the schmooze
Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
Syosset, New York

A bris is one of the holiest events in a Jewish male’s life.
After having had three sons and dealing with two mohels, the writer knows that the mohel is often also the Master of Ceremonies.  He or she (“mohelets”) also attempts to educate the attendees:  A bris goes back to Abraham, the first Jew, who was commanded to circumcise himself as a physical sign of his covenant with God.

Rabbi Benjamin Sincoff advises, “Never take the front row seat at a bris.”

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of Scott, a patient at North Shore Hospital in Syosset, New York, awaiting an operation (“operatsye”).  He was sharing a room with another boy (“yingle”) who was also having an operation.

The boy turned to Scott and said, “What operation are you having?  Gall bladder (“galkrankayt”), the appendix (“di blinde kishke”), the tonsils (“di mandlen”), the nose (“di noz”)?

Scott replied, “I”m here to have my tonsils removed.”

“That’s a great operation.  I had mine a year ago.  They let you play computer (“kompyuter”).  They give you all the ginger ale and ice cream (“ayzkrem”) you want.  They treat you like a King (“kinig”).

Scott looked at his companion (“bagleyter”) and asked, “What operation are you having?”

“I’m here for a circumcision (‘der bris’).”

Scott paused for a moment and then say, “Oy, that’s too bad.  That’s a terrible (‘shreklekh’) operation.  I was circumcised when I was eight days old and I didn’t walk for a year.”

And then there was the story of Shmuel, the mohel, who comes home early in a “nervez” state.  His hands are shaking violently.  He has just performed a circumcision on an elderly (“alt”) man and although it went well, he is worried (“bazorgt”) that one day it just might happen that things could really go wrong (“kalye”).  He now thinks he should take out some professional insurance (“strakhirung”).

He calls his friend, Saul, who is an insurance broker.

“Saul, I need some malpractice coverage deigned for mohels.”

“This I’ve never heard of before,” say Saul, “but give me a day to investigate (“oysforshn”).

Next day Saul calls back.  “Do you want the good news or the bad news first?”

“So, give me the good news first” says Shmuel.

“No regular insurance company will offer such insurance. I’ve tried GEICO, Liberty Mutual, and that uber-cheery and quirky sales clerk from Progressive, Flo.  You know, she’s the successor to the GEICO gecko, Juan Valdez, and the Pillsbury dough boy.  I learned that Flo has no last name. It’s like Cher!  BUT, Lloyds of London will insure you for up to $1 million at a premium of $5,000 a year.  All you need do is to perform a bris ten times, and the premium will be paid for.”

“Nu, and the bad news?” asks Shmuel.


Numerous shows, including Cheers and The Nanny, depict the bris as a form of barbaric torture (“paynikung”) committed by a monster known as a mohel.  The jokes include the idiocy that one must serve miniature franks at every bris.

Who can forget the 69th episode of the sitcom, Seinfeld, which aired on Oct. 14, 1993.  It was titled, “The Bris.” Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards, and Jason Alexander are asked to be godparents for their friend’s newborn “beybi.”  But, unfortunately, the position doesn’t last very long when Elaine hires a drunken (“shiker”) rabbi to perform the bris.

At the bris, Elaine’s unstable, shaky mohel (Charles Levin) arrives.  Kramer, disturbed by the concept of the bris, attempts to stop it, and the mohel accidentally circumcises Jerry’s finger when Jerry flinches.  The four go to the hospital where Jerry’s finger is attended to.

Here’s part of the script:

Elaine [looking through the Yellow Pages, muttering], “How do you find a mohel?  Motels, models…”

Jerry:  “Oh, finding a mohel is a piece of cake.  Any idiot can find a mohel.  I have the tough job.  I have to hold the baby while they do it.  How would you like that job?”

Elaine:  “Have you ever seen one?”

Jerry:  “You mean that wasn’t?”

…Jerry:  “Ah, well, if it isn’t Shakey the Mohel!  Nice job on the circumcision, but it’s not supposed to be a finger!”

Mohel:  “The circumcision was perfect.  The finger was your fault!  You flinched!”

Jerry:  “Oh, who made you a mohel?  What, do you get your degree from a matchbook?”

Mohel:  [making a sudden movement towards Jerry] “You see!  He flinched again!”

Jerry:  “Nice mohel picking, Elaine.  You picked a helluva mohel.”

Mohel:  “One more peep outta you, and I’m gonna slice you up like a smoked surgeon.”

Jerry:  “Oh, don’t threaten me, butcher boy.”

Mohel:  “Butcher boy?”

And, finally, Billy Crystal (“Still Foolin’ ‘Em - Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys”), writes about being an insomniac.

“It actually started back when I was born.  First seven days, perfect.  I was doing great, sleeping in, clocking twenty hours a night.  Then day 8, they woke me up and somebody with a black hat and a beard (‘bord’) cut off the tip of my penis.  I’ve been up ever since.”

Marjorie Wolfe recalls the bris for her second son, Jonathan.  Rabbi Grossman, A Syosset mohel, performed a bris for her first son, Matthew.  Seven months later, Matt’s brother—via adoption—arrived.  Rabbi Grossman entered the living room, looked around a bit confused, and asked, “Wasn’t I just here?”


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Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe is the author of
two books:
yiddish for dog and cat loversbook
"Yiddish for Dog & Cat Lovers" and
"Are Yentas, Kibitzers, & Tummlers Weapons of Mass Instruction?  Yiddish
Trivia."  To order a copy, go to her

NU, what are you waiting for?  Order the book!

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