Sunday, October 09, 2011

Foreskin's Lament

Foreskin's Lament
by Shalom Auslander


To circumcise or not circumcise.  That is not the question.

The question is: eight days from birth, your son shall receive the Brit Milah (circumcision) by an authorized Mohel (holy person trained in Brit Milah) else your newly born son will receive Kareth (spiritual excision/divine punishment.)

Notice it's not a question.

Therein lies the basis of Foreskin's Lament, which Spouse so endearingly refers to as "The Foreskin Monologues." (I giggle every time.)

Foreskin's Lament is a memoir from Shalom Auslander, a writer who was raised in an extremely orthodox Jewish family and community.  He attended a yeshiva (Jewish school,) he wore the kippah (yarmulke) and tallit with four tzitzits as was instructed by Jewish law.  He was forced to strictly observe the Shabbat (Sabbath), and was convinced that death or extreme mutilation would befall anyone he loved if he failed to obey kashrut (dietary laws.)  Auslander grew up with fear.  Fear that his negligent actions would result in the All Mighty Smiting of those he loved.  Fear that his mother (or brother or friend or sister or rabbi) would be killed if he drank milk within 5 hours and 50 minutes of eating meat instead of the commanded six.

Although Mr. Auslander is no longer practicing, he is still terrified of God.  He fears God's wrath in every small aspect of his life.  That fear becomes exponential when he discovers that his wife is pregnant with a boy, for he must decide what do do about the circumcision.  He was raised to believe that an infant boy's salvation was held ransom by the act of circumcision on precisely the eighth day of boy's life.  (There's some sunset rules in those eight days, and it depends on what time the child was born.   It's totally complicated.  I couldn't wrap my head around the concept and gave up understanding.)

Through the book, Auslander provides some insight to his upbringing and traditions.  He spent some time is Israel studying, then, with the blessing of his parents married an orthodox Jewish girl.  They practiced for some time but decided that their religious traditions were a matter a force.  He says, "Isn't tradition just another word for that particular religious, self-righteous, non-thinking inertia that propels so many to extremes they might not ever have engaged in had they stopped to actually consider, to weight, to examine?"

In the end Auslander and his wife decide to circumcise their son just after birth, in the hospital, by a doctor of unknown faith.  Auslander's family visits the parents only to chastise and hold the couple accountable for the damnation of their newly-born son.  The family leaves and Auslander hasn't spoken to them since.

Some Thoughts on Religion
Here's what I honestly believe about religion, and why I love America:  To Each Their Own.  You wanna eat kosher?  Great!  You wanna pray to an Elephant God named Ganesh?  Dandy!  You wanna wear a scarf to cover your hair?  Sweet!  You wanna abstain from alcohol and other stuff for religious reasons?  Go for it!  You wanna believe there is no god?  It's your choice!  You wanna believe in Jesus on your own terms?  Do it!  To Each Their Own.

I would call myself particularly involved in my religious persuasion.  I do my best to obey commandments and whatnot, and try my hardest to separate some cultural traditions from doctrine.  One of the very most important aspects of my religious involvement, however, is that I am doing it all because it is my choice.  Not my parents' choice.  Not Spouse's choice.  Mine.  Once I feel that I'm being forced into my religion, I'm out.  Luckily, my religion is based on choice.  It's part of the foundation.  I'm finding that any type of "force" in my religion is a result of expectations from family and the culture.

This book was rather eye-opening to me.  You cannot force a belief.  You just can't.  You can force actions and traditions using fear or bribes of some sort, but when it comes right down to it, you cannot force someone to believe a particular something.  The culture in which I live has some serious cultural coercion.  Families and churches and schools are inundated with a the predominant religious beliefs.  This book helped me realize that no matter my beliefs, it's my role as a parent to make sure my Yahoos have a choice in what or how they worship.  They come to church with us now, partly by force and partly because they cannot stay home without proper supervision, but there will come a time that they will choose if it's what they want.  And it's my role as a parent to love.  Not love them because they are part of my religious club.  To quote my favorite person in history, Jesus, "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye alove one another; as I have loved you, that ye also blove one another" – John 13:34.

I think that Foreskin's Lament would be a good read for most people within my religious orientation.  To illustrate that we cannot force a belief.  There's some serious language in this book, however, and I'm not the type to recommend books with swears to people who don't like books with swears.

How This Book Came To Be
I have this friend Megan, who is getting a graduate degree in Creative Nonfiction.  She doesn't know this, but her attendance in this program has opened up another whole! new! world! for me (complete with spastic purple genie.)   She tells me about some Creative Nonfiction and I read this Creative Nonfiction.  Then I become tickled with glee over whats inside.  Sometimes, as is the case with Foreskin's Lament, Megan actually sends me the book in the mail.  Talk about glee.  Few things make me as happy as receiving random books in the mail.

What is Creative Nonfiction?
The Rabid dictionary says that Creative Nonfiction is factual stuff written in an entertaining manner.  That is, it's written creatively instead of text booky.  Text books aren't fun to read.  Creative Nonfiction is fun to read.  Creative Nonfiction takes a collection of factual events or ideas and pulls them all together in a creative fashion.  Memoirs are considered Creative Nonfiction, but not all Creative Nonfiction must be a memoirs.  Creative Nonfiction can also be research-related.  For example, Megan told me about her advisor, and how she is writing a book on journals and blogs and the like.  I can't wait to read that one.

Right now I'm reading Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell.  This is another Megan recommendation in the Creative Nonfiction classification.  It's terrific. I was about to finish it today but decided to let the love continue a bit longer and wait.  That one's up next!


Blackdog said...

There is a group in California that is trying to ban the man cut. I see no reason for it. My wifey sees things differently.

I think the Suncrest religious people are a bit more tolerant than the lovely people who make faces at me as they walk to church. Not sure why but the Sunday lawn mowing ritual seems most bothersome to them. Which makes me enjoy it all the more.

rabidrunner said...

I'll bet the Suncrest people are more tolerant because they already feel high 'n mighty. What with living on top of a mountain and looking down. No need to throw religious judgement so as to feel high 'n mighty.

Me... I usually sing On Top Of Ol' Smokey and comment on its 3/4 metering. That makes me feel high 'n mighty.

Ski Bike Junkie said...

Rabid, I think you're my favorite Mormon ever.