Bris Congeniality

sandra bullock Hollywood actress Sandra Bullock has told of the greatest moment of her life.

Her son’s Bris.

A friend of ours helped arrange for a bris at the house, because we couldn’t go [to a hospital for the procedure]. The mohel [a person trained in the practice] came to us. You have never seen adults more panicked about what was about to happen to their son, but the celebration and the amount of love we felt and the pride in the little man whom we love so, so much became the greatest moment I have ever had in my life.

A bris is not the same thing as a regular circumcision. It is a religious ceremony within Judaism to welcome infant Jewish boys into a covenant between God and the Children of Israel through ritual circumcision performed by a mohel.

Is Sandra Bullock Jewish? My sources (i.e. Google search results) tell me probably not. And I’m guessing from the photo that little Louis isn’t either.

So the question is: why on Earth would she decide to give her son a Jewish tip-off?

Perhaps the answer is found in this article on the phenomenon of non-Jewish Brit Milahs.

When his son was born, Reverend Louis DeCaro Jr. was dismayed to learn that none of the doctors on call at Manhattan’s Allen Pavilion hospital had time to perform the circumcision. At a loss, the DeCaros turned for advice to their Manhattan pediatrician, Andrew Mutnick, who offered a simple solution: Hire a Jewish ritual circumciser, known as a mohel.

Mutnick put the family in touch with Cantor Philip Sherman, an Orthodox mohel working in the tri-state area. Sherman says he has performed more than 18,000 circumcisions in his 30-year career. There were no piles of bagels and lox waiting in the next room, no family members on hand to celebrate, but the DeCaros developed an admiration for the ancient tradition informing Sherman’s work.

“When [a circumcision] is done by a mohel, you appreciate the gravity, the beauty of the religious connotations,” DeCaro said in an interview with the Forward.

Although commonly recognized as performers of the brith milah, or Jewish circumcision, an increasing number of mohels are finding themselves handling the rituals for non-Jewish babies (even when, as in the DeCaros’ case, the father happens to be an ordained minister). Sherman, 51, may be one of the most prolific circumcisers in the tri-state area, but others — including Emily Blake in New York and Joel Shoulson in Philadelphia — have also found their services called upon by non-Jewish families. While it’s not clear exactly how many mohels offer nonritual circumcisions, the practice is, according to Shoulson — an Orthodox-trained mohel who has circumcised Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists and Hindus during his 50-year career — very widespread.

“Almost everybody else does it,” he said.

According to Blake and Shoulson, non-Jews make up between 2% and 5% of their clientele. Some, like the DeCaros, are motivated initially by practical circumstances, but others seem drawn to the mohels for spiritual reasons, if not explicitly religious ones. Both Blake and Sherman have even been approached by “Torah-observant Christians” — those dedicated to observing Old Testament commandments — seeking to have their sons circumcised on the eighth day after the birth. In all cases, families say they are drawn to the intimacy and convenience of a nonritual circumcision performed at home.

Manhattan pediatrician Susan Levitsky makes a point of recommending non-Jewish patients to mohels. Levitsky said she’s been passing out Sherman’s number more often these days, because concerns over hospital-bred infections are rising. “Why would you want to be around an environment with germs?” she asked.

That’s precisely the question posed at www.holisticcircumcision.com, a site that Sherman set up for non-Jewish parents. On it, he describes a “quicker, gentler, and more humane” circumcision carried out without the use of “drugs, injections or creams” (he suggests sugar water or wine) in an environment that’s “spiritual and meaningful” instead of “clinical and cold.”

Certain families have been won over by this nonritual gospel, despite the added cost.

While fees for hospital circumcisions are absorbed by the family’s health insurance, mohels charge between $700 and $750 for circumcisions performed in the New York area.

Two months ago, Nate Sadeghi-Nejad and his wife, Janine Foeller, were denied a circumcision at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell hospital because of a staph outbreak. After the first mohel the couple contacted refused to operate because they weren’t Jewish, Foeller’s postpartum doula gave them Sherman’s number.

Their son’s circumcision was a success. Foeller was comforted that Sherman used sugar water as a mild anesthesia instead of a topical pain reliever, while her husband — who worried about the “see one, do one, teach one” circumcision practices at hospitals — was impressed by Sherman’s know-how. “I’m a firm believer that any procedure, minor or major, should be done by the person who does it the most,” he said.

Mohels aren’t always second choices. Nearly two years ago, Jeannie Noth Gaffigan and Jim Gaffigan gave birth to their first son at home through the assistance of a nurse-midwife. Though the decision to circumcise wasn’t a religious one, as Catholics the Gaffigans wanted more than a simple medical procedure. “We felt a mohel would lend a high level of dignity and significance to this very important moment in our lives,” Noth Gaffigan said in an e-mail to the Forward.

Blake, 52, arrived at a house packed with food, drink and family — a gathering that, were it not for the priest in the corner, would have looked like nothing less than a Jewish bris. While James waited for his big moment — his gauze pacifier soaked in sugar and Manischewitz — Jeannie read a passage from the New Testament describing Mary and Joseph dedicating the infant Jesus to God. After this, the priest gave a common Catholic benediction, known in Judaism as the Priestly Blessing, followed by Blake’s rendition in Hebrew.

Noth Gaffigan attributed the evening’s success to its cooperative efforts. “The fact that there was a priest and a mohel giving blessings side by side was such a celebration of unity in what can be a very divided culture,” Noth Gaffigan said.

As a former obstetrician/gynecologist, Blake said she saw her work as a commitment to her patients as well as to her own faith. “I feel a calling to be a mohel; I feel a calling to do God’s work on Earth,” she told the Forward. “But I feel a human calling to do a good job for anyone I’m doing a surgery for.”

