My heart started pounding when the mohel arrived.
Jewish mothers traditionally pass down the notion of religious identity to their children, and I’m usually up for the task. But the brit milah, or bris, is a tough order for a mom.
Oz was about to be circumcised. On my dining room table. Yes, it is a ritual weighed by the gravity of covenant and tradition, but motherly instincts kick in whenever sharp instruments are around, and it was all I could do to keep cool about it.
Hoping to avoid stressing out the baby with my nervous energy, I decided to begin with a joke: “You’re going to hear a lot about your very important covenant with God,” I whispered to him before leaving the quiet of his room to meet the mohel and all our guests. “But it’s also important to keep in mind that today, for the only time ever, you get to actually say there’s a party in your pants.”
Oz didn’t laugh. I can’t say I blame him.
Before all you angry anti-circumcision people write your rage-filled letters, please note: I would never consider not circumcising my son. Tradition, religious law and even just plain old aesthetics make it impossible to even consider that an option. That said, it ain’t easy to hand your infant over to someone who will perform a minor surgery on your baby’s privates.
Every muscle in my body was tense. I know the ceremony was quick, but it felt like it took years. I tried to think calming thoughts. Tried to transmit to Oz a feeling of spiritual peace. But while prayers were recited and foreskin was removed, all I could think about was how much weirder circumcision would have seemed to Abraham’s mother.
Abraham, of course, performed the first brit milah on himself, marking the Jewish people’s agreement with God and paving the way for thousands of years of tense mommies, proud daddies and unchecked kugel deliveries.
By the time Abraham performed his own circumcision, I’m guessing his mother had been dead a long time. My guess is not based on the account of Abraham having been 99 when he circumcised himself. It’s based on the instinctive knowledge that had Abraham’s mother been alive, there is no way she would have let him go through with it.
If Abraham was the first Jew, then his mom, Amathlaah, was the first Jewish mother. And the first Jewish mother would likely have had something to say about her son’s meshugass.
Amathlaah: “Your going to cut off your foreskin over my dead body.”
Abraham: “Ma, I’m entering a covenant with God.”
Amathlaah: “You’re doing what with who?”
Abraham: “God, Ma. I’m entering a sacred covenant with God.”
Amathlaah: “God? Never heard of him. Who are his parents; I want to talk to them.”
Abraham: “No, Ma. God is the creator of the Heavens and the Earth.”
Amathlaah: “I don’t care what fancy-schmancy things he’s built. He sounds like bad news. I don’t want you hanging out with him anymore.”
Abraham: “He is the one true God.”
Amathlaah: “Says who?”
Abraham: “Well, says Him.”
Amathlaah: “Uh huh.”
Abraham: “Look, Ma, he’s making me a great nation.”
Amathlaah: “Nation, he says! Nation! Now that’s funny. You’re 99, and you haven’t given me a single grandchild. You’re going to have a nation?”
Abraham: “Yes. He says…”
Amathlaah: “If God said to jump off a bridge, would you?”
Abraham: “Well, yeah, probably.”
Amathlaah: “OK. That’s enough. You are forbidden from hanging around this character ever again. I don’t want to hear another word about Rod…”
Amathlaah: “Whatever. You tell Claude to find another sucker. You are keeping your distance.”
Abraham: “You don’t understand…”
Amathlaah: “I understand plenty. Now put your pants on. You want to cut something; go slice up some chicken. I’m making soup.”
When it was over, the mohel handed Oz back to me. I held him tight and watched the mohel pack up his things and leave, presumably for another bris. Yet another baby would be entered into the covenant. And yet another mother would suppress the urge to pick up where Amathlaah would have left off.