙁

I would love my son to be just as proud as we are that he his circumcised, not that he isn’t. But, I am sure someday when he may have awkward conversations with his cousins camping or sports friends.

I just want to make sure that we, as parents, have done everything that we should explaining this very Holy covenant to my children boys and girls.  I would be heartbroken if twenty years down the road my grandchildren were not circumcised just because I didn’t convey things to my children properly while they were in my care.

Thank you so much,


Dear Gina,

Your question is a very apt one for this time of year as Chanukah starts this coming Sunday evening. Among the Jewish observances that the Greek-Syrians outlawed, was circumcision.  They also made the studying and teaching of Torah prohibited on penalty of death.   These acts of religious oppression led to the rebellion of Chanukah.

So extreme was the Greek aversion to circumcision that the historian Josephus tells us that Hellenist physicians performed plastic surgery operations ‘restoring’ the foreskin. In a culture that extolled the gymnasium and athletic games one needed to “look the part” in order to fit in. This, of course, is the crux of the episode of Chanukah—it was most of all a battle between those Jews eager to shed their connection to God and Judaism and those Jews who remained faithful to their heritage.

Chanukah is the only festival in the Jewish calendar that lasts eight days. Notably, circumcision takes place on the eighth day of a Jewish boy’s life. In ancient Jewish wisdom, the number seven is associated with nature: 7 days of the week; 7 colors of the rainbow; 7 notes in a western musical scale. The number 8 is associated with partnering with God to transcend nature. Circumcision is a statement, both to the young boy and to the community, that the incredible power of sexuality is part of his connection to God and the ability to create life is holy.  We are commanded to overcome the animalistic impulse to act as if sex is solely physical.  This rejection of secularism is central to both circumcision and Chanukah. 


Don’t Tell the Boss

August 14th, 2018 Posted by Thought Tools 10 comments

A common dilemma in business is when your immediate boss responds to growth by appointing a supervisor above you.  In addition to a layer of management now insulating you from your boss, it becomes especially unpleasant if the new manager is an outsider.  Whatever the difficulties, one thing any experienced business professional knows is that going over your new supervisor’s head directly to your old boss can be a career-killer.

This makes a sequence of events late in Genesis especially surprising.  Like many of our Thought Tools, this one will definitely repay you if you read it with an open Bible .  Pharaoh appoints Joseph viceroy over Egypt saying, “Only the throne shall be higher than you.”  He repeatedly admonishes Egypt that Joseph’s word will rule in all matters.  (Genesis 41:40-45) 

It must have been a tad awkward for those senior administrators who formerly enjoyed direct access to Pharaoh himself.  Nonetheless, Joseph gets to work diligently making the most of the seven years of agricultural and economic abundance.  (Genesis 41:48-49)

So it is astonishing when the Egyptians approach Pharaoh directly.

The entire land of Egypt was starving and the people cried out to Pharaoh for bread.
(Genesis 41:55)


Mutilation or Not?

May 4th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 54 comments

This is going to be an incomplete Musing because I am committing to paper thoughts that need to be sharpened and shaped. That, of course, is true of all my Musings.  New information or ideas always abound.   Sometimes a phrase occurs to me that I wish I had thought of earlier.  Yet, this Musing is different because the topic is both difficult and important and I have never seen it discussed elsewhere. So, I am advancing opening thoughts and hope that others will pick up the conversation or point me to articles I have missed on the subject.

The New York Times Health Editor recently suggested that journalists replace the term “female genital mutilation” with “genital cutting.” This seemingly small change strikes me as hugely significant. The New York Times feels that the word “mutilation” is “culturally loaded.” In other words, it implies a negative judgment of a practice that in some cultures is perfectly acceptable (left unstated is that the ‘other’ is Moslem).

Meanwhile, over the years some have urged that male circumcision be called “male genital mutilation” or that the Moslem practice be termed ‘female circumcision’.   The intention here is to insist that circumcision of males and females is identical. In both these cases language is a way to affect perception.


In Front of the Eight Ball

November 29th, 2016 Posted by Thought Tools 20 comments

“Rabbi Lapin, please stop talking and writing about money; all you’re doing is perpetuating anti-Semitic stereotypes!”  This was the phone call I received a while ago from the head of one of the Jewish organizations concerned with anti-Semitism.  Knowing it was futile, I still recommended that he worry more about Moslems than about me.

“Rabbi Lapin, I love your weekly email messages but I get really turned off by the commercial message. I know you have to advertise, but it detracts from the spiritual high you give me.”  This was an email I received from a long-time reader of our work.  I responded by explaining how making money can be as much a way of serving God as worship is. I suggested that her attitude really placed her ‘behind the eight ball’ financially.  Hoping she wouldn’t be too put-off by another advertisement, I recommended she read Thou Shall Prosper for the full explanation

Then I assured her that I would write more on the topic. Here it is.


Passover and…Sex?

March 16th, 2010 Posted by Thought Tools 1 comment

Movie screens suggest that sex is public and everyone’s business.  However, just try criticizing sexual misbehavior and you will be quickly told that sex is private and none of your business.  So, which is it?


It’s actually neither, or maybe we should say both.  Sex should be private but it is everybody’s business. 


Society rightly cares about what people do in their bedrooms.  Polygamy, promiscuity, incest, homosexuality and adultery have broad social consequences.  It is naïve to believe that, “What people do behind closed doors is only their own business.”  Reality demands that we acknowledge the genuine psychological, emotional, economic and civic consequences of these unions.


But nowadays many accept the strange notion that sex is nobody else’s business.  Fortunately, the holiday of Passover reminds us that this is untrue.


Exodus chapter 12 informs us that the Seder in Egypt included eating the Passover lamb.  There were rules surrounding that original Biblical Seder which can offer guidance for our times.  Three of these rules were:


(i)   Each family gathered to eat its own lamb; 

(ii)  The lamb’s blood was painted on the doorposts of each home;

(iii)  Males participating in that Seder had to be circumcised.


Years of slavery in Egypt damaged Jewish family life.  For its very first ritual as a nation, God gathered the Israelites, not into political, tribal, gender, or labor groupings but into individual families. By asserting the bond between husband, wife and children, God was reestablishing the importance of the family as society’s fundamental element. Hence, rule number one.


Painting blood onto the front door informed the world that behind that door lived a unique group of people.  Behind that door a man and woman engage in physical intimacy and behind that door they raise the children who, spiritually through adoption or physically through birth, are the fruit of that special union. That bloody door symbolized a boundary between the home of one’s blood family and the rest of society.  It reminds us today that the bonds uniting a family are entirely different from the bonds uniting a labor union or a tennis club.  Thus, rule number two.


Finally, being an uncircumcised Jew is incompatible with Passover because God did not take disparate individuals out of Egypt; He took a nation composed of families. All families and all societies thrive when everyone recognizes that sex is everybody’s business. When a baby boy is circumcised, there are two main requirements:  The procedure must be conducted during daylight and preferably in the presence of many people.  Thus every Jewish male knows that in broad daylight before other members of his community, a sign was placed upon his genital organ to remind him that what he does with it will always concern the community.


Society flaunts sex publicly while claiming it is private. Yet the truth is that sex is a private act with immensely powerful public impact.  Passover reminds us that how a country treats sex and family impacts every aspect of its existence.  Mishandling this volatile area can jeopardize a nation’s vitality, economy, and culture. The same is true within families.  There is a wise and Biblical way to teach the next generation about sex and family, and many wrong ways.  Families thrive when it is done correctly and are imperiled when it isn’t.  Pretending that sex is nobody’s business can wreak havoc.


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