Is Brit Shalom an Acceptable Alternative to Jewish Circumcision?

Foot washing replaces circumcision in
the alternative brit pictured above. 

Is there an alternative to circumcision? This question was recently posed to two rabbis in The Jewish Chronicle Online’s “Rabbi I Have a Problem” section. At issue, an outraged uncle whose niece had decided not to circumcise her newborn son and instead held an alternative brit. Despite the growing popularity of Brit Shalom, one has to wonder: was this question really sent in by a reader or dreamed up by an editor on a slow news day? Regardless, I appreciated the response of both rabbis who weighed in. 

Orthodox Rabbi Naftali Brawer called a brit without circumcision “newfangled” and “a synthetic ceremony highlighting the absence of brit.” However, Reform Rabbi Jonathan Romain had a different take. He said, “some Jews feel genuinely ambivalent about [circumcision] because they question why the miraculous gift of life needs altering eight days later if it was so perfect in the first place.” As for the niece in question, “far from abandoning Judaism, she made a deliberate effort to induct her son into it,” Romain said.

The rabbis divergent views on Brit Shalom demonstrate the fundamental difference between Orthodox and Reform Judaism. The Orthodox believe the Torah comes directly from God, as understood by the rabbis of long ago. God is seen as a giver of laws whose literal words are to be obeyed. For this reason, Orthodox Jews will seek to understand, debate and discuss why God commanded circumcision, but the wisdom of the act will always be beyond challenge. The pious circumcise their sons as act of pure faith, trusting and believing that God knows what is best. 

Reform Judaism sees the Torah as a holy document but doesn’t view Jewish practice as rigid and unchanging. For this reason, the acceptableness of the Brit Shalom service is more likely to be upheld by those of this branch. Parents who wonder how to find a rabbi that performs Brit Shalom can consult Dr. Mark Reiss, M.D.'s ever-growing list of Brit Shalom celebrants.


  1. The Jewish circumcision practiced now is much different and more radical than that of the past when just the foreskin extending beyond the glans was removed. When did God change his mind re this? Google turned up nothing. Thx

  2. Humans - and not God - appear to have changed their minds on this when rabbis during the Hellenic Era radicalized the procedure to remove up to one half of the skin of the penis. They were attempting to thwart Jewish men who were 'restoring' their mostly intact foreskins so the head of the penis would remain covered, making it easier for them to blend into wider Greek society where male nudity during athletic events and in public baths was common. Details:

    However, modern science reveals that the most erogenous part of the foreskin is the ridged band of nerve endings that are found in the tip of the foreskin. Details:

    Even the less radical version destroys this part of the penis. The lifelong damage to men circumcised as infants remains unstudied so men are documenting it themselves. Details:

    Both versions however violate the child's fundamental human right to bodily integrity and genital autonomy, regardless of the child's religious or non-religious background. Details: