Circumcision Update

— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram  

As world health organizations move toward saving lives through re-introduction of circumcision in developing nations for AIDS prevention, a San Francisco ballot proposes a ban on circumcision under age 18. Since the matter compromises freedom of religion, Jews and Muslims are particularly closely monitoring the process.

While male converts report a negligible loss of sensation, the rite is valued for its spiritual impact. Its meaning is perhaps best expressed as a father once put it to his son at a ritual known to this reporter: ‘Son, most men wrestle with this huge impulse to use muscle instead of mind over difficult matters. We circumcised you today because we love you and know that Judaism is the greatest of all treasures that we can pass on to you. Circumcision means to always remember that you are a Jew, and that to be a Jew means to think first, to check out your ethics before you act. Ezekiel said: ‘In your blood live.’ May this be the only blood that is ever shed in your name.”  Accordingly, when a Jewish man looks down, his commitment to a mitzvah-centered life, rather than a self-centered or sex-centered life is literally engraved in his flesh.  Circumcision is a sign of how much value parent(s) place upon their son being Jewish. It is also part of how a male convert affirms his own “member”ship.  

In the accompanying video dialogues with PJVoice Judaism Editor, Rabbi Goldie Milgram and Rabbi Bonnie Cohen discuss the issues around circumcision, Rabbi Cohen's training as a mohelet (mohel – a circumcision professional), her invention of a physical tool to teach the best methods of circumcision, and also ways to make the baby comfortable during the procedure.  

More after the jump.

Background on Rabbi Bonnie Cohen  

In the early '90's Rabbi Cohen apprenticed to become a Mohelet (feminine grammar for mohel, one professionally trained to do Jewish ritual circumcision). She was surprised to learn that there were no training tools for perfecting surgical technique for infant circumcision, doctors routinely practice on babies. Responding to the need she spent many years developing a proper training tool that is now available.  

Biographical background:  

Rabbi Cohen has changed hats many times over her professional career weaving together a breath of experience along the mind – body – spiritual pathway. For many years her focus and area of expertise was health and nutrition although religion always occupied a major part of her life.  As a young woman she attended psychiatric nursing school but immediately focused on nutrition and other natural healing modalities. She combined hands-on work with nutrition that she taught at the Swedish Massage Institute in New York City, and had offices in NYC, Woodstock and New Paltz, New York.  

Bonnie Cohen was a student of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (z"l) who encouraged her to share her expertise on nutrition and natural healing alternatives with Jewish women. She is grateful for the opportunity to learn with Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and to have received rabbinic ordination from him and ALEPH:  Alliance for Jewish Renewal, in 2000. Included in the qualifications Reb Zalman listed on Rabbi Cohen's' ordination certificate is, "practitioner of the sacred healing arts."  

Rabbi Cohen was director of a not for profit educational organization, supported by a wholesale natural foods bakery, that designed and implemented nutrition workshops throughout the New York tri-state area. Beginning in the mid '70's, and for the next thirteen years, she oversaw the total day-to-day operations of large health food stores with juice bars and deli-counters; and then she became interested in Jewish education.  

Bonnie was blessed to work with a dedicated team of visionaries creating the Woodstock Jewish Congregation in Woodstock, New York. She began as the only teacher, teaching all grades plus a special education class and accomplished the impossible; she made Hebrew school fun. The WJC went on to become a powerful magnet for Jewish education in Ulster County, NY.

Rabbi Cohen lived and worked in Woodstock, New York for thirty-two years and then spent eight years working outside of the United States. Upon her return she noticed the exponentially larger number of children with learning disabilities than before she left. After researching the problem and pondering solutions she created, "Thirteen", a mentoring protocol, and Feeling Good – Pass It On, a teaching protocol, to assist those with neurodevelopmental challenges focus and overcome disabilities.  

For further information please contact Rabbi Cohen at [email protected].