Forward Thinking

Reporter Watches Bris — And It Ain't Pretty

By Paul Berger

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While I was researching my Forward story about circumcision and pain, I realized that I didn’t know what a circumcision actually looks like. I’ve only attended one bris — apart from my own — and there I didn’t have a good line of sight to the baby.

I was particularly interested to know more about the circumcision procedure because one of the more interesting aspects of the reporting for this week’s story was that circumcision opponents are not the only people who describe the process as cruel.

Many Orthodox mohels perceive medicalized circumcision — a longer, more involved procedure than traditional circumcision — as particularly uncomfortable for babies. Even injecting anesthetic into infants is seen as painful.

Meanwhile, more liberal Jewish mohels, most of whom are doctors, think the idea of using sugar water or grape juice as the only form of anesthetic before and after removing the foreskin, as most Orthodox mohels do, is unfair to the child. Why avoid pain medication when research shows that babies feel pain and when analgesics are so prevalent today?

Hoping to better understand the debate, I decided to do some investigation. So, one evening last week I sat down to watch a 10-minute video of a routine hospital circumcision.

Big mistake. I don’t think I made it more than 60 seconds before I was out of my chair, headed for the bathroom sink. Within another couple of minutes, I had to switch it off altogether.

Perhaps my father was right. When my second daughter was born a few months ago, he reminded me that there are some good things about not having a son.

“Never mind” he said. “At least you don’t have to do the circumcision thing.”


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