Popular culture and Jewish humor are rife with circumcision jokes. Remember Mel Brooks explaining the practice to Robin Hood and his Merry Men? Seinfeld and Shakey the Mohel? Yet serious examinations of circumcisions and brit millah and what it means today — and why non-Orthodox Jews keep up the practice — are much harder to come by. In this first of a two-part series, we talk with critics — if not outright opponents — of circumcision. The first needs no introduction: Bestselling novelist and memoirist Gary Shteyngart. His New Yorker article about his own botched circumcision as a 7-year-old sparked conversation across the Jewish world and beyond. And Max Buckler, a business strategist who has been increasingly active and vocal on the issue. We discuss circumcision from the perspective of morality, Jewish tradition, medicine, gender norms and the rights of parents and children. We even address the question of whether circumcision decreases male sexual potency and pleasure. And we explore alternative rituals to mark the covenant between God and the Jewish people.
Warning, this episode contains graphic descriptions of male genitalia and includes a discussion on how racism plays a role in the history of circumcision in the U.S. Still with us? Stay tuned, next month we’ll talk to a Reconstructionist mohel.
Theme song, “Ilu Finu” by Rabbi Miriam Margles. Her album This is the Day is available for purchase at CDBaby: https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/miriammarglesandthehadarensemb
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- Read Max's Evolve essay, "Be Honest About the Bris"
- Read Gary's New Yorker essay, "A Botched Circumcision And Its Aftermath"
- Also on Evolve, "We Should Continue Practicing Brit Millah"
- Also on Evolve, "The Case for Welcoming Uncircumcised Jews From Rabbinic Sources"
- Also on Evolve, "We Should Reconstruct ‘Brit Milah’"
- Gary's collected writings on Penguin Random House
- Max's org Bruchim is fostering welcoming spaces for Jews opting out of circumcision
- A Mohel's response to Gary's New Yorker essay
- On Ritualwell: Brit Atifah, A Jewish Baby Naming - one possible alternative to the brit millah
- The NY Department of Health on Metzitzah B'peh (direct oral suctioning)
- Mentioned in the episode - David Reimer's botched circumcision and the "John/Joan" case
- Gary's Fresh Air appearance
- Max and his partner Charlene on Judaism Unbound
- From Tablet Magazine, "Why I Didn't Circumcise My Second Son"
- "The Mohel" on Seinfeld
- Mel Brooks as The Mohel in Robinhood: Men in Tights