“The Quest for the Missing Piece”
A Look at Circumcision
Oded Lotan is a young Jewish guy living in Tel Aviv with his German partner. He wonders why it is so important, in the 21st century, to adhere to the ritual of the “brit”, the Jewish ceremony at which male babies at eight days old are ritually circumcised. His partner is not circumcised and he cannot seem to understand why this rite is so important. In this documentary we hear personal feelings about the practice, the fear of exclusion and the need to belong. It is presented to us a kind of fairy tale that brings modernity and tradition together. The film has animated sequences that are about Lotan’s own brit and also reflect on the complex role his sexuality and time spent away from home in Germany has played in shaping his Israeli identity.
The documentary runs about an hour and it looks at the origins and persistent custom of circumcision working on the assumption that the viewer knows that the practice of circumcision was ordered by God. Lotan complains about why he was circumcised and tries to find and understand the reasons behind it. He ignores the fact that it is just what is done and no one in his society questions it. An interesting fact that the film tells us is that about 20% of the global male population is circumcised: Jews, Muslims, many Americans, and interestingly, many South Koreans circumcise their males.
I believe that one of the reasons that Lotan is fascinated by circumcision is because he is a secular Jew and never goes to services at a synagogue. I understand that his parents are also secular yet they have followed the commandment to circumcise their son.
As Lotan tries to remember what his own “cutting” was like he tells us that he does not remember the initial pain and that it has returned at different periods in his life. As he goes on the quest to find out more about circumcision he shares some interesting information—“In the U.S., 6 or 7 out of every 10 males are circumcised.” There are “650 million circumcised men in the world, one fifth of the entire male population.””Circumcision is indisputably the most common surgical procedure in the world.”
We meet Galit, a young female lawyer at a meeting of “Parents of Intact Children” and she tells us that, “Cutting a perfectly healthy organ, [an operation] that is medically unnecessary and irreversible, constitutes assault.” Then we meet a mohel (a specialist who performs Jewish ritual circumcisions) who argues otherwise. We also see Muslims celebrating their own circumcision rituals with festive dancing at a huge ball. As for Christian circumcision, it appears to back to the Apostle Paul, who wanted pagans to convert to Christianity.
In Bud Berkeley’s book “Foreskin” we learn that a man can lose 20% of his sensitivity in the penis because of the operation while there are those who claim that uncircumcised men are more likely to contract AIDS. For whatever reason, Lotan does not report on these two facts.
Lotan starts by sharing his personal experience, which is very much about living abroad and being different and this is the reason that he decided to go on this journey of learning about his and others’ penises. His investigations take two directions— historical and demographic research which leads him to being aware that the custom is rather widely practiced in different parts of the globe because of religious or medical reasons, the other direction deals with the investigations he makes in Israel, questioning family, rabbis and mohels, people who oppose the tradition and chose not to follow it for their sons in a society where the ‘brit’ is norm, and people who approach it in an almost mystical manner. We really do not learn anything new here but it doesn’t matter because the film is interesting and well made. There is some good low-key humor here and an interesting twist at the end. After spending almost an hour questioning circumcision, Lotan goes along with the tradition of the Jewish people. He has approached his subject with style and produced a good spirited film.
I just want a note about a certain Russian-born porn director and porn film studio owner who is constantly patting himself on he back for being a good Jew and a true friend of Israel. He is not circumcised and the reason is obvious—there is something about uncircumcised men who make porn films and he does see why removing a bit of skin is important especially because he makes more money as an uncircumcised man. There is some kind of aura about uncircumcised men that people enjoy seeing on screen. Cutting his penis would mean cutting his income and so he remains uncut yet always mentions what a good Jew he is. If circumcision is the first Jewish rite one goes through, I can only surmise that this person is Jewish only because it is to his financial advantage to be so.