In response…

Today over at, Donald Cohen-Cutler asks us

Do you, as an active Reform Jew, practice a Jewish tradition simply because that is what Jews have always done?

If you read the entire post, you’ll see that Donnie is asking about circumcision in particular. Unwilling to believe that Reform Jews do anything en masse just because our ancestors did it, he inquired of the lefty Jblogosphere why we think Reform Jews continue to practice brit milah.

At my most downright poetic, here is my answer:

Sounding the shofar. Building and sleeping in the sukah. Eating matzah. Fasting. Snipping our little boys’ willies.

These five things are amongst the most primal, ancient, visceral experiences Judaism has to offer us. Amongst their other meanings is this: We are as old as the dirt.

Before Socrates philosophized or anyone imagined a scientific mindset, dusty nomads roamed west from the fertile crescent, perhaps already worshiping a singular and unified god.

They slept in tents, communicated over vast distances with horns, ate flat breads, fasted out of devotion and mourning, and snipped their little boys’ willies. In remembrance of our ancient, dirt-covered, wandering fathers and mothers, we do these things.

We live in an anesthetized world. We sit in the airconditioning, freeze a loaf of bread for a week before turning it into toast, call friends half a world away on cell phones, and don’t give two moments of thought to extraordinary happenstance that is the reproductive function of our naughty bits.

So above all other reasons, we blow the shofar, eat in the sukah, embitter our lives with matzah and fasting, and we snip our little boys’ willies to reconnect with the world in the gut-wrenching, intense ways that our ancestors did every day.


3 responses to “In response…

  1. I permitted it to happen to my son because it’s what Jews do, and I couldn’t even have told you what a sukkah was back then.

    Nowadays, I put up a sukkah because I enjoy knowing that I’m doing something that is being done around the world and through all time. There is a special joy with connecting in space and time like that, but I don’t think I really understood that until I had this vision of Rosh haShanah wrapping around the world when you were in Israel, 7 time zones ahead of me.

    (I’m still not crazy about the whole snipping tradition, but at least it only happens once, unlike the other things on your list.)

  2. Your answer still isn’t “just because they used to do it.”

    (also, not a very big deal…but it is Donnie)

  3. Donnie it is. Consider it changed.

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