We’ve all chuckled over the “rotten rejections” writers have endured on the way to fame. “I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.”
Well, I seem to rack up “rotten acceptances.” Maybe it’s the price I pay for choosing a controversial religious subject to write about.
First I should mention that I’m proud of my Jewish heritage, and that I’m actively affiliated with a local synagogue and several Jewish groups. I do, however, wrestle with my tradition, and years ago, started writing articles questioning infant circumcision. With its medical, spiritual, sexual, and ethnic complexities—and because I’d like to inspire thoughtful inquiry into a topic too often dominated by sophomoric jokes and inflammatory rhetoric—this issue has become a significant area of interest for me as a writer.
Soon after my first article appeared in a progressive Jewish magazine, I submitted another to a conservative Jewish intellectual journal. The result was my first rotten acceptance.
“I find your arguments against [Jewish circumcision] utterly destructive,” begins the typo-filled missive, going on to describe one of my points as “sheer idiocy” that “takes the cake.”
It continues. “However, it seems to me very penetrating;”—I still have no idea whether that was meant as a pun—“I look forward to printing it, sometime in the spring. Most cordially…”
Last week, I got another rotten acceptance. This time, I had sent a Jewish publication an essay about what I see as a hidden feminist issue within the circumcision controversy.
I’ve always found it odd that trailblazing Jewish feminists generally defend the circumcision tradition, focusing on girls’ baby-naming ceremonies in an attempt to counter the obvious gender inequity of this ritual. The idea has apparently been to make things as equal as possible for girls from the get-go.
Meanwhile, grown Jewish women who are ethically opposed to their sons’ circumcisions are often dismissed or marginalized, either subtly or overtly, in Jewish life. It’s as if, when it comes to this particular practice, women’s ethics and spirituality matter less than men’s. Why, I ask, do Jewish feminists continue to accept such condescension?
“[Your article] ends with so, so many questions,” says the e-mailed response to my submission. “The piece we’re looking for should reach conclusions, not invite women (and the reader) to ask all these questions.”
And I thought my job was to get people to think.
I had to read the letter through several times before realizing that at the end was an offer to print the piece—as written—in a special issue of the journal rather than in its weekly incarnation.
“Rottenness” aside, I feel deeply grateful that I can get my work published in Jewish periodicals even if it’s considered provocative, with no fear of reprisal any more serious than being verbally criticized. How many religious groups can embrace their own iconoclasts to that degree?
Meanwhile, I’ve written a contemporary literary novel which I’m currently shopping to agents and small presses. So far, only rejections. Doesn’t fit our list… Original idea, but not for me… It’s a difficult time in publishing…
I’m bracing myself for the acceptance.
Published in Piedmont Post January 6, 2010