In a bizarre twist in my life story…

My friend Marty Pottenger has written me in as a character in her new play, Abundance. The premiere is Thursday night, at the Dance Theater Workshop, W. 19th Street. Check out http://www.dtw.org/2004spring/working_theater_04.htm

There’s a piece on it from Playbill — with a picture of the dude who plays me!

This was all part of a community dialogue I took part in back in 2002 — The Abundance Project.

Davenning at Borough Park’s Yoruba Shtiebel

By Rabbi Daniel S. Brenner

(Will appear in The Jewish Week on 1/16/04)

This past Sunday morning I trekked through the foot of snow that recently visited the Big Apple to take an honorary seat on the bimah of the Christ Apostolic Church. This is one of Borough Park’s wonders – Housed in what once was a German Evangelical chapel is a church of Nigerian immigrants, whose service is mostly in the Yoruba dialect and whose band has no fewer than five onigangans – sacred drummers singing praises to the Lord on congas, djembes, and talking drums. From the moment that the band began to play every leg, arm, and head in the place began to move – men in finely tailored suits and women in magnificent hats and African dress swaying in their separate sections. This kept on for a full two hours, only briefly interrupted by a few short prayers and speeches. The energy in the room was electric – this was a house of God caught up in the throes of spiritual ecstasy.

Whenever I am called on to be a guest rabbi in a church I tell myself the following things- Smile, you represent the Jewish people. Stand up and sit down with the congregation. Don’t cross your legs or look at your watch. Pay attention to the speaker even if no one else is. Close your eyes when they have their heads down in prayer. Don’t try to sing something you don’t know. Nod politely with your mouth closed when they say ‘Amen’ to a prayer in Jesus’ name.

I tried my best to follow these rules, but let me say this – you try to go to Christ Apostolic and sit still – try not to dance when that choir begins to shout, try not to shout “Hallelujah!” when that bass line kicks in and the entire congregation is shaking like it was James Brown at the Apollo. You might be able to hold back for a few minutes, but after that, the ruach hakodesh is going to move you.

But I was moved by much more than the spiritual energy I felt that morning in Brooklyn. Chirst Apostolic is led by a charismatic seventy-year-old minister, Dr. Abraham Oyedeji, a man who received death threats for his stand against the military government that ruled Lagos up until 1998. His bravery in exposing human rights violations before the United Nations, along with the bravery of many others, has led to a time of great promise in Nigeria.

With all the talk these days about democracy or the lack of it in developing countries, we might look towards Nigeria to see if religious freedom and democracy are viable in a nation that is increasingly under the sway of Islamic law. In Nigeria, where the North is predominately Muslim and the South is Christian, the end of military rule has been marked by a rise in religious tension – with nearly 10,000 Nigerians murdered in various blood feuds between the two groups. In response, President Obasanjo has adamantly pushed forward a vision of the nation that is “multi-religious” – he has even insisted on a secular constitution. As a result of his recent re-election, there is relative calm now of these religious tensions – but they can boil over at any moment and they must be addressed at all times.

One of the factors that helps this “multi-religious” vision move forward is the strong voice of Nigerian immigrants in America who are well connected to the current government. In a private meeting after the service, the Reverend Oyedeji articulated a vision of Nigerian life that spoke to his own vision of religious tolerance:

“My uncle was a practitioner of African traditional religion but he was a righteous man – the most generous and loving man I have ever met. Could I tell him that he must become a Christian? And my older brother, he was the chief Imam of Nigeria. Could I tell my older brother what to believe? That is not done in an African family. So God will judge who has a place in heaven – not me.”

He then turned to me, and said “and this goes for my Jewish brothers and sisters as well.” At a time of global religious tension, it is reassuring to hear a personal vision of religious diversity.

So what I came away with from the Church was much more than a song in my head and a few dance steps, but a sense that we Jews are not as alone as we think. Among the new Americans, those who came after the 1965 immigration act, there are others who hold onto their traditions in the Diaspora and hold concern in their hearts for their homelands. There are also others who wish that the freedom of religious expression possible in America could be true in their homelands. More importantly, there are others who experience themselves as a religious minority, who live in regions where they are seeing a revisionist wing of Islam attempting to dominate the political and legal sphere.

