Circumcision Storybooks

Baby’s Bris by Susan Wilkowski illustrations by Judith Friedman Pitspopanny Press, $16.95
Rosie and the Mole by Judy Silverman illustrations by Katherine Janus Kahn
Karben, $16.95

In the sea of children’s literature  dealing with Jewish lifecycle events, one particular ceremony rarely surfaces. Finally, two new children’s books tackle a very old subject— circumcision.

Having a baby brother is a big responsibility, as Sophie and Rosie learn in Baby’s Bris by Susan Wilkowski and Rosie and the Mole by Judy Silverman. These two books, written for not-so-much-older siblings, attempt to unravel the mystery behind all the excitement of the brit milah, and tackle a little sibling rivalry while they’re at it.

In Rosie and the Mole, Rosie is frustrated by all the attention the baby is getting. It simply doesn’t seem fair that the baby gets a naming ceremony and a bris, while Rosie had only a naming ceremony when she was born. When cousin Daniel tells Rosie all about the Mole who is coming to do the bris, things begin to change. Rosie knows that moles have sharp claws; suddenly the idea of hurting the baby doesn’t seem like such a good one. Mama explains about the mohel (ritual circumciser) and what he does, and Rosie discovers that little Sam isn’t so bad after all.

Similarly, Baby’s Bris follows Sophie through the first eight days of her brother’s life. Sophie is simultaneously caught up in and jealous of all the excitement, unsure of her role as big sister. When the mohel describes a bris as a promise of the whole community to help the new baby grow and learn, Sophie realizes that this is her responsibility as well. She begins telling her baby brother all about their relatives, especially Papa Benny, for whom he is named.

These books are sweet ways to remind big brothers and sisters of their continued importance in family life. Both contain a brief clinical section on the bris, and Silverman’s book has a naming guide and an Older Sibling Certificate. They are, however, lacking in detail insofar as defining a bris within the story’s context. The explanation is simply that a bris involves “removing a bit of skin that the baby doesn’t need.” The concept of the covenant is briefly mentioned, but neither discusses the story of Abraham or offers any historical context.

If you’re Jewish, the birth of a boy baby results in a big party, which can be difficult for an older sibling to deal with, especially big sisters, who never had an equivalent celebration. These books may do well in alleviating jealousy, but are somewhat disappointing in their less-than-revolutionary attitudes about the act itself. When you’re talking about genitalia, of course, many parents will want to choose their words carefully, and it seems that these two books would be best used as departure points for further discussion.