Jews

Rituals Gone Wrong

Rituals Gone Wrong

People thrive on rituals. Rituals serve as reminders of cultural roots, religious ideologies and anniversaries that mark important milestones or events. On a more mundane level they may serve to mark any reasonable excuse to get together for a party. Super Bowl Sunday is one of my favorites.

Ritualistic behavior is really nothing more than a repetitive act that either ensures the ability of a person or thing to maintain contact and equilibrium with its environment or to eat excessively and get drunk. On a social level, rituals ensure cultural bonding, a reaffirmation of life cycles; while in the extreme or at the more deviant level, they ensure a reaffirmation of perverse existence.

For example, my office manager’s husband Fred thinks that every gathering with his friends becomes a first event that should be celebrated yearly, such as the “Annual First Time We Ever Got Together and Ate Chinese Food.” He also likes to drive around playing the same Flying Burrito Brothers or Steve Goodman albums over and over again; a habit that makes his wife have to restrain herself from reaching over to strangle him. Repeatedly playing ones favorite tunes, as many of us are prone to do, is an example of a rather benign form of ritualistic behavior that makes us happy and soothes our nerves; whereas for example an Aztec ceremonial ritualistic evisceration, sexually addictive masturbation or the acts of a serial killer are not.

Some ritualistic behaviors such as repetitive hand washing however fall into the category of the mild psychosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Ritualistic gatherings such as those centered on a holiday define our common roots, bringing us all together to allow or to facilitate both celebrating and reminiscing about the good old days or to anticipate potentially better times ahead. Christmas, Hanukkah and New Years fall into these categories.

In the Catholic Church as well as in the Jewish faith, rituals not only celebrate holidays and Holy days but also center on rites of passage.

Catholics have Baptism, a ritual that abolishes Original Sin. They also have Confirmation, a ritual that inducts a young man, as a Private First Class, into the army of Christ.

In the Jewish faith there is the Bris milah or circumcision, a ritual that affirms Abraham’s covenant with God; then later on the Bar or Botz mitzvah, a ritual that signifies the rite of passage of boys or girls crossing from childhood to adulthood.

Of all the religious rituals however, circumcision seems to be the one most shrouded in mystery and the one least associated with common sense.

Even if one subscribes to the biblical proscription that it is mandatory to identify one as being a certified Jew, something that the Nazis used to their advantage in consigning people to death, this does not explain why the Islamic faiths as well as Eastern Orthodox and Coptic faiths also subscribe to this ritual; or even why the procedure is drawn on the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs.

This is especially so since there is no clear-cut medical evidence as to whether there is any benefit to the procedure except possibly for the purpose of allowing better personal hygiene, or as far as I know making absolutely no difference in the sex life of males who walk around with or without their putz intact.

The only possible reason would be eliminating the possibility of unwanted odiferous smegma ruining the potential for a good blow job.

I happen to be circumcised, for no apparent reason other than the fact that my mother was told by some Pediatrician that it was a good idea.

However the worst example of pig-headed determination to subscribe to blind ritual happened to my next-door neighbor’s daughter.

She was a Christian of German descent who had married a Jewish man she described as not only being from California but who she also referred to as being a “California Jew.” This is roughly translated into meaning that either he or his family, or both, virtually did not practice their faith at all and is equivalent to being known as a “Once a year Catholic” on Easter or Christmas.

However, when she had her first son, he insisted on having the child circumcised, which was done by a Pediatrician.But when the second son was born he went one step further by insisting that the procedure be done in the customary manner of the faith by a mohel (pronounced moyel).

A mohel is a person specifically trained to do circumcisions in a religious ceremony eight days after birth, in which some unlucky close family friend gets to hold the baby while this person cuts off the foreskin. Simultaneously the baby adopts the name of some other totally impersonal ancient dead ancestor.

In a more gruesome form of the ceremony known as a metzitzah, the mohel cuts of the foreskin after which he sucks the blood off the end of the incision. This practice was known to occasionally transmit herpes to the baby and so was largely discontinued as being an unhealthy; medieval, and outdated practice.

When you grow up how would you like to have to tell any of your potential girlfriends that story?

