13 June 2012

The Circumcision of Rueben

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, 1997, Excerpts

Jacob: son of Isaac son of Abraham
Leah: wife of Jacob

As Jacob walked away from his first meeting with his son, Rueben, his happiness seemed to evaporate. His head sunk to his chest as he contemplated what had to be done next. According to custom of his family, the boy had to be circumcised, and there was no one to do it but him. Jacob had seen his father cut the foreskins from his bondsmen’s baby boys, but he had never done this himself, nor had he watched carefully enough how his father had dressed the wound.

Leah was sick at the prospect of having her baby, her prize, put on the altar of the bamah and mutilated. For that’s what she considered it. The flap of skin on the penis meant nothing to her. Still, she did not object to the custom of her husband’s father. Isaac had been circumcised, and Abram before him. Nevertheless, the thought of her baby in pain and in danger made the new mother tremble, and the realization that Jacob had no experience at the task put her in a frenzy or worry.

At dawn of the eighth day after his son’s birth, Jacob came for Rueben, the son of Leah. He called for Laban to follow him, and the two men walked alone to the bamah, where Jacob undressed the baby, whose eyes were open, and placed him on the altar. Jacob stripped the boy and then he signaled Laban to grab the baby’s legs. At this, Reuben began to wail. Jacob took the knife in his hands. He took the baby’s sex in his hands and pulled the skin up tightly, holding it between the two long fingers of his left hand. With his right hand, he cut, with a quick, sure stroke.

Rueben howled, and Jacob dropped the knife. Quickly, he bound the wound with bandage and swaddled the baby. He carried his son back to the women.

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