After the Sunday service, one of the younger ministers who saw my enthusiastic response to their worship came up to me and said “This was different from what you are used to, I am sure!” –I smiled. “Yes,” I wanted to say, “the whole Jesus thing is noticeably absent in my shul!” But I also wanted to say “No. It is no different – I, too, sing ancient words to the Holy One, grateful for the blessing of religious freedom, feeling the wondrous irony of being blessed in exile.”

Turks and Jews in the Jersey Burbs

By Daniel S. Brenner

When I hear something awful, like the news that an 85-year-old grandmother and her 8-year-old granddaughter are murdered by a terrorist along with twenty-six others in a blast in Istanbul, I deal with my emotional turmoil by doing something mindless and useful – like raking leaves.

I was raking the last leaves of autumn from my front yard in Montclair on Sunday morning, trying to take my mind off the thought that synagogues are prime targets for explosives when Evrim came walking up to me. I stopped the rake and turned his direction to wave hello, but before I could get a word out I saw the tears welled up in his eyes.

“Did you hear the news?” he said.

Evrim is my tenant- for the last two years he has lived in the third floor apartment above my house while finishing his MBA. We rarely speak, other than “Is the apartment too hot/ too cold?” and he’s quiet and works late. So I have to say that this was the first time I’ve ever seen him emotional like this, his face carrying the news of tragedy.

I nodded in his direction. “I heard the news.” I said, “so sad.”

Evrim is a Turk and a Muslim. After completing school in Istanbul he came to the U.S. to do graduate work. It was right after 9/11, and he had a hard time finding an apartment. He pleaded with me to read his two letters of recommendation from his professors. I made a phone call to his advisor to make sure they were legitimate. I made out a lease.

“I had to come and talk to you, ” he said, “because it is so sad to me. All morning I’ve been asking myself – ‘How can a religious person destroy a synagogue?'”

“I don’t know,” I said.

We stood together, chilled by the cool breeze in the air, and we spoke.

I spoke of one of my classmates during my time living in Jerusalem, a young woman who was killed by a terrorist while taking a nature hike. He spoke of his father, a teacher who was imprisoned for speaking out against the government’s persecution of Kurds. We talked of how the world has changed since the Cold War, and where we thought the world was heading now that Islamic extremists are expanding their attack strategy. We stood, a Jew and a Turk in the Jersey Burbs, sharing our histories and sorrows.

“I don’t know how it will end.” Evrim said, “but I just know that it is terrible what the Jewish people are going through.”

“Thanks, Evrim.” I said, and I went back to raking.

Late Sunday night, I click on the radio on the top of the frig as I clean up after the kids. I hear that many Turks have come out to the two bombed out synagogues and are holding a vigil. They say that they stand with the Jews. I’d like to think that after such a heinous act – the destruction of families as they are taking part in a religious celebration – that not only Turkish Muslims, but Muslims around the world will grieve, and lift up their voices in disgust. I’m not naïve – I know that there are those who cheer every time a Jew is murdered, but it is a comfort to know that there are those whose hearts ache at such atrocities. One of them happens to be living above me. For this I am grateful.

The Unexpected Return

Goyische Mazel for One Yiddische Kup

By Rabbi Daniel S. Brenner

In 5763 I worked in an office of orthodox rabbis who quoted Talmudic tractates and ate microwaved knishes. In 5764 I’ll be spending my days with Presbyterian ministers who quote John Calvin and eat cold shrimp salads. No, I haven’t found Jesus, or tasted shrimp, but after six years on the faculty of CLAL I’ve left to become the first rabbi to direct the Center for Multifaith Education at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City. Auburn has strong Presbyterian roots, and my father-in-law jokes that I am “America’s first Presbyterian Rabbi”. Ugh. During the first week of my new gig, under the watchful eyes of the gargoyles peering down at me from atop Riverside Church I hung up a print of Tzfat sculptor Mike Leaf’s masterpiece “the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Bob Dylan, and the Mosiach on Harleys”. It was my way of claiming a bit of turf. I’m not sure what they think of it.

I imagine that for most rabbis the thought of working as an agent of a Protestant seminary would sound like a bizarre and ironic career choice, but for me this position is sort of a homecoming. As a son of the South I grew up in the Presbyterian stronghold of Charlotte, North Carolina – home not only to a large and thriving Presbyterian community but a Presbyterian hospital and college as well. My best friend in junior high and high school was Dwight Thomas Bridges III, a Presbyterian.