  • I got genital herpes from the mohel when I was eight days old and he sucked my dick.
  • Right. Pigs can fly too. Then you’ll probably tell me we need to fuck because tomorrow you’re being sent to Viet-Nam and you might die.

Like I said, brushing a little holy water on the baby’s head is quicker, simpler, neater and cleaner.

In any case, my friend’s husband insisted that the person to do the job was the “King Mohel” of Washington D.C., the mohel of all the mohels.

The only problem was that this person, who was in his eighties, had a senile hand tremor that resulted in him slicing off part of the poor kid’s penis. This accident resulted in an injury to the urethra that caused the urinary stream to blast out sideways and then required about five cosmetic repairs. The aftermath caused enormous physical pain along with emotional difficulties for the victim over his first decade of his life. It also almost resulted in a divorce as his mother then had her own cross of guilt to bear over letting this happen in the first place. She said:

  • The son of a bitch never even went to Temple and then he made me get this quack bastard mohel to do the job so he could push his own guilt aside, atone for his sins and bond with his stupid religious roots. I hate him. It makes me want to cut his dick off, too.

I told her I felt the same way about the new craze to let midwives deliver babies. I told her:

  • People forget that the reason infant and maternal mortality is so low is because we have doctors delivering babies. They also forget that the risk is still so high that these guys are at the top of the medical malpractice food chain both in litigation as well as premium costs.

It wasn’t really funny at all, but years later when I thought about it sarcastically, I could envision some tremulous old mohel in 500 B.C. bending over a baby, slicing off the poor kid’s entire penis and handing the baby back to his mother saying:

  • Congratulations. Now it’s a baby gohel.

 

 

Tools of the Trade

The Tools of the Trade

(Circumcision kit: Photo source: Wikipedia)

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First Holy Communion

 

First Holy Communion 

It is a matter of fact that for most of us as we grow up, are subjected to doses of both secular and religious education. Although our American system legally separates Church and State, our culture, in reality does not. There is Catechism for the Catholics, Sunday school for the Protestants, Hebrew school for the Jews and Bible Study for the Protestants or the Born Again Christians.

This is where we learn about, peace, love, God, and our religious heritage.  Unfortunately, although these schools are also supposed to be where we learn ethics, morals and values, they also seem to be the first places where we learn bias along with where the propaganda seeds of cultural and religious hatred are sown. Therefore this is also where we learn that to whatever cult or religion we subscribe, ours is the One True Way, whereas any other nonbelievers should only be pitied, converted or persecuted.

The first thing a Catholic studies for in Catechetical instruction is the First Communion. Once again I struggled with the dogma so much that I could not even get past the first simple principals of the Catechism.

  1. Who is God? God is love.
  2. Who made me? God made me.

I should have stopped right there, quitting the church on the spot because if someone had explained it more simply and left God out of the equation, I could have easily related to the idea that love made me, even if it may have been casual, indifferent or accidental love, as opposed to some invisible spirit entity.  However, as hard as I tried I simply could not intellectually grasp the concept of God. This was supposed to be a Supreme Being of goodness and light who had created, then ruled over the Universe, except for the fact that he had totally lost control of his First Lieutenant Lucifer, who was going around creating as much misery and chaos as he could possibly get away with.

As a result, God and the Devil are locked in an eternal battle for souls, both casually indifferent to the horrible consequences wreaked upon the playing field by this little game of thiers, all of which seemed no better than any other planetary war and the human cannon fodder used to fuel it.

This concept is rationalized by religious pundits who try to sell children the idea that God really does care, but that because he gave us all free will to decide for ourselves how we are going to behave in life, he then just casually sits back and like Santa Claus, makes up a naughty and nice list. God simply hands out the rulebook issuing the edict that one can either take it or leave it.

We then get to choose if we want to do God’s work or if we want to work for Lucifer; to wit after we eventually die, there is an eternal sentence to exist in one of three places. Nice gets to be in Heaven. Naughty gets to go to Hell. In-betweeners get to pound a few rocks in Purgatory for a finite period of time known only to Saint Peter who doles out the sentence at the Pearly Gates based on how much Naughty is in the equation. The: n/N ratio I suppose. One hundred percent Nice gets to be a Saint who eternally plays a harp in Heaven. But I never found out what all Naughty gets to be, besides roasting in an eternal fiery blaze.

