A Leap of Faith for the Rationalist


by S. Olidort - KIBBUTZ DAVERET, ISRAEL

June 16, 2003

What would compel a self-proclaimed agnostic “with zero faith in religion or G-d,” who placed the worship of a culture of secular humanism above all else, to have himself circumcised at age 82?

Yochai Gutman was born in Vienna in the early 1920’s, to parents afraid of circumcising their only son. A hardcore chiloni, or secularist, Yochai spent most of his life on a kibbutz in Israel, subscribing to a moral code that espouses “love of man and nature, helping others and honoring the living, not the dead.” G-d, he says, simply wasn’t part of the equation.

But when Gutman recently Began “contemplating the purpose of the world, old age, and creation,” the elderly man found himself confronted with a higher reality. Slowly, eighty years of anti-religious sentiment started to melt away, giving way to the proverbial Jewish spark within.

In a bold step for a man of his age, Gutman chose to bring his Jewish identity home, full circle, with a Brit Milah at 82 years old. He was only seventeen years younger than Abraham had been when he became the first Jew to enter this covenant with G-d.

That was when Gutman turned to Chabad Brit Yosef Yitzchak, a Jerusalem-based organization that arranges circumcisions for adults. For Rabbi Yaron Amit, who runs the organization, it was an atypical request, coming as it did from a fully integrated member of secular Israeli society. “Most of the people who turn to us are recent immigrants who, for various reasons were never circumcised,” he says, and Gutman’s story was a rarity.

According to Gutman, the circumcision served as a springboard for further Jewish involvement, causing him to “reexamine my roots, and gain a better understanding of what being Jewish really means.” It was the culmination of a new development that now has Gutman donning teffilin for morning prayers and fasting on Yom Kippur.

“With my circumcision, I feel like a complete Jew,” says Gutman. “Even if it’s 82 years late.”

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