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April 10, 1987 - Image 4

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-04-10

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The Covenant


Ritual circumcision remains highly popular with
American Jews. But through assimilation, are we
changing the rules of the game?


Staff Writer


his is the eighth day in the
life of Jacob Alan Berenbeim.
As noon approaches he is
placed on a form-fitted plastic
"baby board" lined with cotton
pads. His legs are restrained and
Jacob signals his displeasure with
a short cry, but after a moment his
eyes close and he is asleep. A strip
of gauze dipped in wine is placed in
his mouth.
Quantities of gauze and ban-
dages are stacked on the dining
room table where Jacob rests.
There is also an array of surgical
instruments: a scalpel, a probe,
hemostats and a "magen" clamp, so
called because it acts as a shield as
well as a clamp. A bottle of wine
and a kiddush cup have been


Friday, April 10, 1987

squeezed into a space on the table.
Jacob Alan Berenbeim is about
to undergo Brit Milah, the Cove-
nant of Circumcision, a ritual
which dates back to the beginnings
of the Jewish people. It is a rite of
passage and identity so central to
Jewish consciousness that it is
commonly referred to simply as the
brit, the Covenant, foremost among
the covenants between God and the
Jews. So compelling is this cove-
nant, first practiced by the pat-
riarch Abraham, that even as
Jewish observance in America has
given way to assimilation, it is still
celebrated by an overwhelming
majority of Jewish families.
Jacob is unaware of all this
history and tradition, of course, but


the point is not lost on his parents,
Dr. Joel and Susan Berenbeim. "It's
a nice way to bring him into the
world and introduce him to Jewish
traditions," says his father the day
before the ceremony. A resident at
Botsford Hospital in Novi, Dr. Be-
renbeim regularly performs cir-
cumcisions as part of his training.
Now, in his own dining room, he
watches with special interest as the
mohel (ritual circumciser), Cantor
Samuel Greenbaum of Cong. Beth
Shalom, works with ease and
But will the circumcision Can-
tor Greenbaum is about to perform
be an authentic brit milah, the ful-
fillment of God's command regard-
ing the covenant? Religious

authorities and local mohelim are
not in agreement.
Susan Berenbeim is not
Jewish. But because she and her
husband say they will raise their
son as a Jew, Jacob will be ac-
cepted as a Jew by the Reform
movement to which Dr. Berenbeim
belongs. But according to Cantor
Greenbaum's Conservative
Judaism, Jacob is not a Jew and
must be converted. So instead of a
simple welcoming ceremony into
the Jewish people, the brit must
become the first step in a conver-
sion process if Cantor Greenbaum
is to operate in good conscience.
With the increasing incidence
of Jews intermarrying, dilemmas
like the one in which the Beren-

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