Tazria: Life in context

elijah chairOh, Tazria, you strange and troublesome parasha.  Coming as you do, a couple of weeks before Passover, as I wonder why I bother with the burdensome details and literal and figurative heavy lifting of getting ready for Pesach, I read, “Adonai spoke to Moses saying, Speak to the Israelite people….on the eight day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.” (Lev 12:1, 3)

Why circumcise a Jewish baby boy?  Because the Torah said so, you just read it.  Like not eating pork, it says so. Right there.  Torah doesn’t say to switch dishes for Passover, true; (male) Rabbinic interpretation gave us that particular responsibility.  But if both kinds of activities, the brit, (the circumcision on the 8th day), and the laws of Passover, seem significantly counter-intuitive, we are right back at the “Why?”

For me, this is a pretty short discussion.  We had a son? He had a brit.  We may question other things, but not that.

Torah tells us that God told Abraham to circumcise himself when he entered into the covenant, so we bring baby boys into that unique relationship to God, right from the start. That statement of faith “works”, if you are operating from within that framework.  But the controversy over whether and why grows, as laws that ban the practice are presented in Europe, San Francisco and even Israel.   More and more Jewish parents of Jewish baby boys are questioning the brit milah.  On the surface, there is no logical reason to take a perfect newborn and alter him.  By the same token, there is no logical reason to abstain from a perfectly tasty piece of bacon.  Back-explaining about these laws by talking about penile health and trichinosis are irrelevant; these choices are made because of faith and identity.  It’s nice that refrigeration has made pork safer to eat, and medical science has found evidence that circumcision may be “healthier” for the baby as he grows, but that’s not why it’s done.

There are those that say we shouldn’t be making a decision for a baby that he can’t make for himself.  Or that we shouldn’t impose a value system on a baby without consent.  Truth is, as parents we do both all the time.   As Rabbi Daniel Greyber wrote in his blog, (http://www.rabbigreyber.com/brit-mila/)

“By raising our children to make choices for themselves, we are imposing a system of beliefs upon them: one that says they should make up their own mind.  There is no escape from making decisions for our children, so we should be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that the question is not whether or not we are coercing our children into a value system, but rather which value system we are imposing upon them.”

We begin to form our children’s identities from the minute they breathe on their own.  Of course, as they grow, it becomes a conversation, but we “impose” on them from the beginning with our dreams.   As that young boy grows, he may decide his involvement with his Jewish identity is strong, needs to be challenged, tenuous or even non-existent.  But he will always know his parents thought enough of that history, that heritage, that identity to bring him into the world with context.  He’s not floating in an undifferentiated, pre-Creation chaos.  He has a foundation, whether his parents consider it a tradition or a law, whether they consider it a connection to God or a connection to a people.   His parents have grounded him in time and place, past and future.

In that joyous and difficult moment, that baby knows that life will be filled with joy and difficulty, even pain, but comfort, too. So yes, Tazria, these two weeks before Pesach, I will rejoice in the inexplicable but comforting challenges of identity – and go back to the Passover dishes.

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