Alternatively, she is getting back at her soon-to-be-ex husband who seems to have a thing for Nazis.

And Nazi skanks.

Whatever the reason, mazal tov Sandra and Louis!

About Aussie Dave

An Aussie immigrant to Israel, Aussie Dave is founder and managing editor of Israellycool, one of the world's most popular pro-Israel blogs (and the one you are currently reading) He is a happy family man, and a lover of steak, Australian sports and girlie drinks

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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/juvanya juvanya

    What interests me is the fact that all these people want circumcisions, especially Hindus, Buddhists, etc…

    • Dipti

      Hindus and Buddhists are against circumcision. We believe that a healthy body = healthy mind and spirit. And a healthy body means a whole, intact body. Not one that has been mutilated.

      No baby in the world WANTS to be circumcised. I've never even heard an intact man say he wants to be circumcised. Only men who have been cut are in favor of circumcision — probably because nobody wants to think that there is anything wrong with his body. And naturally, a man does not want to face the fact that he was sexually abused. Men don't like to be seen as victims, even when they are.

      • juvanya

        Apparently someone did not read the article. Hindus and Buddhists were getting circumcised.

        No baby wants to or doesnt want to be circumcised. You cant ask a baby things like that, so the parents have to make the best decision. Grown men dont want to be circumcised because it is extremely painful, embarrassing, and difficult at that age. When a baby, its very simple, quick, and easy.

        I was not sexually abused. I dont want a disgusting flap on my wang and I am thankful for being circumcised. Keep your pompous arrogant garbage to yourself, thanks.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/ml66uk ml66uk

    Shame she didn't let her son decide for himself whether or not he wanted part of his genita1s cut off or not. His body – his decision.

    • Michael Zvi Krumbein

      It's much more difficult when one is older.

      • Mike

        That's actually not true. Infants are much more sensitive to pain than adults.

        At birth, the foreskin is fused to the glans, the same way your fingernail is fused to your finger. To circumcise an infant, this foreskin must be torn from the glans. It has recently been discovered that the foreskin consists of extremely sensitive nerves like the ones found in fingertips. This part alone is severely painful.
        The separating of the foreskin from the glans also rips off 70% (~20,000) of the pleasurable nerve endings from the glans, which desensitizes the organ for life.
        By adulthood, the foreskin is loose and able to retract, so there is no tearing of nerves from the glans.

        Also, if an adult wants to be circumcised, he is able to care for his wound himself.
        An infant is urinating and defecating into the open wound for 7-10 days. This is much more uncomfortable and dangerous.

        Studies in infant circumcision have also shown immediate negative psychological changes that last through childhood and adulthood. Side effects such as increased violent behavior, trouble communicating, trust issues, and higher stress levels.

        Do your research and you will see that infant circumcision is in no way easier or less painful than adult circumcision.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/ShyGuy Shy Guy

      His parents – their decision.

      • Cam

        His body – his decision.

        • Shy Guy

          Polly wanna cracker?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/ml66uk ml66uk

    It's not more difficult though. Circumcision later in life is safer, hurts less, and the results are cosmetically better. The person can also choose what type of circumcision they want, or if they want one at all.

    About 98-99% of males left intact choose to stay that way.

    There are lots of adult males that have chosen to be circumcised, including several Jewish men from Eastern Europe, and that's their right. It should be also be someone's right not to be circumcised, and that's taken away from them if it's done when they're a baby.

    • jpl

      How do you know it is safer and hurts less? Are you a man? did you ever have a circumcision?

      I had one as a baby, and am glad i did. Parents make all kinds of decisions for their children, especially infants. A bris leaves everything important quite functional and more.

      I had a friend who was circumcised at age 25 (not Jewish, but had a medical problem) and he sure said it hurt plently.

  • Alvin

    The author who writes "And I’m guessing from the photo that little Louis isn’t either" – a Jew, that is – is nothing but an ignorant racist. While the Jewishness of Bullock (and therefore her baby) is unlikely, there ARE Jews of all races and ethnicities.
    Jewishness is determined either by birth or conversion. A photograph of a face gives no more indication of one's Jewishness than a different photograph of someone holding a basketball demonstrates the person's skills on the court.

    • http://www.israellycool.com/ israellycool

      Thanks for the lecture on Jews (over a year after the post was published no less), but I am Jewish and live in Israel, so hardly need it. Especially from a guy named after a chipmunk.

  • soloman4israel

    as this post is open again.
    as all the males in our family,have/and do, i had the chop the old fashioned way at 8 days old,and have never had any problems/non of us have/do and we will continue to do as we have always done.
    our parents made our decisions,not because we are jews,all parents do this still for their children,but for some reason science has come up with various reasons against, mainly because more infections were caught in hospital in various parts of the world and so it had to be the fault of the procedure,rather than the truith dirty hospitals and badly trained non jewish doctors,who would rather try and talk parents out of circumcision.

  • lance

    I just found this article and must share the real story of Dr. Blake. We used Dr. Blake for my son’s bris in 2010 and she did a horrible job. When I called her to tell her that three different pediatric urologists said that my son needed to have it redone, she basically shrugged and said something to the effect of “These things happen. It’s not the first time I’ve had this problem.” She took no responsibility and this is her CAREER. She didn’t even apologize. I DID NOT ask her for money nor did I mention it because money wasn’t and isn’t the issue. Having a conscience and taking responsibility is the issue. Now 1.5 years later, we’ve had to redo his circumcision at the hospital. My poor baby had to be put under anesthesia, will be bandaged and uncomfortable for a week. He can’t go in the water/pool for six weeks. She even twisted the skin and it had to be corrected. I hope no other mom (or dad) has to experience what we just went though.

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