“Mazal Tov!” … I think: Contemporary Challenges to Torah Observance
Author: Alan D. Busch
I dedicate this piece to Jacob Eliezer Nachum Ben Simcha Ha Levi whose name is almost as long as he is. May he always enjoy good health and acquire wisdom at the appropriate time in his life.
Have you met this man?
In all of my fifty-eight years, I have known no other man with as much schtick as Rabbi Pinchas Eisenbach, aka Rabbi Dr. Pinchas Eisenbach or simply, Reb Pinchas.
Upon making his acquaintance, he’ll inform you of three things whether you wish to know them or not: 1. that he, Reb Pinchas, although descended from a distinguished Jerusalemite rabbinic family, is a descendent of the kleiner menshen (literally, the little people) and, therefore, 2. he knows nothing (so don’t bother asking) and lastly, 3. his Henglish (a blend of Hungarian and English) is, as he delights in saying, not very good.
I say all of this in good fun because Reb Pinchas, whom I have known for nearly fifteen years, is a kind and gentle man who chanted the Kel Mole Rachamim at my late son Ben’s funeral on November 24, 2000 and, on a happier note, sang at my wedding April 2, 2006.
Well known throughout the Chicago Jewish community for his distinctive vibrato and tenor chazzanut, many have queried Reb Pinchas about the bullet-like velocity at which he prays.
“G-d and I are very busy,” he explains with an impish grin and a chutzpah that are second to none. The astonishing thing is that every one of his words is always clearly enunciated even though uttered at a speed that would have made General Chuck Yaeger take notice. Well, almost every word, most of the time.
Given his slapstick sense of humor and propensity for the absurd, you may find it incredible that Reb Pinchas is a Jewish hospice chaplain and member of the Jewish Care Services team at the Midwest Palliative & Hospice who, if presented with an opportunity, will regale you with an endless stream of stories of helping terminally ill patients find grace at the edge of life.
In a follow-up story, I’ll feature some of Reb Pinchas’ stories and what I hope will be helpful information about the Midwest Palliative & Hospice CareCenter, 2050 Claire Court, IL 60025-7635, (847) 467-7423.
Don’t Tread On My Tradition!
Several weeks ago, I attended the brit milah of Rabbi Eisenbach’s first grandson on the fourteenth day of Shevat. Together with hundreds of other well-wishers in the main sanctuary of Congregation Kehilath Jacob Beth Samuel, we welcomed Jacob Eliezer Nachum ben Simcha Bunim Ha Levi into the covenantal community of the children of Abraham.
As stoic as I had ever seen him appear, Reb Pinchas sat quietly holding his grandson atop a satin-covered pillow on his lap while the mohel performed the three thousand year old mitzvah of Milah.
I have been to quite a few of these and it never fails. I get all choked up. Now I do understand there will be some non-Jews and even a few Jews for whom this tradition is bizarre, to say the very least, but if you witness it up close and personal, it has the power to transport you back to the tent of Abraham. Make no mistake about it. Brit Milah is integral to the mesorah, the unbroken chain of Jewish tradition. Its impact upon Jewish life is truly astonishing.
Brit Milah is no mere quaint custom from the old country, but an eternal commandment of the Torah especially precious for those Jews whose every day begins and ends with Sh’ma Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad.
Jews have suffered great sacrifice throughout their history, sometimes even risking death, to perform circumcisions on their sons and bring them into the covenant of Abraham. Knowing that should make you appreciate all of the heart and soul that are infused into the collective MAZAL TOV of the congregation upon completion of the procedure.
Enter Intactivists and Foreskin Man
“You know Arie,” I commented to a friend, “for as long as there have been Jews, there have been the enemies of Jews who have sought to demonize and dehumanize us and our traditions, and that’s on a good day.”
Try as they may to ban it has only pushed its practice underground and emboldened the spirits of those whom they would vanquish. As we’ve seen happen before, when Jewish ritual and custom are under siege Jewish lives are at risk. Today, it is Brit Milah. Tomorrow it’ll be another attack on schita, kosher slaughter. If today’s challenge goes unmet, tomorrow’s challenge will be worse. Inaction emboldens the bad guy.
Recently, a group of reformers in San Francisco, calling themselves intactivists led by Messrs. Lloyd Schofield and Matt Hess, hoped to place a referendum on the ballot which, if passed, would criminalize the practice of circumcision.
Their assertion? It is an act of cruelty perpetrated upon helpless newborns and other males who, in their minority, involuntarily underwent circumcision.
The inactivists are quick to point out their opposition is to all involuntary circumcision with no allowance made for religious traditions. Ban all circumcision without any religious exemptions (Read “Ban Brit Milah”). Damn the Constitution. Full speed ahead!
Never mind the First Amendment rights of parents without forgetting to mention the thousands of years of tradition which reach back as far as the book of Genesis, Parashat Lech Lecha, chapter 17, verse 12. Forget all of that. Let the intactivists do your thinking for you. After all, they champion the fight against genital mutilation which, they contend, is really what circumcision is.
It is simply untrue.
