TEL AVIV – In response to the rising number of non-observant Israeli couples foregoing ritual circumcision, the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization has introduced a secular-friendly brit milah program.
“Beyond the physical aspects of the brit milah which parents naturally find stressful, we know that secular couples in particular can find the rituals associated with this process to be confusing and even alienating,” Tzohar chairman and co-founder Rabbi David Stav said in a statement about its new program.
“The goal is therefore to provide parents with an informed and compassionate partner in this process so they can appreciate the importance of this historical Jewish custom.”
Every year, more and more secular couples opt out of circumcising their sons. Aware of the cracks in consensus on circumcision in Israel, Rabbi Stav said there are two key reasons for this trend.
“One, there were rumors about damages caused to the baby during circumcision and that’s why many parents were afraid,” he told The CJN.
“And two, many secular Israelis question themselves as to why, after throwing away all the other mitzvot, the only custom they’ve kept is something that looks like a pagan ceremony. Therefore we wanted to open our gates, to expose them to the perspectives on the brit milah.”
Rabbi Stav said Tzohar decided to act before it was too late.
“This is a tradition which has defined our people for thousands of years and any threat to its continuation, particularly here in the modern Jewish State, should be confronted before the numbers of Jewish boys being denied a brit milah grows to even more troubling proportions,” he says.
The new program certifies mohels (ritual circumcisers) in collaboration with the Israeli Health Ministry and the Israeli rabbinate. The mohels also undergo additional training through Tzohar that focus on making sure that the parents feel best informed about the experience that their newborn sons will undergo.
“Tzohar has defined itself by our devotion to preserving the Jewish character of the State of Israel and our willingness to serve as real partners in the most exciting times in people’s lives. We aim to show that Jewish tradition and Halachah are ideals which can be practiced with compassion and love – whether it’s Jewish marriage or entering our sons into the covenant of Abraham,” Tzohar executive vice-president Nachman Rosenberg said.
Another trend among secular Israelis who do decide to circumcise their sons is choosing a doctor instead of a mohel. Not feeling a need for religious meaning, many new parents prefer a sterilized doctor’s office instead.
“We know about this phenomenon and we have doctors among our mohelim as well,” Rabbi Stav said.
“All our mohelim are trained to do circumcision. They are even more trained than doctors because they’re not doing surgeries or treating sick people as well. They are experts in this specific field. But we understand this comment and we have mohelim that are licensed to act as a doctor and mohel.”
Tzohar is best known for its program that has facilitated more than 35,000 Jewish marriages free-of-charge for Israeli secular couples. Tzohar was founded 15 years ago by Zionist rabbis who wanted to bridge the gap between religious and secular societies by creating inclusive and user-friendly interfaces to issues of Jewish law that secular Israelis are legally required to confront in their daily lives.
Although Tzohar rabbis will officiate weddings for free, the brit milah program costs NIS 1,000.
“It’s not like weddings, where the service was free because rabbis who were on the state’s payroll were also charging couples. People that do circumcisions, it’s their job, and we cannot expect them to do it for free,” he explained.
“But we can expect them to charge reasonable rates and visit the baby before and after the circumcision.”
According to the new program, Tzohar mohels will dress in special white robes, will provide receipts for the service and will be available during the baby’s recovery period.
“Undergoing a brit is a chance for every Jew to experience the deep connection between himself and the Jewish people and the Creator,” the rabbi said.
“Tzohar feels privileged and obligated to work with parents on this important occasion that ushers a newborn into Judaism, and to do so in a way that leaves the best impression in years to come.”