“Part of something greater”: A conversation about a ritual circumcision that vanquished the past

Coloured photograph of the circumsion ceremony in the synagogue

“A ceremony with friends and family”: The bris of Jaal, photo: William Noah Glucroft

In the last few weeks at “Blogerim” we have reported on the discussions that the subject of circumcision can prompt. We shouldn’t lose sight, though, of the fact that the ritual is a matter of course for most Jewish and Muslim families – as, for example, for Amitay and Meital from Israel. I asked the couple what their son Yaal’s bris was like for them.

In mid-December you had Yaal circumcised by a mohel at the Fraenkelufer Synagogue. Did you have to think about it for a long time?

Meital: For me, there was no question.

Amitay: Same here. But when the time approached, I did have some questions.

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On the hamster wheel of argumentation

I’m not sure what time it is, but it’s already light out. My alarm clock will go off soon. My eyes are already open – the sky is its usual grey. In the space behind my eyes, arguments are going around and around – legal, religious, social, and medical. My tongue doesn’t move but my thoughts speak all the lines of this drama. Right now I’m going around and around on the hamster wheel of an argument that I got dragged into on a tour I gave the day before of the special exhibition “Snip it! Stances on Circumcision.” Every time I thought I had explained to this visitor the profound differences between ritual circumcision of boys and female genital mutilation, she would bring us back into an argumentative spiral.

Visitors in the exhibition room in front of different naked and male sculptures

Visitors in the exhibition room “On the Knife’s Edge” © JMB, Foto: Jule Roehr

Despite Cilly Kugelmann’s assertion that we don’t want to use “Snip it!” to continue the 2012 debate about ritual circumcision; despite an exhibition that addresses, above all, the cultural and historical background of the ritual; despite my careful presentation in the tours, where I aim to encourage visitors to really see and understand, and not to judge and argue; despite the many visitors who embrace my suggestions with great openness and interest:  continue reading


David’s circumcision: Why a question mark can also tell a story

Complementing our special exhibit, Snip It! Stances on ritual circumcision, our blogger team went looking for Jews and Muslims who could speak on the topic from a very personal perspective, whether for or against circumcising their sons. We called upon our networks of friends and acquaintances and received a range of responses in return. Some made us smile; others, like this one about David, gave us pause. It is retold to us by Shlomit Tulgan, our colleague in the education department who knows him from childhood:

Black and white photography: a man with kippa is playing Backgammon with two kids

Shlomit met David in the Jewish Culture Center in Berlin
On this photo you see a tutor of the Berlin Jewish Community’s youth center on Joachimstalerstr playing Backgammon with kids, Berlin 1992 © Photo: Michael Kerstgens, Jewish Museum Berlin

David was born to a secular Jewish mother and, at 22, chose to be circumcised in Berlin’s Jewish Hospital. His reason was to “get back to his roots and regain what his parents had denied him.” David was no “sad child,” remembers Shlomit, who met him most of all at the Berlin Jewish Community’s youth center on Joachimstalerstr. Seemingly every month he was in love with another Jewish girl, and he was popular among the opposite sex despite his nature to move swiftly from one to the next. The youth center was particularly supportive when the circumcision was performed. Recovering in a hospital bed, David’s Lebanese flatmate and friend  continue reading