Struggling to keep my hands from shaking, I followed the mohel`s directions and gently held my son’s legs apart .
The feeling of baby-soft flesh pressing into my palms nearly crippled my resolve. But somehow I remained steadfast. I could barely look at my wife, Steph, as she tenderly cradled our son’s downy head.
For the positions we took that day — standing as we were at each end of our baby’s body — painfully reflected a greater truth. As parents, we disagreed completely about circumcising our boy.
Steph is not Jewish, so neither was our son, Ben. That meant there was no obligation in Jewish law to submit our precious boy to this ancient ritual. More significantly, Steph was desperately opposed to letting anyone — in her view — “harm” her boy, born three years after our daughter, Sophie. Of course I could have capitulated. Especially as she had just endured the ravages of a Caesarean birth.
What’s more, as a criminal defence lawyer nicknamed “Mr Loophole” for securing acquittals on technicalities, I recognised I had a whopper of a get-out clause at my disposal. But this was one loophole I had no intention of exploiting. The bris went ahead.
That was 23 years ago and I’m happy to report that today Ben, a strapping young man who works in Artificial Intelligence, remains unscathed by my decision.
Yet as Iceland proposes a law to ban circumcision for non-medical reasons, I often reflect on how I found the determination to overrule my wife and push ahead.
It’s not as if I were an observant Jew. I’d never even been to a bris before. And I’d “married out” in the face of parental objection— even when my late parents said they’d boycott the service (at a Unitarian chapel in Cheshire) and requested the printing of separate dinner invitations for their friends to spare the embarrassment of making the ceremony’s venue public.
One thing I didn’t think of when I got married was that my children wouldn’t be Jewish.
But when Ben was born at Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester, and I saw this beautiful baby, complete with foreskin, I was poleaxed by an unexpectedly visceral response. I knew he had to have a bris. I didn’t want my son to be different from his dad.
But there was something more. A bris dates back to Abraham, the sign of the covenant between Jews and the Almighty. I couldn’t bring myself to break that chain . I am Jewish, it’s in my soul. It was the right thing to do.
I left it a couple of days after the birth before raising the matter with Steph, At first I appealed to her maternal instinct by arguing that it was cleaner and healthier for a boy to be circumcised.
But as she parried, the weight of thousands of years roared in my ear. Unflinchingly, I told Steph: “He is my boy, I am Jewish, this is what has to happen.” Reluctantly, she gave in.
I found a mohel willing to carry out the bris at his south Manchester home. Ben was laid out on a table in his front room and while Steph and I held down our son, the matter was done.
Thankfully Ben recovered quickly, though I winced every time he gave a crackling cry as he wet his nappy. Within 24 hours he was himself again, although his mother took longer to heal — remaining coolly tolerant of my presence around both her and the baby for a couple of weeks.
Two decades on, the idea of banning circumcision appals me. Not just as an attack on our core Jewish values, but how would this be treated in law? As a criminal offence, would it be akin to malicious wounding or GBH?
The Initiation Society has existed since 1745 to ensure the highest medical and religious standards for circumcision are adhered to. Why should we doubt them?
I will never regret overruling a new mother to have a non-Jewish baby circumcised. If that makes me an unfeeling hypocrite so be it. Ben has no problem with it. Steph long since forgave me, and did not mention it when we divorced seven years ago.
And I remain at peace with the one loophole I gladly — gladly —ignored.