The best-selling, Pulitzer-winning, famously Jewish author, Michael Chabon, is ready to tell us how he really feels about a particular halakhic ritual.
Page Six reports that in Chabon’s forthcoming memoir, “Manhood for Amateurs,” the author passionately indicts the practice of circumcision, writing:
Mutilation [is] the only honest name for this raw act that my wife and I have twice invited men with knives to come into our house and perform, in the presence of all our friends and family, with a nice buffet and Weekend Cake from Just Desserts.
More than one male author has written recently about the difficulty of watching sons go under the knife. Sam Apple interviewed many mohels before hiring one to perform his son’s circumcision. When the big moment came, Apple admits turning away. Chabon also shopped for a mohel match, but said that pro-circumcision arguments are “debatable at best.”
He has two circumcised sons.
Not to be too self-referential (as if there’s any such thing), but I’d just like to point out that in my recent paean to Adam Sandler’s (goyish) wit and (Jewish) wisdom, I rendered the following verdict: “‘You Don’t Mess With the Zohan’ is a stupid movie; I couldn’t stop laughing.”
Now, I’m happy to report, actual famous people with actual accomplishments to their names are actually expressing similar sentiments. New Yorker writer turned Atlantic uber-Jew Jeffrey Goldberg reports on his incessantly Jew-y blog:
You Don’t Mess With the Zohan is the worst movie I’ve ever seen, though it was better than Munich.
Okay, I liked it. So what? Who doesn’t like a hummus joke? Or 37 hummus jokes? It turns out that Michael Chabon also thought it was the worst movie he’s ever seen, and he enjoyed it very much as well….
You can enjoy Chabon and Goldberg’s silly e-mail exchange on the topic here.
Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan
The JTA has a great story fleshing out the recent news that the Coen brothers will be making a movie based on Michael Chabon’s “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.”
“Naturally, I am over the moon about this,” Chabon wrote in an e-mail to JTA. “They are heroes of mine.”
All in all, it has been a pretty great week for Chabon. Barack Obama has been winning big in contest after contest — and Chabon seems more than a little over the moon about him.
Writing in The Washington Post a few weeks ago, Chabon described his preferred candidate in almost Christ-like terms:
To support Obama, we must permit ourselves to feel hope, to acknowledge the possibility that we can aspire as a nation to be more than merely secure or predominant. We must allow ourselves to believe in Obama, not blindly or unquestioningly as we might believe in some demagogue or figurehead but as we believe in the comfort we take in our families, in the pleasure of good company, in the blessings of peace and liberty, in any thing that requires us to put our trust in the best part of ourselves and others. That kind of belief is a revolutionary act. It holds the power, in time, to overturn and repair all the damage that our fear has driven us to inflict on ourselves and the world.
Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon’s latest novel “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union,” set in an imagined Jewish homeland in Alaska, has drawn critical raves. But it also elicited a widely discussed New York Post item provocatively titled, “NOVELIST’S UGLY VIEW OF JEWS.”
Barbs flung by the wildly sensationalistic Post are easy to laugh off, and Chabon did just that, telling the rival Daily News: “My mother, when she saw this item in the Post, she was kvelling. She said, ‘Now you know you’ve arrived as a Jewish-American writer. When you’ve been condemned by other Jews as an anti-Semite, you know you’ve made it.’”
Now, however, comes a biting critique from a more reputable corner: Columbia journalism professor and New York Times columnist Samuel Freedman.
A word of praise for an oft-overlooked genre: the newspaper illustration. This past Sunday’s New York Times Book Review offered the Jewishly minded reader two especially good examples of the art — drawings that with a few quick brushstrokes manage to capture their subject’s essence.
The first, accompanying Christopher Hitchens’s new book, “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” came in the form of an ashtray with stubbed-out cigarettes forming the symbols of the three great monotheistic religions: the cross, the crescent and the Star of David. Now for those who don’t know, Hitchens is a proud and heavy smoker who wrote with passion against the cigarette ban instituted in New York by Mike Bloomberg some years ago. And so, in artist Christoph Niemann’s relatively simple picture you have conveyed three quite complicated concepts — Hitchens, religion and a good measure of disgust.
The second image was better still. Alongside a review of “The Yiddish Policeman’s Union,” — novelist Michael Chabon’s counter-history in which Israel does not become the Jewish homeland and Alaska does — an artist who goes simply by the name Max offers a Tlinkit totem pole topped by a shtreimel-wearing Hasid. It’s a delicious contrast. But then you start thinking, a fur shtreimel in Alaska kind of makes sense. It’s certainly better suited to the Alaskan climate than it is to the weather in, say, Williamsburg or Jerusalem.
One quibble: The Lubavitchers, the sect on whom the novel’s Verbover Hasidim are quite clearly modeled, happen to be among those Hasidim who don’t wear shtreimels.
A second quibble: The shtreimel in the picture bears a striking resemblance to an all-season radial. Then again, given Alaska’s unforgiving terrain, you never know when you might need a spare.
Sholom Aleichem, Bintel Blog readers. (Your turn: Aleichem, Sholom). I’m currently on tour promoting “A Living Lens: Photographs of Jewish Life from the Pages of the Forward”, so my posting will be spotty for a little while. But here’s something that could keep you busy for some time.
In the latest issue of The Nation, William Deresiewicz makes a connection between current fiction by Jewish writers (Chabon, Englander, Foer) and what he sees as the rather dismal state of American Jewry:
My own experience tells me that American Judaism has long been beset by a deep sense of banality and inauthenticity. To the usual self-contempt of the liberal middle class is added the feeling that genuine Jewish life is always elsewhere: in Israel or the shtetl, among the immigrant generation or the ultra-Orthodox. Jewish culture as lived by the non-Orthodox tends to feel bland and thin even to its practitioners — the last, worn coins of a princely inheritance… The most visible of the current generation of self-consciously Jewish novelists appear to be avoiding their own experience because their own experience just seems too boring.
Read the full article here.