I never thought I’d say this, but I couldn’t be prouder of Lior Schleien, the Israeli comedian, producer, and television host. For those who missed it, Schleien, a staunch secularist and outspoken anti-circumcisionist, circumcised his newborn son. Defying public pressure from his fans, he, along with his wife Merav Michaeli, brought their son into the covenant of Avraham as has been done for thousands of years. But what may be even more impressive is that he publicly announced it on his television program.
Schleien deserves much credit, and I’m not saying that just because I’m a mohel. He didn’t have to say anything at all. In fact, he could have lied. Decisions such as these are not a matter of public record but as we all know, being a public figure comes with constant scrutiny. However, if Schleien had kept things to himself no one would have been the wiser. Yet still, he chose to make the facts known at great personal cost.
According to Schleien, the main reason they gave their son a Brit Milah was so that he wouldn’t be different. Living in Israel, this is nothing to scoff at. Schleien himself mentioned how he personally felt different when he would change in a locker room as a youth. Considering Brit Milah is practiced by over 90% of Israelis, that feeling of being an outsider if uncircumcised is not going anywhere.
The response of Schleien’s fans to his admittance was unrelenting. One person commented that she actually threw up in her mouth upon hearing the news. The majority were perplexed as to how he could have turned on a dime after so long. I may have a sense of what changed for him.
Although I’m a mohel and have Orthodox smicha, I actually had more of a secular upbringing. I did grow up with Judaism in my life, but we did not have an observant household. We went to shul regularly but we also traveled on Shabbat and ate out in non-kosher restaurants. I didn’t begin my path to observance until after college.
Even though my parents were not as strict as I am now on halachic observance, the common refrain was always: “you have to marry someone Jewish.” My father and I would constantly argue this point. I couldn’t understand why it was so important when so many other things were not. His response was very telling. “When the baby arrives everything changes. You will want to raise the baby as you were raised and being from two different religions is a huge chasm to straddle.”
B”H by the time I was married and had children I had been living an observant lifestyle for quite some time and had married a Jewish woman. But nonetheless, my parents were right. When I looked into my daughter’s eyes, I realized that I not only wanted to raise her the way I was raised but also in the best way I saw fit. I can only assume that Schleien had a similar epiphany.
My prayer is that the example Lior Schleien has set will be followed by others both secular and religious. Of course, I hope those who have questioned or forsaken Brit Milah will reconsider their actions and swiftly bring their sons into the covenant. But in addition, for those of us who keep the mitzvot and feel a mistaken sense of superiority to our non-observant brethren, let this be a lesson to us as well. Speaking truth in the face of massive opposition as Schleien did is no small feat and deserves its due praise. We all need to do the right thing no matter what the consequence.