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The Bris

12/12/2019 04:24:53 PM


Shalom Lewis, Rabbi Emeritus

He was perhaps the most famous mohel in history. He was not a Biblical personality nor did he achieve fame performing ritual circumcisions for the rich and famous. His name was Charles Levin and he died recently in Oregon at the age of seventy.


In 1993, he was catapulted into fame as the neurotic mohel on Seinfeld. I remember well the episode, ‘The Bris’, for several reasons. The first, it was laugh out loud funny. The second, it was controversial. I recall, though it was broadcast over a quarter century ago, that many were uncomfortable with the ridicule of a sacred ritual and the unflattering portrayal of the mohel.


Folks asked me my thoughts back then and I replied that I thought it was irreverent yet hilarious, but that I wished it was only seen by a Jewish audience. Now, years later, though a champion of free expression and a foe of censorship, I have some reservations not about gentiles seeing the show but rather, young Jews.


Until recently, one of the most enduring Jewish rituals was the Brit Milah. Even for the assimilated, pork eating, Yom Kippur working Jew, the Bris remained an observed mitzva. But now, that fidelity on the eighth day is weakening for many of our younger coreligionists. It is performed by a doctor or a growing trend, not performed at all. Some feel it is unnecessary. Some feel it should be the choice of the boy when he is older. Some feel it inflicts needless pain. And some feel it is a violation of the child’s civil rights.


Loyalty to our tradition has become increasingly fragile. What was routine, not so long ago and unquestionably practiced, has become for newer generations ignored and forgotten.  And so, with the Abrahamic covenant out of fashion for growing numbers of Millennials and Gen-Zers, I wonder the response to a show like ‘The Bris’ today. Does it reinforce disenchantment? Cynicism? Alienation? I suspect for the shallow Jew it legitimizes spiritual defection.


Twenty- five years ago, with some squirming, we handled the discomfort, but today, I suspect the younger generation would see the self- mockery as license to skip the simcha and move further away from tradition.

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Thu, February 20 2020 25 Shevat 5780