Largest Left Coast Jewish Weekly Calls for New Menstruation Ritual

Rabbi Brit Niddah: Anne Frank, Islam, and a Defense Against “the Dangers of the Internet.”
Elements of California Jewry, like California itself, are often unfairly maligned as prone to half-baked New Age initiatives and sometimes even downright silliness. But if anyone had any doubts as to the national relevance of the theological minds emerging from the Reform Jewish clergy of Los Angeles, this week’s Torah portion commentary from Rabbi Zoe Klein of Temple Isaiah in the Jewish Journal will put them to rest once and for all.
It is noteworthy that while the liberal Jewish world is continually looking to popularize appropriate “inclusive” parallels to male circumcision for its girls, there is no such pervasive soul searching in the Islamic world. While some might believe that’s because Jews are more egalitarian than Muslims, it is more likely because Islam already has a parallel ritual – female circumcision. Of course, anti-FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) activists who never the less support male circumcision (like say, many of the numerous Zionist Jewish anti-FGM activists) frequently pretend that infibulation is the procedure in question, not female circumcision. But the most common female circumcision is not the more severe forms of FGM, but rather, the removal of the hood (sound familiar?) of the clitoris, not excision of the clitoris itself. And the reason for the lack of outcry for a parallel ritual by Islamic feminists is because they are, by and large, surprisingly not interested in this less pervasive egalitarian ritual, not because they can’t have one.
So it is most intriguing that Rabbi Zoe Klein, who is apparently not satisfied with the simchat bat ceremony she already offers at her Temple, looks to Islam for guidance:

“In many cultures, circumcision is performed on boys as a rite of puberty, at the age of Ishmael, 13. Circumcision in many cultures, it has been argued, is the male inorganic counterpart to menstruation, to the natural blood-covenant girls achieve. In Judaism, of course, circumcision is performed at Isaac’s tender age of one week and a day. Instead, bar mitzvah is the male puberty rite. There is little ritual or liturgy on menstruation. Just as boys undergo brit milah (covenant of circumcision), let us consider the girl beginning menarche as entering brit niddah (covenant of menstruation).”

Rabbi Klein asked, “What ritual can surround entering brit niddah?” But just as I thought she was going to offer a Sunni style ritual for the sake of egalitarianism in our time, Rabbi Klein merely sought to bundle it with New Moon festivities.
“As menstruation ties naturally with the cycling of the moon, it would be appropriate to consider brit niddah as a part of a Rosh Chodesh ceremony.”
Rabbi Klein had the obvious solution right in front of her, and then she wussied out, declining to think out of the box!
It is painfully clear that even in the most liberated, gender-sensitive sectors of the Jewish world, Jewish clergy refuse to endorse the only true parallel to male circumcision. While it is true that advancements have been made for much needed parallel ceremonies, they are invariably lip service only. Just as a simchat bat is unsatisfying to Jewish feminists such as Rabbi Klein, so too this new ritual of brit niddah will prove unsatisfying. True egalitarianism requires a similar excision. A new blessing or modified Moon Dance won’t cut it. It is just pretense, creative but specious, and ultimately unsatisfying. It is a way to sound like a visionary without changing the reality of the disparity in covenant between males and females. Rather, the remaining and crucial difference, the foundation for the male ceremony itself, is only illuminated more specifically.
To their credit, Jewish-Feminists are the only group of women in the world that I know of who witness male circumcision and feel comfortable expressing organizational jealousy. And while insensitive reactionaries might counter that nothing will mollify these women, this can be effectively rebutted, at least theoretically. For if there is an outcry from Jewish-Feminists about the lack of a true parallel ceremony to brit milah, just imagine the protests if there had been one instituted on a limited basis. Imagine if select Chassidic movements had instituted female circumcision in the 18th century as symbolic of their sexual chasity and restraint. Protests would surely greet many Orthodox gatherings in appreciation of this New Ritual, particularly those organizations that declined to endorse or condemn this Chassidic tradition, demanding them to clarify their stand. In support, of course. Because Jewish-Feminism is about egalitarianism, not a gender-restricted outlet for general Jewish victimology seeking to revel in, tinker with, but ultimately neither solve nor accept their perceived “second class citizen” status.
I would therefore suggest that the Jewish community institute Sunni style circumcision for girls, and choose real gender parity. However, in the off chance that women decline to elect taking that step, then they should instead accept that not everything in Judaism need be nor should be reconciled with purist notions of egalitarianism.

13 thoughts on “Largest Left Coast Jewish Weekly Calls for New Menstruation Ritual

  1. As I write this, right below me is this tag. It says “Jewish Bloggers for Responsible Speech Online”. It jars oddly with what I have just read advocating female circumcision, taunting anti-FGM activists for being Zionist, and ridiculing feminist activists in bashing a distorted view of their position without tryng to represent it fairly.

  2. FMG is an African tradition, not a muslim one. Many muslim feminists have opposed it. Removing the hood causes women permanant pain, so I don’t think it is analogous, anyway, you are within your right ot oppose male circumcision but don’t pretend the two are the same thing.

