Orthodox block bar mitzvah over non-kosher circumcision (Shame in the Neighbourhood)
An article immediately follows from today's Jewish newspaper here in Australia. My comments follow.
by Dan Goldberg
A traumatic row over a bar mitzvah boy's circumcision forced a Sydney mother to move her son's simcha from an Orthodox shul to a Progressive temple at the 11th hour last week.
The bar mitzvah boy had been scheduled to read from the Torah at Chabad Double Bay last Shabbat, but rabbis from the Sydney Beth Din (SBD) ruled on the previous Monday that his circumcision was not kosher. Rabbi Moshe Gutnick and Rabbi Yoram Ulman, two judges at the Jewish court, were at the mikvah in Bondi preparing to draw a drop of blood from the boy to symbolise his Orthodox conversion when they noticed that his brit milah, conducted by a Jewish doctor in 1993, was incomplete.
"We immediately called one of the mohelim to check, and he confirmed a further circumcision needed to be done," Rabbi Gutnick said. He said he told the boy's mother, journalist and author Ros Reines, that her son could either be operated on under local or general anaesthetic, and that 'hundreds of boys' many from the former Soviet Union have undergone this procedure in Australia prior to their bar mitzvah.
"In order to become Jewish he has to be [properly] circumcised there's nothing we can do about it. We feel terrible it's devastating," Rabbi Gutnick said. "I didn't want my son to have that trauma [of another circumcision]," she told the AJN this week. "It's not true he wasn't circumcised; it's a question of degree."
"I spent the week in tears," she said. "To me it didn't sound very compassionate. I just feel a sense of sorrow because perhaps we don't really fit in. It's that feeling of being an outcast again." The single mother, who had an adult bat mitzvah following her Progressive conversion, said she had to inform the 100 or so guests of the change of venue due to a technical problem just days before the simcha.
But she said her son sang his portion magnificently. "He's a kid that bounces back. It was one of the happiest weekends of our lives." However, she added: "To know we'll never be counted there [at Chabad] really hurts me." She said the pain had been magnified because her son had a brit milah, conducted in the presence of Rabbi Kamins, eight days after he was born.
"You don't take your 13-year-old son four days before his bar mitzvah and give him a general [anaesthetic]. He didn't want to do it. Just imagine if there had been an infection," she said. Temple Emanuel Woollahra, which had a double aufruf and a bat mitzvah already scheduled for last Shabbat, accommodated the bar mitzvah.
Rabbi Kamins said it is the first time he has ever heard of such a case. "We were able to help the family in a way which they [the Orthodox rabbinate] couldn't," he said. "I don't think they would have made that decision with any lightheartedness or lack of consideration." But Rabbi Gutnick told the AJN the temple was "fooling the child" into believing he is Jewish.
"Unless the child goes to the mikvah and is circumcised according to Jewish law, pretending the child is Jewish is ultimately doing a disservice to the child," he said. In response, Reines said: "I don't know how they can live with themselves." Chabad Double Bay's Rabbi Yanky Berger said he was "very distressed" by the saga.
"I'd be surprised if any rabbis anywhere in Australia have been in this situation before," said Rabbi Berger, who attended the bar mitzvah party last Sunday night. He said he had spoken to rabbis around the Jewish world "to see if there's any type of halachic leniency, to see if there's a precedent." "He is an amazing kid. In difficult times people shine. He was shining. He showed such strong spirit." Rabbi Ulman failed to return several calls from the AJN.
I read this story on the Australian Jewish News website today, and felt so sad. The Jewish community missed the mark one more time. Abraham circumcised himself and his son Isaac with a rock. No measurements would matter then. It was a sign, not a matter of degree.
The community had a chance to help this young man, who sounds like a terrific kid, forge a new adult life. And they blew it. They reminded him that judgment conquers mercy. Or so they think.
But the truth is that Mercy triumphs over Judgment. The record of the Scriptures is clear. God wants mercy and not sacrifice. He wants us to care about people more than rules.
Jesus forgave a woman caught in adultery. The religious leaders knew the 'rules' that she should be killed. They knew the man caught should also be killed. But they heard Jesus say, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone."
If only the rabbis in the Beth Din would hear those words. The kid is Jewish and fully so. If only they knew mercy and not only mandates. Shame on them and God help the young man.
I hope we all get the story straight on this one. It's worth everything.