But still, there is something uncomfortable about a being a rabbi and working within the seminary of another religious tradition. The first time that I visited Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, who teaches World Religions at a Buddhist university, I was a little freaked by the Buddhist icons and idols around campus and the constant bowing, to the idols and to teachers, that marked Naropa University’s spiritual approach. I knew that for every pioneer like Reb Zalman, there were many who turned in the other direction. When my best friend from college, a Jewish guy from an affluent White suburb, became a baal t’shuvah he confided in me that he had completely broken his ties with his non-Jewish friends. His rabbi had explained that we should not be fooled by gestures of goodwill – that the entire world was still out to get us, and that the Passover Haggadah’s words “in every generation they stand against us to wipe us out” are as true today as they ever were. I was very disturbed to think that my friend had abandoned the idea that there would be peaceful relations between Jews and any of the other peoples that inhabit the planet, and I vowed that I would always maintain my deep ties of friendship to people outside the Jewish community.

I had no idea how hard it would be to keep that vow. Ever since I entered rabbinical school my world has become increasingly monocultural each year. The three friendships from college with non-Jews that I tried to maintain were stretched thin as I immersed myself in Jewish life. In their place I met many new Jewish friends and once I got my family multiplying (My sweetheart Lisa and I are blessed with three little ones) I found myself gravitating to Jewish families and forming a chavurah. In our new home we had some Christian neighbors but only once did we invite them over for a Shabbat meal. When my two oldest started Solomon Schechter Day School I had formally moved into a self-imposed shtetl – in the phone list I kept in my Palm Pilot the only non-Jews were my plumber, my carpenter, and my roofer. I had seriously broken my vow.

All that has changed in a month. Now I not only spend hours in dialogue with thoughtful Protestants, but I meet with Buddhists, Hindus, Catholics, and Muslims. My new hero is a seventy-eight year-old Catholic nun who has a sharp sense of humor and speaks of the virtues of silence and contemplative practices. In my new position I also get to meet with many Jewish thinkers and scholars – and invite them in to be part of the creative religious dialogues happening at Auburn.

So this is a tale of a homecoming – and like all tales of homecoming, not only have I changed but the place has changed too. America, which once was steered under the spiritual and moral guidance of the mainline Protestant churches, has now become a diverse multifaith landscape. We are entering an era in which no one group is in the majority and where there will be new challenges for Jews. Unlike other eras in which we had to stay on the good side of the sultan, king, pope or czar, we’ll now have many relationships to maintain and bridges to build. Some of us may retreat even further into our own communities, but ultimately we will have to figure out how to thrive within an evolving system of what Rabbi Jonathan Sacks calls “religious biodiversity.” Instead of standing on the sidelines of this flowering of religious diversity, we might ask ourselves what we have to contribute to America’s next era of spiritual and moral development.

On Rosh Hashannah, we speak of teshuvah, which literally means returning. Returning to our ideals, to our responsibilities and ultimately to God. For me, reconnecting with Christians and others has been a type of teshuvah. I never would have imagined that a rabbi could do teshuvah by going off to join a Protestant seminary. But as Isaac Bashevis Singer once said: “It’s God’s novel, let him write it.”

– published in The Jewish Week

Here’s the Profile The Jewish Week Did on Me…

Fanfare for The Common Man (12/20/2001)

Rabbi Daniel Brenner sanctifies the simple gifts of Judaism & America.

