Eight is Enough?: Tazria-Metzora 2020

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: What are some best practices for discussing sensitive topics with a wide audience? How do we balance the need for tact with the need for directness?

From the beginning, our two portions this Shabbat deal with numerous personal topics:

The Pitch: “On the eighth day the flesh of [a baby boy’s] foreskin shall be circumcised.” – Leviticus 12:3

Swing #1:Brit milah was, and still is, a father-son ceremony. Consider that for the entire period of the pregnancy and for the first seven days of the child’s life, the mother was solely responsible for its survival. Human psychology dictates that fathers are peripheral to pregnancy and breastfeeding. Thus, on the eighth day after a boy’s birth, precisely at the conclusion of the first most protected time between the mother and the child, the community held a special ceremony to mark the unique identity shared by father and son.” – Rabbi Helaine Ettinger from The Women’s Torah Commentary: New Insights From Women Rabbis on the 54 Weekly Torah Portions, Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, ed.

Swing #2: “The renowned anthropologist Mary Douglas offers another interpretation of the role of circumcision in the context of postpartum impurity. She writes that circumcision played a protective role for mother and son, so that they were perceived as safer than a mother and daughter. This enhanced protection allowed the new mother and her son to venture out sooner, whereas a mother and her daughter had to lie low to avoid danger. Impurity was viewed as having a protective function.” – The Torah: A Woman’s Commentary, Tamara Cohn Eskenazi & Andrea L. Weiss, ed.

Swing #3: “The circumcision must take place on the eighth day, because all living beings are after birth, within the first seven days, very weak and exceedingly tender, as if they were still in the womb of their mother; not until the eighth day can they be counted among those that enjoy the light of the world.” – Moses Maimonides, Guide For the Perplexed

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators understand the requirement to circumcise a baby boy on the eighth day of his life? How does the ritual mark a relative readiness to join the greater community? On a broader level, how do we determine when we’re ready to join the greater community? How must we adjust our thinking given our current pandemic?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Tomorrow at 11:45AM, join us in our Adon Olam Challenge, No, we won’t join each other online for this. Rather, we ask that, whatever you’re doing on that day and time, you pause and sing Adon Olam with those in your household. It’s just another way to do as a community together, even if we’re apart.

Shabbat Shalom and stay safe!