In many cases, Jewish families who opt out of circumcision make a decision of omission — circumcision is simply skipped. But more and more parents are choosing an alternative ceremony known as brit shalom (“covenant of peace” in Hebrew) as opposed to brit milah (“covenant of circumcision”).
Brit shalom is an uplifting, celebratory baby-naming ceremony specifically designed for non-circumcising families. It’s an affirmation that despite what may be seen by others as a radical choice, the family still considers themselves to be Jewish. And it’s a beautiful symbolic acknowledgment of the ancient Abrahamic covenant.
Brit shalom ceremonies can be tailored to what’s meaningful to the family. Its liturgy may be modeled after that of brit milah, with the circumcision being replaced by a symbolic act such as the cutting of a pomegranate.
Throughout Jewish history, there have been those who didn’t circumcise, but alternative ceremonies for traditional brit milah are relatively new. We believe one of the earliest such ceremonies was officiated by Rabbi Nathan Segal (1949-2019) in the mid-1980s. The movement grew from there.
Various naming ceremonies for intact babies came into being—for example, “brit ben” (covenant for a boy) and “brit b’lee milah” (covenant without circumcision). The ceremony known as brit shalom has become the most common. Since the etymological root of “shalom” in Hebrew can mean both “peace” and “wholeness,” there is perhaps no better name.
At first, it was difficult to find officiants to lead brit shalom ceremonies, and families often created and led their own, culling liturgy from various Jewish sources (or borrowing from Jewish naming ceremonies for girls). Over time, an underground grass-roots movement evolved, with names of willing officiants shared informally and photocopied pages of newly-created ceremonies stapled together and distributed as needed. Until our book Celebrating Brit Shalom came out in 2015, there was no published resource specifically designed for these families.
Thanks to Dr. Mark Reiss, who, over a period of years, painstakingly amassed a list of officiants willing to lead brit shaloms, more non-circumcising families began to hold ceremonies. In more recent times, many progressive rabbis, such as those from the Reform movement, will also officiate if asked.
Brit shalom is an expression of pride in both being Jewish, and deciding not to circumcise. We hope more and more families will choose this option.
Lisa Braver Moss and Rebecca Wald are the authors of Celebrating Brit Shalom and the co-founders of Bruchim, a new Jewish nonprofit advocating for the open inclusion of non-circumcising families in Jewish spaces.