It is interesting to note that the recent electoral efforts in San Francisco failed this time around when a judge ruled against placing the proposed ban on the ballot-not because the proposed ban was a moral abomination costumed as humanitarian concern but rather because it would unconstitutionally empower city government to legislate medical practices. Although not the ideal basis upon which to oppose the proposed ban and which will probably not put an end to efforts by Mr. Lloyd Schofield http://www.facebook.com/LloydSchofieldPage and supporters to see the eventual criminalization of ritual circumcision, it will do for the now.
I would like to take issue with their cavalier use of the phrase genital mutilation. If genital mutilation were the result of brit milah, that would seem to suggest they had been excised or damaged irreparably. Neither of these is at all applicable to the procedure of Brit Milah.
Rather, the phrase is bandied about so as to have everyday folks equate it with female genital mutilation, a procedure carried out under the most primitive and unhygienic conditions in areas of Africa, the Middle East, the Near East and Southeast Asia.
The contrast is so stark that no one who is not an ignoramus, anti-Semite or misanthrope would dare argue that ritual circumcision, as in Brit Milah and female genital mutilation are, in the least way, related.
The bottom line is this: if one decries the practice of male circumcision (coded language, read: Brit Milah) such an act is, in fact, nothing less than an attack upon Jewish tradition at its very core and further, I would argue, indistinguishable from attacking the Jewish people.
Now, as you might expect, this stellar group of disinterested citizens who seek the criminalization and abolition of circumcision is sensitive to the charge of anti-Semitism or, as I prefer to call it Jew-hatred.
That comes as quite a surprise, doesn’t it? Who could have anticipated such a reaction?
I am curious to know if these eight-day old babies are the only Jews about whom the intactivists will ever be concerned, if indeed they really are.
Since it is they who characterize circumcision as cruel, why not juxtapose it to the cruelty and utter bestiality of Nazi genocide that resulted in the murders of 1.5 million Jewish children during the Second World War. If they wish to discuss cruelty, fine, let’s compare notes. For a devastating refutation of the claim that Milah is an act of cruelty, click http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/2619/jewish/The-Nazi-Accomplice-in-the-Circumcision.htm
I do not suppose the intactivists are at all interested in the weapons training that children of Palestinian parents receive so that they too can grow up to be competent killers of Jews? Perhaps UNICEF would care to feature one of the many photos currently circulating on the internet showing Palestinian mothers proudly showing off their gun toting children. Even better what about a photo display of the same kids with photographs of the murdered Fogel Family kids?
It’s an old rule of thumb in card playing that one should play one’s hand close to the chest, but supporters of Schofield’s proposed ban have done otherwise.
Matt Hess, described in the June 6, 2011 edition of the Digital Journal, as “a leading figure in the movement” is the creator of Foreskin Man…n account of an interview with Matt Hess a http://jewschool.com/2011/06/30/26510/interview-with-the-creator-of-foreskin-man/
A quick perusal leaves no doubt as to the ideological linkage to Der Sturmer, the flagship of Nazi journalism. Portraying Jews as did his Nazi ideological predecessors three generations ago, Matt Hess must know that Julius Streicher: tried, convicted and executed for war crimes by the Nuremburg Court would give him a hearty pat on the back for a job well done.
Streicher’s fiendish caricatures of Jews played an important role in readying the German nation and the world at large for the slaughter of the Jews. First demonize, then dehumanize and, by so doing, convince enough people that the obscene fabrication, an old and tired canard from earlier generations of Jew haters, is the truth, and an entire nation becomes an accessory to genocide.
For good reason the Jewish liturgy includes the two versions of the al ha nissim prayer inserted in the Shemone Esrei during Chanuka and Purim, a reminder that the current assault upon brit milah is nothing we haven’t seen before. It really is true that a new pharaoh arises in every generation.
Although we distinguish between the approach of the Syrian Greeks, whose intent it was to extinguish Judaism by forbidding its practice of religious observances in the Jewish home as opposed to that of the Persians, led by Haman Ha Rasha (Haman The Evil One) who, in the story of Purim recorded in the Megillat Ester, would have gone right for the Jewish jugular had he not died on the gallows on which he had intended to hang Mordechai.
Either way, the intended outcome, a world Judenrein, an objective that drove SS General Jurgen Stroop to so enthusiastically obliterate the Warsaw Ghetto at the price of 56,000 Jewish lives.
Strip Heinrich Himmler of that splendid uniform and what do you find? A chicken farmer. And Haman, a barn attendant, and I mean no disrespect to chicken farmers and barn attendants!
May Your Name be blessed by the mouth of all the living…
Several weeks ago, I was reminded of the fact that though it has never been easy to be Jewish, it is very joyous and where there is joy, there is sure to be an abundance of good food. The Jews call it a seudat ha brit-a meal (in honor) of the covenant between G-d and the Jewish people through Abraham.
After more than three thousand years, think about it. How marvelous are His many great works, and we praise and thank G-d for the opportunity to fulfill this particular commandment of The Torah with joy and thanksgiving.
As for the Lloyd Schofield(s) and Matt Hess(es) of the world, I suppose there will always be such people who obsess about other people’s alleged moral failings than their own shortcomings.
I thank my friend Reb Pinchas Eisenbach-not only for his patience and many good works but the smiles and laughter he brings to a world sorely in need of happiness and shalom.