Baruch atah adonai eloheinu melech ha’olam asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al ha-milah. Baruch atah adonai eloheinu melech ha’olam asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu lihach-neeso bivreito shel Avraham aveenu.
Blessed are You, O Lord Our God, Ruler of the universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments, and has given us the command concerning circumcision. Blessed are You, O Lord Our God, Ruler of the universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments, and hast commanded us to make our sons enter the covenant of Abraham our father. (Source)
Eight days after birth, Jewish boys are supposed to be circumcised as part of the covenant between God and Abraham (in Genesis), as specified in Leviticus. In this way, Jewish boys are supposed to continue the line of the Children of Israel, fulfilling the obligations and duties laid out for them in the Torah.
There are no required rituals or ceremonies to mark the birth of a girl.
What does that mean for me?
I was circumcised. I did not ask for the circumcision, the gender it carried as baggage, or to enter in any sort of covenant with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but I was circumcised.
According to Jewish law, have I renounced that covenant by transitioning? If a circumcision is a ‘male’ ceremony, one which need not apply to those created from Adam’s rib, is my circumcision null and void by rejecting that male identity? Biblically, will that rejection only be complete if I go through with The Surgery?
All of this very much links back with my Ba(r/t) Mitzvah post, because the deeper I dig into Judaism the more frustrated I get with the historic, institutionalized, ritualized, ceremonialized, holy gender roles.
Take, for example, the following passage. It’s something I came across while doing some research for this post. From Being Jewish:
It is noteworthy that woman has no similar Commandment. Most things in the world were created before man, so that it would all be completed and ready for humanity’s use when we were created. Woman, however, was created after man. Thus, we find that woman was created at a higher level. Therefore, man needs woman to become complete, and until a man gets married, says the Talmud, he is not complete. Men are required by Jewish Law to get married. A man breaks a Commandment if he doesn’t get married, but women have no such requirement, and do not break the Commandment if they don’t.
Woman is the completion of man, but woman needs no completion herself.
That is why a woman says the blessing, each morning, “Blessed are You, Hashem, King of the universe, Who has made me according to His will.” Woman is made according to G-d’s will, but man is not! (For more about this, see my wife’s letter on this subject.) Man needs woman for completion, man needs circumcision for elevation, but woman needs nothing except what is within her, which was granted her by G-d. The man cannot say that G-d has made him according to G-d’s will. G-d’s will in this case is something that man must complete.
That’s pretty fucked up, both in terms of assigned gender roles and in how it highlights the absurdity of circumcision in the first place: how could man possibly not be made to God’s will? How else would man be made? It’s God’s will (apparently) that men go through self-mutilation of their genitals, but that doesn’t mean the foreskin is anti-God somehow. By the creation story (stories, actually) in Genesis, everything is made in and by God’s will.
More to my point, the above passage is a really odd interpretation of circumcision. Its author is saying that women are somehow more “complete” than man, and thus needs no direct covenant with God. Wouldn’t it be a simpler (and less ridiculous) reading of the Torah to say that, biblically, women just aren’t as important as men? So no covenant is needed, by virtue of no one caring what women think in the first place.
I emailed my mom and asked about my own circumcision, how and when it happened, and here’s what she had to say:
Wow! What a weird question. Yikes! I so think of you as female that it’s hard to imagine circumcision for you. Anywho….. in answer to your question, you were circumcised at the hospital. I complained because they would not allow me to accompany you. I couldn’t get out of bed when [older brother 1] was circumcised & [older brother 2] was 6 when he asked for it. They said that’s how it’s done in the hospital-no parents allowed. I couldn’t handle the idea of some old guy giving you wine & then using (what in my mind was) a dirty old knife. And your father would not even consider a home circumcision. That’s the story.
(Yes, her font of choice is Comic Sans. I apologize.)
So it sounds like my circumcision was somewhat religious, but was also done under the auspicious of the medical establishment.
The older I get, the more anti-circumcision I’ve become, at least if it’s done at birth. I don’t have a problem with an adult choosing, of their own free will, to get circumcised. I think it’s kind of silly, but I’m not against it. But I do have very real problems concerning at-birth circumcision, problems related to personal autonomy and the sanctity of one’s own body. If it’s not alright to medically assign genders to children, why is circumcision considered an “acceptable” genital modification?
Fitting circumcision in with my identity as a Jew is even trickier. I already feel Judaism is at best complacent in the unwanted and unwarranted gendering of children, if not an active encourager. To go a step further and surgically mark children assigned “male” at birth really upsets me, and makes me feel violated in the name of a religion to which I’m not sure I subscribe.
And where do trans men fit within the Jewish community? Would it be better for a penis created via phaloplasty to be uncircumcised, so the Jewish man might under go the requirements of the covenant, or already circumcised, a retroactive circumcision? Am I, as a circumcised woman, higher in the Jewish religious hierarchy, or am I already so far outside it by virtue of being trans that my circumcision is irrelevant?
These may sound like stupid questions, but that’s what Judaism is implicitly and explicitly saying I should be thinking about, by virtue of placing so much importance on the penis in the first place.