Maybe instead of that the Naughty ones wind up being the accordion players in Polish Polka Bands condemned for all eternity to play the same tunes day after day in small dance halls. Or perhaps even worse, they are condemned to sit in the audience listening to those same endlessly repeated tunes until that promised day when time finally comes to a pirouette end and the universe stands still. Now that’s a real hell.

At some point later in life I did decide that no matter what, I did not really want to go to heaven, because every genuine saintly person I had ever come to know was also an incredibly colossal bore.

  • Hey. Anybody up for a party?
  • No, first we have harp practice. Then it’s on to Confession. After that we go to Mass. Then we go to Mother Theresa’s for tea and scones, and finally we all go to Grandma’s house for Christmas dinner. And up here you know, every day is Christmas.

How about putting up with that every day until Gabriel blows the big shofar?

None of this made a lot of sense to me. Intuitively, God could not be all that good or all that powerful if he allowed so much misery to take place by letting Lucifer run amuck. I simply could not believe that someone who was supposed to be so all-powerful could just sit back indifferently doing absolutely nothing to stop the evil in the world.

No. Instead he just lolls around reclining on a cloud with a cosmic channel changer in his hand, scrolling through scenes of life on Earth until he finds one that amuses whatever sentiment or mood he happens to be in that day: Sports. Pornography. War. Starvation. Murder. Misery. Reality TV. Cartoons. Terrorism. Possibly a few Saintly deeds here and there. Or maybe a missionary being boiled an eaten by a cannibal.

On a less celestial level I also could not believe that he was then partly responsible for the evil of me having to be subjected to the violent scrutiny of the Nun who was trying to pound this information into my head by whacking my knuckles with a ruler.

I tried to ask my father to help me with some of these issues, but when it came to anything mystical he just said: “Use your imagination.” This was a problem too, because I had no clue as to what an imagination was or how to go about getting one. In finally deciding that the better part of valor was to simply give it up, I stopped studying the Catechism, hid it under my bed and subsequently failed First Holy Communion.

However, I did finally begin to get an imagination during the second time around. After all I was a year older, and now the Nun in charge of my indoctrination was beginning to remind me of the Wicked Witch of the East. Her habit made me think she was a black Vampiress, her head cover made it look like white wings were growing out of her skull and I had already learned to keep my hands off the desk to avoid the karate blows arbitrarily and capriciously imparted by her terrible swift wooden ruler.

First Holy Communion was the only subject I ever failed in my entire subsequent education making the only positive thing about the experience the fact that the embarrassments of being held back in Religion 1 caused me to swear a personal oath, but not on a Bible, that it would never happen again.

After passing this second time I was finally ready to receive my God: and His body: and His blood. I had memorized all of it by rote and regurgitated all the answers that had absolutely no real tangible meaning to me. In doing so I had also learned the trick of taking the test or any other test for that matter: just give them the answer that they want.

The entire class had been rehearsed on how to behave, how to parade, and how to kneel at the Alter to accept the host. We were all especially warned that it was sacrilegious to chew the most holy wafer and that when the priest delivered it we should close our eyes, slowly let it disintegrate in our mouths while thinking only pure holy thoughts.

On the day I received my first host, dressed to the nines in a the snow white suit designed to represent holy communal virginity, the boy kneeling next to me got his host first then started smacking his lips and chewing on it. I was horrified. My turn came next so I closed my eyes, and then stuck out my tongue. The thing was completely tasteless, but worse than that nothing happened except for the fact that it didn’t melt.

There was no epiphany. No revelation. I felt just the same as always and was immediately disappointed to know then that my life would probably not change very much. All I could think was that some salt would go along way to help the flavor of a bland little starch pad that had not made me radiantly glow or at all feel the hand of God on my shoulders. Several years later a similar disappointment was felt when I received the sacrament of Confirmation, the preamble of which had been to “perpetually pray that God would send you an avocation.” Because God never did tell me what do with my life or what career I should follow, I capitulated by praying instead for a perpetual summer vacation.

The boy next to me must have agreed about the communion wafer too, because he then committed his second blasphemous act in as little time when he turned to me and said:

  • Tastes like cornbread, don’t it?