  3. Robin,
    I wasn’t seriously advocating FGM. Please see the alternative “in the off chance” section of my conclusion, which was my serious suggestion.
    Dameocrat – Do you have a link? In my research, it seemed that the long-term pain was associated with the more severe types of FGM, that is, types 2, and especially 3 and 4. I haven’t yet any reports that the excision of the hood (relatively mild even within type 1 standards) alone leads to permanent pain.

  4. I think the reason that Jewish feminists want an alternate tradition to circumcision is not that they are jealous that their genitals are not mutilated but rather the association of male circumcision with brit (covenant). Brit is an important part of Judaism. Throughout halachik literature there are examples of rabbis saying things like “women are not part of the brit (covenant) so…” insert relevant law that women are not obliged to take part in. Now, it may be true that not everything has to be completely egalitarian but if the reason for women’s disclusion is not actually because they are different but equal but rather because they are not part of the brit (related to circumcision) we have a problem. I don’t think that the answer is to circumcise women. I don’t think brit needs to be so narrowly understood as to relate only to physical brit milah. But I do think that there are times when it has been understood that way. So maybe that’s why some people are trying to find alternate rituals.
    Actually, I don’t necessarily think that the type of alternate ritual described in your article is necessarily the solution. But I feel as though the way that you dealt with it serves as a type of apologetic for sexism in Judaism.

  5. “I think the reason that Jewish feminists want an alternate tradition to circumcision is not that they are jealous that their genitals are not mutilated but rather the association of male circumcision with brit (covenant).”
    Come on. The women just want a party for girls like we have for boys. In the Orthodox world they have one, at a special kiddush in honor of a newly born girl. I don’t know if that is done outside the Orthodox world.

  6. Is it possible that I am the only person on the planet who doesn’t think there is any sexism in Torah?!
    Good grief, everyone, take a look: Chava set the promethian standard of what in meant to be b’tselem Elohim, by growing up and leaving the playpen/garden; the Egyptian midwives were the first conscientious objectors in known written history.
    Torah is in no way sexist. Any seeming misogyny comes from the inability of anyone to properly translate ‘adam,’ and, sadly, from most of our — otherwise — great rabbinic commentators.

  7. i agree that we need a proper ritual for new born jewish girls to iniate them into the covenant. i think yes, it does have to be more than some full moon dance, but not necessarily female circumscision. whow about ritual scarification, such as many africn tribal groups. the incision of a henrew letter on the cheek. sliced the marking andf then rub ink into it. i think it would be totally rad. my girlfriend at the moment is half nigerian [and half jewish] – from the adobe tribe. she has 2 markings under her eyes that mark her identity as an adobe. these were cut into her with a razor when she was a baby. i think its so powerful and beautiful. just like male circumsision.

  8. Dameocrat mentioned this already, but it is really a misnomer to talk about “Sunni-style circumcision for girls.” FGM is practiced in Africa in non-Islamic areas and is a tribal custom, not an Islamic injunction.

  9. “Come on. The women just want a party for girls like we have for boys. In the Orthodox world they have one, at a special kiddush in honor of a newly born girl. I don’t know if that is done outside the Orthodox world.”
    There is a nameing ceremony for the girls, but it’s not taken nearly as seriously. When my yeshivish cousin had his daughter, a few people came to the nameing cer. However, when he had a son, people traveled from very far away to be there, becuase it was a bris. Those same people could not be bothered to come to a nameing cer. for a girl. It sucks, but a bris is just a bigger deal. I don’t remember growing up hearing about nameing cer’s in the torah, but I sure remember the circum. story. People just do not take the naming cer. as seriously. Just like the bat mitzvah party for orthodox girls.

  10. Removing the clit hood doesn’t cause permanent pain. Go ask a body modification forum if you don’t believe me. The clit becomes uncomfortable for a few days until it settles down. The organ isn’t supposed to be exposed 24/7 but over time it gets used to it and becomes dried out and desensitized, just like the head of the male penis. Some women claim it makes it easier for them to orgasm but that’s probably BS.
    I’m not going to marry a Jewish woman (despite what parents or anyone else says) and I’m not bringing my kid up Jewish. Fuck this crazy religion and its disgusting rituals. I still resent my parents for what they did. If you’re a girl reading this, imagine how you would feel if your parents allowed someone to cut up your genitals. It’s amazing how hypocritical Jewish feminists are. They decry any alteration of a woman’s genitals (which apparently are perfect and beautiful) while lining up to have their sons’ penises mutilated by professional butchers.
    I never gave circumcision a second thought until I had a talk with gentile friend who was uncut. I asked him what “it” felt like. At first he had some difficulty petting it to words, but what he eventually described really opened my eyes. His dick head was sensitive to the touch, just like a woman’s clit. Some times it was so sensitive it was almost painful. He could feel every touch, every lick, and he said oral sex was amazing, and that he came from it every time. He never had to use lube when he masturbated; the overlapping skin and the moistened layer between it and the head made masturbation a breeze. My dick head, on the other, is completely desensitized. Years of consant exposure have made it almost numb, especially the top part which, surprise, suprised, is the part that rubs up against clothes the most.
    It’s amazing that so many parents still subject their (male) children, which supposedly love, to something like this.

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