Jonathan Mark – Associate Editor

Did Reb Nachman, back in 18th century Europe, ever notice the sky was Tarheel Blue? Maybe not, but God always knew of North Carolina and that rebbes can come from the Piedmont as surely as from Poland. Rabbi Daniel Brenner, native son of Charlotte, N.C., is a storyteller, as surely from the Southern tradition as from the Jewish one. A southern boy, no less a scholar for that, he has none of the aristocratic and academic affect that some rabbis adorn themselves with, as if pretense were fur pelts. No, this rabbi is about as majestic as Royal Crown Cola, as unpretentious as the rotary phone on his desk — yet conscious that this rotary phone speaks of something precious: a call from the past, a sense that any child of God ought see beauty in the commonplace, in a “Chew Mail Pouch” sign on the side of a barn every bit as much as in the glass case of Judaica chotchkes in the lobby of a temple. Rabbi Brenner, 32, says, “I’m drawn to something I’ve gotten from the South; the importance of being a common man and living a simple life. I think it keeps you rooted. I take great pleasure in those things.” As he says in one of his theatrical works — for he’s also a playwright and performer — he comes from a world that’s a montage of “red earth and frozen bagels,” yarmulkes “tucked quickly into pockets … alcoholic neighbors who smoke long brown cigarettes, eat ham and cheese sandwiches on white bread while washing their motor homes … and red-haired girls and proms and Bojangles, fried chicken, gentility — charming and false … manicured lawns, ACC basketball, and yes, real pit barbecue.” Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of Clal, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, says, “Daniel is among the most creative, playful and compassionate teachers and rabbis that I have ever met.” Rabbi Brenner, who teaches for Clal, is a nice fit for the think-tank. For though Clal’s original mission was premised on denominational and religious tolerance, it was always more than that. After all, tolerance evokes the word “tolerate” whereas what Clal really does is to celebrate; seeing the fingerprints of God where folks don’t think God’s been; telling the self-deprecating Clark Kent that he can have and use amazing powers by just imagining a deeper, if once secret, Jewish identity. Rabbi Brenner’s father was from New York City, says the son. “He had the rhythm of Brooklyn, so I’ve always been drawn to the city and to spend some of my life here. Clal is an extension of my hybrid identity. In New York I don’t have to negate any part of the Jew that I am or the American that I am.” Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, one of the great rebbe-sages of the Jewish Renewal movement, says of Rabbi Brenner: “There are some people who when they ‘do Jewish’ forget American; when they ‘do American’ forget Jewish. There is such a beautiful blend, in which he brings the images of our tradition and the general culture together in an amalgam that is always inspiring and makes access easy.” Rabbi Brenner has crafted blessings and meditations to help Jews sanctify not only the Jewish holidays but every American holiday, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July among them. Ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Rabbi Brenner did chaplaincy and led a small congregation in New Jersey, where he lightly saw himself as “the chief rabbi of Exit Seven.” He remembers not only the people but also the “five-and-dime shop with dusty, nearly barren shelves holding eyeglass pads and athletic supporters. … Being a rabbi in a small town has its advantages. You get to ride in the clergy float in the Fourth of July parade.” With a love for the theater, he turned these experiences into performance, a gentle humorous shmooze akin to Mark Twain or Garrison Keillor. He’s written and performed in plays about the ghost of an old bar mitzvah tutor; about desire, discipline and a kosher butcher shop. He participated in “From Slavery to Freedom,” a collaboration of African-American and Jewish writers retelling the story of Exodus. His autobiographical musings about the sacred and the surreal have been performed on campuses and in New York’s Goldman Theater. He’ll fuse his gift for teaching, writing and the rabbinate by reimagining a translation for the Kaddish, that describes his own soul as well as reinvigorating the old English, an attempt, he says, “to put the Kaddish into “slang, street.” “Make the God-name big. Big and holy. Do it in this world, … Do it fast, soon, in our lives, in the days ahead, in the life of the people we call home. Everybody join with me: May the name be blessed forever and ever! Yes, blessed. Blessed, whispered, sung out, shouted, honored, this holy name. The name is beyond any song, poem, or comforting words we could ever speak. Everybody say: That’s the truth! … Make that peace in the heavens, great Peacemaker, great One who brings wholeness to our people. Stop. Everybody pray: May it be true.” There’s power in common words, power even in his daddy’s way of looking at a Torah. “We hold the Torah like a baby, gently cuddling it to our breast. We dress it carefully; we touch it lightly. We honor it like an elder, standing before it, honoring its history. We treat it like a jewel, hiding it away except for special occasions.” At his home in Montclair, N.J., he sees his toddlers play with their blue stuffed Torahs. “And at times, when they are not whopping each other over the head with them, I see them using the objects as dance partners. They hum a chasidic-like melody that often spins off into a Barney tune, or march the Torahs around the room in a big circle.” You play with something as a child, you keep it forever. He carries with him the spirit of old comics — the world of “Raw” and Art Spiegelman. His computer’s “wallpaper” features the display ads such as were found in the back pages of comic books, items like “X-Ray Specs,” or a joy buzzer. “I like looking at this every day,” he says of his screen. At long last, have we found something, like a joy buzzer or X-ray specs, that are meaningless? Perhaps not. For those ads take us back to a different and distant time of endless afternoons, imagination and a juvenile’s wonder, a spirit of wonder that leads us through the desert like the pillars of cloud and flame. The grown man carries the child within. In Carolina, Rabbi Brenner remembers, “We were one of the most traditional families down there. One of the biggest influences in my life was Chabad. My mother’s sister became a baal teshuvah when she was in college and moved to Crown Heights. So, the first Chabad shliach [emissary] in Charlotte stayed over in our basement while he was getting set-up. “Our relatives lived on President Street. We’d go to 770 [Eastern Parkway, the Lubavitcher rebbe’s shul and headquarters] whenever we could. I remember the last time I saw the rebbe daven. He looked at everyone. I mean he looked at everyone. Never in my life had I seen anything like that; the way he could look into a soul. Chabad was such an important part of my childhood because it taught me Judaism did not have to be the boring experience it was in my shul back home.” Raised in a rainbow of denominations, Rabbi Brenner has a goodly worn ArtScroll prayerbook over his desk. “I can daven out of anything. I prefer to daven out of an old siddur.” He picks up a small book of Psalms. “This here, this Tehillim? This is the best.” It was printed in Vienna, 1927, and Rabbi Brenner found in a Philadelphia thrift shop. He was drawn to its hoary old brown cover, the frills and swoops in the design, the embossed Ten Commandments. “I’m crazy about that cover. And the thing about it is this was a book that people had. Even if they owned only two or three books, they’d have this Tehillim. If I really have to say something, this is the Tehillim to say it out of.” Ritual objects have power, he says. “We invest power in ritual objects; it has a history.” Daniel Brenner thumbs through the worn pages before coming to a favorite: “Psalm 30 is where it’s at. It’s the Psalm of someone who’s naturally cynical but then recognizes that there’s something beyond, that his life comes from some place beyond,” where souls are blessed, whispered, celebrated, and secret identities are revealed.

