A Jewish officer, married to an unconverted Christian woman, has asked the Chaplain to arrange for the circumcision of a child born of this marriage. May the Chaplain arrange for such a circumcision?
This problem has been thoroughly discussed, especially at the close of the nineteenth century. There were many cases brought to various Rabbinical authorities where the Jewish partner in a mixed marriage asked to have the child circumcised. This subject is fully discussed in a book "U-cha-Torah Ye-osey" by Solomon Kutno, Paks, 1897, which booklet is almost entirely devoted to the question of the status of the children of mixed marriage and civil marriage. Another source is "Mateh Levi" by Marcus Horowitz, Rabbi of Frankfurt-am-Main, Responsa Nos. 54 & 55, including two letters to him from Isaac Elchanan Spector of Kovno. Solomon Kutno, in his book, simply prohibits such circumcision; whereas Marcus Horowitz finds reason for permitting it. It is evident, therefore, at the outset that there is ground for wide difference on the question. The basic considerations involved are as follows:
The child is, of course, a Gentile since the child follows the status of the mother in this case (m.Kidd.III,12). The question, therefore, is whether a Gentile child may be circumcised by Jewish ritual. A candidate for conversion must be investigated as to sincerity (b. Yevamos 47 a & b). How can that be done in the case of an infant? The Talmud (b. Kesuvos 11a) nevertheless says that a minor may be converted, i.e., given the ritual conversion bath, by the consent of a court. And Rashi says that means if his mother brings him to the court for conversion in the absence of the father. Later on the same page, the Talmud speaks of a father whose children are converted with him. In both cases the question is implied: How can one convert a person without being able first to investigate the sincerity of the convert and warning him of all the problems involved? The answer given is, first (in the case of the child brought by the mother), that one may do a favor to a person without his consent, and, second (in the case of the father whose children are converted with him), that we assume that what their father has done will be acceptable to them.
Solomon Kutno says that all this permission in the Talmud to convert an infant applies only to infants of parents who are being converted, but does not apply to the child born to a Jew by a Gentile woman. Such a man is a sinner, and we have no assurance that he will train the child in Jewish living. Therefore we should not convert the child at such a father's request. If, however, the mother converts and brings the child for conversion, that would be acceptable, as the Talmud indicates.
However, Marcus Horowitz takes another point of view. He would not decide that the mother start the process of conversion before the child is circumcised, because such a decision would, in effect, promise that the woman will be accepted as a convert, whereas investigation may prove later that she is not acceptable. But, he says, he would rather circumcise the child first at the father's request because then later, after her husband and child are both circumcised as Jews, he would be more sure of her sincerity if she comes for conversion. In general Marcus Horowitz studies the whole question from the practical point of view but with due analysis of the law involved. He endeavors to exact promises from the father that the child will be raised as a pious Jew and the father himself will live a more religious life (implying too that then the mother will apply for conversion later). He concludes that it is better to circumcise the child as a convert since such circumsion is not forbidden and may even be a mitzvah, since otherwise the child may be circumcised by someone else who will not bother to win the father back to a more religious life. As a matter of fact, the Shulchan Aruch itself (Yore Deah 266#3) seems to give specific permission to circumcise such a child. It reads: "The child born to a Jew from a Gentile woman may not be circumcised on the Sabbath," which clearly indicates it may be circumcised on any other day. This is discussed by Eliezer Deutsch (Peri Hasodah 1,12). While he opposes circumcising such a child (for precautionary reasons and Migdar Milso), he proves carefully at the very outset that such a circumcision is permitted by the law. So Isaac Elchanan Spector understands this statement and feels impelled to dispose of this clear permission by saying that such a child may, of course, be circumcised but only in the case where the father can be trusted to raise the child as a religious Jew. To which Marcus Horowitz gives the answer that consenting to circumcise the child gives us an opportunity to persuade the father to a more religious life.
There is one more aspect of the question. Suppose the father does not say that he intends this child to be raised as a Jew. In other words, this circumcision is not at all for the purpose of conversion. In that case, all the preceding arguments, stemming from the Talmud in Kesuvos 11a, and dealing with the conversion of infant Gentile children, do not now apply. May we then circumcise a Gentile child for any other purpose than conversion to Judaism?
It would seem at first that this is clearly forbidden. Moses Isserles, in his gloss at the end of Yore Deah 263 #5, says simply it is forbidden to circumcise a Gentile (even on weekdays) when the circumcision is not for the sake of conversion. However, Isserles himself holds an opinion which seems to be the opposite of this. In Shulchan Aruch, Yore Deah 268 #9, Joseph Caro says that if a Gentile asks for circumcision in order to be cured of some wound (i.e. for other medical reasons) we may not circumcise him. And Isserles adds that in those countries where it is permitted to heal Gentiles such circumcision is permitted. The Schach to Yore Deah 268 #9, and also at the end of 263, explains the apparent contradictions in the two statements of Isserles by saying that it is only the healing which is prohibited, but for any other reason it would be permitted; and even the healing itself, wherever goodwill is involved, would likewise be permitted.
The subject was discussed even earlier by Moses Schick, Responsa, Yore Deah 248. He studies all the objections and concludes that if the mother agrees to the child's circumcision, then the circumcision is permitted even though the mother remains a Gentile.
The answer, therefore, that the Committee gives in the light of the above discussion is that there is no clear prohibition against having this child circumcised by Jewish rites (though not on the Sabbath) and that if the father clearly indicates that it is his intention to induct the child into the religion of Israel and to raise the child as a religious Jew, then we agree with the opinion of Marcus Horowitz that we arrange for the circumcision.