At the photo shoot afterwards my mother took me aside, asked me what the little boy had said and became aghast at what she then heard.

I told her I would have asked him to be quiet, but my mouth was so dry from the anxiety of the day that the host had stuck on the roof of my palate and would not dissolve. Desperately trying to manufacture saliva, while at the same time trying not to sacrilegiously wiggle my mouth to dislodge the thing, I had silently left the Alter to return to my seat.

She said I was not supposed to speak anyway during the blessed event; then prattled on about “What kind of derelict family could that little boy possibly have come from?”

But she couldn’t help how she felt. She was the worst kind of Catholic when it came to her fanatical devotion to the faith. She was a convert.

 

 

 harp

               Welcome to heaven. Here is your harp

          Accordian

         Welcome to Hell. Here is your accordion

 

 

Mine eyes have seen the glory

Of the coming of the Lord.

He is trampling out the vintage

Where the grapes of wrath are stored

He has loosed the fateful lightning

Of his terrible swift sword.

His truth is marching on.

                     (The Battle hymn of the Republic)

 

 

Oil and Vinegar

Oil and Vinegar 

Oil and vinegar do not mix unless shaken and suspended by an emulsifier. It is a great condiment in combination, but let it stand by itself and it soon separates into two parts. Like oil and vinegar; cultural, geographic, or religious differences, as well as family bias, bigotry and loyalties wreck the emulsifier that otherwise might have had the potential to allow a marriage to stand on its own.

Italian culture assumes that any child will marry another Italian.  Jews, Muslims, and many other cultures or races hold the same assumptions. Protestants do not protest so much as long as the spouse is Caucasian or unless the family has a self appointed legacy to maintain. Then there can be big trouble.  After all, if the bloodlines get too admixed; there can no longer be any culture. And without sustaining a culture, groups or individuals can no longer sustain bigotry and hatred.

Italian parents have another clannish peculiarity by the fact that they expect their married children to either move in, to move close by, to add on a second story, or if all else fails to even build another house on the same property as theirs; much akin to a Mediterranean Ponderosa. The children then usually remain subservient to the whims of some self appointed Ben Cartwright until he eventually dies and a new Capo emerges to take over the clan.

Gangster families refer to it as a “compound,” but they need walled protection for other reasons.

Extended Protestant families will sometimes live together if the home is spacious such that the wings can be divvied up; and no one actually has to interact. This will usually depend on the current status of the stock market or how much of the family fortune some non-frugal ancestor pissed away. The Protestant’s proclivity to limited procreation also assures that there will always be enough room in the house for everyone at all times.

My aunts Rose and Kay had married Italian men. They were both properly married in the Catholic Church by a priest and they both settled in homes within a five-minute travel time to their mother. One could actually walk over to Grandma’s from Rose’s house; while Kay’s required a 5 minute car ride.

Meanwhile Uncle Mike married an Irish girl in Maryland, but having sensed the disapproval and probable censure; then not desiring face-to-face daily battles over it with the clan, he never moved back home. Although everyone made excuses for his absence I know that in reality he really became the family’s black sheep.

  • Oh. Poor Mike. His job made him move. Otherwise he’d still be here with Ma.

Not only did he move; he basically disappeared from the family radar screen after making the wise choice that his wife, but not his mother or his clustered sibling family should be his primary relationship.

  •  No. Smart Mike. He moved to Pluto. Otherwise he’d still be here in Hell.

My father however committed several unforgivable mortal sins. He was married in the foreign country of Texas, without the family’s consent; nicely consummated by the horror that he was married by a Baptist, to a Baptist; in a Baptist Church.

Mike was suddenly starting to look relatively good again, because even though he married an Irish, at least she was a good Catholic and at least he had done it in the one and only true-faith Catholic Church.

It logically follows that if loyalty to one’s family or cultural or religious beliefs comes first, and if even the Whitney’s or the Vanderbilt’s had issues with inter-breeding, you can imagine what happened when my wayward sacrilegious father brought my heathen mother home from Texas to New York to live in the apartment downstairs in his mother’s house.

Oil and Vinegar

If there were no other races

Then whom would we hate?

And what if they gave a war

But nobody came?