The Future of Foreskins

By Daniel S. Brenner

In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatricians issued a statement that decreed circumcision an elective surgery. Since then, the number of male babies undergoing circumcision has been in sharp decline. Many HMOs no longer cover the in-house hospital procedure, and the cut once done on 85% of males is now performed on less than half of American born boys.

Many read this trend as a reflection of a growing social and environmental consciousness regarding the ways humans unnecessarily alter nature. Circumcision is not only seen as painful to the child, but as a violation of the natural human form.

Simultaneously, another seemingly opposite trend is also taking hold — natural childbirth is in decline. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, nearly one in every four children born in America is delivered via surgical methods. Advocates of natural childbirth who used to hope that it would be possible to lower the C-section rate under 15% by 2000, are now worried that in fact it will rise above 25% in 2004. Many doctors prefer their patients of all ages to deliver by C-sections; for women over forty, the rates of birth by C-section have doubled in recent years.

What might these two trends suggest about the future of parenthood? If they seem like trends that run counter to each other—“back” to nature and away from it—I would suggest that in fact both reflect a similar acceptance of the idea that parents do not need a dramatic physical bond with their newborn child. In an age of genetic determinism, this seems a somewhat strange attitude, but maybe it is precisely because these days we imagine ourselves as so linked to our biological offspring through our chemical codes that we downplay the power of cultural processes—experiences we ourselves must go through– that teach us about how our children’s bodies came from our own and are intimately and deeply connected to us.

Of course, I realize that I am talking about something that is extremely gendered and not applicable to the many parents who adopt children. For women, breastfeeding and childbirth can be a direct experience of physical connection with a newborn, what might such a thing be for men? Circumcision, I believe, is a ritual that has always tried to express this kind of bond, one that is both highly symbolic and intensely physical.

I say this as a father who has established a strong bond to his children in part because I circumcised my two sons.

I cut my sons even though I knew that the procedure had been declared medically unnecessary. I knew that I was causing them pain. I had heard that the lack of a foreskin might diminish their sense of sexual pleasure. I say all this, and yet when I stood above my boys, scalpel in hand, I experienced an unparalleled sense of connection to and responsibility for life. The birth was pure wonder. The circumcision was primal and mysterious, connecting me to flesh and blood in a violent and careful moment of father-love.

Since the circumcision, I’ve been verbally attacked on a number of occasions for what I did by people who have heard me speak on the subject or read my writing. I’ve read or heard that my actions were “barbaric”, “savage”, and “criminal”. In an interview I gave to Icon magazine, my positive opinion on the subject was placed in the context of an article that promoted the idea that circumcision kills babies. I am featured on the web-site www.sexuallymutilatedchild.org. The worst was when a woman I met at a benefit dinner called what I did “torture.”

