An article entitled, “An anti-circumcision activist’s lawsuit sheds light on concerns over antisemitism in the movement,” recently appeared in the Forward. The piece is about filmmaker Brendon Marotta’s lawsuit against Bruchim, an organization committed to “fostering welcoming spaces for Jews opting out of circumcision”. Marotta claims that Bruchim called him antisemitic, which subsequently harmed the success of his 2017 anti-circumcision film.
If you’re having trouble following all of this, it’s not surprising. I am an avid reader on the topic and it took a minute for me to piece it together. Since the two parties are both against circumcision, you’d think they’d be allied in their common goal but apparently there’s trouble in paradise.
Even though Bruchim uses neutral language to describe its mission, the organization has a distinct goal in mind. Executive Director Rebecca Wald describes herself as an advocate for circumcision choice. Some of her credits include a website entitled “Beyond The Bris” and she is also the co-author of “Celebrating Brit Shalom”, offering ritual alternatives to Brit Milah which all don’t involve the actual removal of foreskin, thus making them halachically impermissible. Although Bruchim’s mission is to aid those who’ve already made the choice to opt out, there’s no doubt that the organization’s preference is against Brit Milah. And in that regard, there is very little difference between it and Brendon Marotta.
Marotta’s film, “American Circumcision”, is a documentary about all of the potential ills of the procedure. It claims to “take on the Jewish question of Brit Milah” and does so by featuring a number of Jews who are against the practice. These days they’re not hard to come by. But the tension between Bruchim and Marotta is completely lost on me.
It’s my assumption that at some point, Marotta or those he associate with him made comments that are what people would call “overtly” antisemitic. This language was likely offensive in nature and led to friction between Marotta and those heading up Bruchim. But Marotta’s alleged behavior shouldn’t have been a surprise to the Bruchim leadership.
If you spent any time on X (formerly Twitter) discussing Brit Milah, as I have, you’d realize very quickly that those who are anti-circumcision are also anti-Israel and antisemitic, and they don’t try to hide it. On the platform, I’ve had interactions with non-Jews and people like Gary Shteingart, all of whom have nothing good to say about circumcision. As a mohel myself, I’ve been called a pedophile, and, believe it or not, that was one of the nicer comments. One person actually wrote, “Jews have several barbaric practices that I recommend they stop doing if they wish to be tolerated in modern society. If not, don’t be surprised when ‘it happens again’.”
These are the types of people Marotta and Bruchim’s founders have inevitably associated with because they permeate the anti-circumcision movement. But the problem runs deeper than that. Bruchim’s goals, albeit good intentioned, are just as antisemitic as any statements Marotta or his cronies could conjure up. Brit Milah is one of Judaism’s most fundamental and oldest rituals. An attack on it is to strike at the core of our national being. Therefore, Bruchim, even though it might not use classic hate speech, is just as destructive as those who are overtly our enemies. And in some ways it’s worse because the attack comes from within.
As a rabbi, I’ve worked my entire career to be as open and welcoming to all types of thought and lifestyles. I work with everyone I can, within the confines of Jewish law. But these individuals have crossed a line. There’s no way to accept their viewpoint; which, in essence, is the death of Judaism.
I spent this past summer on a kind of roots tour with my family. For the first time I brought them to visit my alma mater, the University of Rhode Island. Being there gave me time to reconnect with a former professor and a rabbi in Providence who helped me learn to be a literate Jew and apply to rabbinical school. The two were instrumental in setting me on my path to becoming a rabbi and it was amazing to see them. The professor, who taught me about advocacy, also reconnected me with a former Holocaust professor of mine. I was able to meet with him for a few hours one evening during the trip.
When I studied with him in college we never discussed religion. But at this encounter, now that I’m a rabbi and a mohel, the topic was unavoidable. Since he is staunchly secular, my life choices perplexed him. He had lots of questions and most of my answers were unsatisfactory to him. But surprisingly we had one common ground – Brit Milah. “Even though I’m not religious,” he told me, “there’s no way I wasn’t giving my boys a Bris.” I was totally taken aback. It’s amazing how simple this was for him and how those who are committed to the rite’s demise just don’t get it.
Having spent many years fighting for the preservation of Brit Milah and responding to the onslaught of attacks it receives in the public sphere, I have mixed emotions about this lawsuit. Part of me is beside myself that these groups are still continuing on their destructive path. But still another side of me takes fiendish pleasure watching this movement eat itself alive from within. Whatever the outcome of the lawsuit is, I only pray that it benefits the Jewish people.