I’m not a doctor. I got the idea of doing the “final cut” from a friend of mine in Philadelphia who did his sons. Here’s how it was done—the moyel, ritual surgeon, sets up the procedure by using a scissors-like device that slips between the penis shaft and the foreskin. Then the moyel places the foreskin into a stainless steel clamp. The clamp allows the father to remove it with a single cut of the scalpel. The whole procedure takes less than two minutes.

Circumcising my first born son was harder than I thought it would be. Not the emotional challenge, but the physical part, the actual slicing involved. It took more elbow grease than I had imagined. It was easier five minutes later with my second son.

So, am I a child abuser? Should I be locked up?

Every parenting book or magazine I read told me to leave them alone. The video at the birthing center showed how to clean a foreskin. Our Lamaze teacher talked about the natural beauty of an “intact” member. But with over fifty people watching, I quickly uttered a blessing and did my first surgery. I surprised myself – I was more calm and focused than I could have imagined. Thankfully, the boys didn’t cry much – their eye exam a few days earlier was twenty times worse. And, to be honest, there wasn’t much blood.

Many Jews I speak with imagine that as American culture in general moves away from the practice and our own numbers dwindle through intermarriage, we will be left with only a few die-hard members of our tribe who will still perform the ceremony. In coming years, choosing the practice will be much akin to the experience of Jews in Great Britain, where only 1% of the general population of males is circumcised, and many Jews opt out.

This will pose a dilemma for American Jewish parents. Should circumcision, the tribal marking of “Jewishness” established by Abraham (Genesis 17:11) be shunned and replaced by the rituals that have recently been popularized for Jewish girls? Many of my rabbinic colleagues have already been asked to conduct such ceremonies. My bet is that this ritual trend will soon be the norm. In ten years, most Jewish boys will be intact. And lox and bagels will be served at their naming ceremonies.

On the other hand, if the process were not so bloody and painful—if, say, laser surgery or genetic engineering could make removing a foreskin a piece of cake—would more opt for it?

There is precedent in Jewish legal tradition for such cases. Since there have always been males who emerged from the womb foreskin-less, the rabbinic authorities had to create an alternative ceremony. In such cases, a simple drop of blood, hatafat dam brit, was extracted from the skin of the penis. (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 263:4)

Whether it will be a tiny needle prick, laser surgery or genetic modification, I imagine there might be medical technologies available to my children when they become parents that would ensure a relatively painless bris. This could lead to a return of the practice, albeit under very different circumstances. I also sense that these technologies will fundamentally change what circumcision as a rite-of-passage has come to mean to me.

I could have just said some words to my boys, or lit a candle or given a gift. But I believe the blood, the marking of their bodies, mattered. Maybe on some level we need small, ritualized acts of violence to curb larger ones. This is how sports work to channel aggression, or dancing in a mosh-pit, mashing potatoes or chopping firewood. Circumcision, like a gang tattoo, is a small act of violence that makes a covenant between bodies. It is a moment of betrayal and danger that produces, paradoxically, a promise of trust and safety. “You are now like me,” the mark says, “so we will protect one another.”

Ultimately, I hope that the moment of ritual violence I performed on my sons will be placed by my sons into a larger context of love, loyalty and protection that they receive from their father. That is how I view my own father’s actions, and hope that my son’s will view theirs and so on down the line.

The question of how Jews will remain connected to ancient rites of violence is, of course, not isolated to the future of foreskins. In the other uses of the knife – ritual slaughter of cows, chickens, and goats – the entire question of what is kosher may be altered by new technologies. Clearly the next phase in food development will be to synthesize and produce meat products without the need for husbandry. Goodbye butcher shops, and steaks that take an hour to chew, hello kosher cheeseburgers.

I am glad that I chose to use the knife. But I honestly cannot predict what my children will choose if they have sons. If my hypothetical grandsons are not going to be marked by circumcision as Jews, how will they be symbolically seen as tribesmen? Will there be a Jew tattoo? A Jew appendage? A Jew hat? A Jew sticker to slap on the back of your Segue?

Our relationships to our bodies, and to our children’s bodies, have changed enormously over the millennia, never moreso than through modernity’s astounding advances in medical technology. But we have the power to make choices about our physical connections to the human beings that carry our DNA, and not just through the technological magic of modern science, but with our own hands, our own actions, as well.

published on www.Beliefnet.com