Oded Lotan, an Israeli-born film-maker living in Germany dares to cope in this documentary film with one of the ‘holy cows’ concepts of the Jewish tradition – the circumcision. Interestingly, I did not notice or hear about this film having been screened in Israel until it was broadcast by the European culture TV channel ARTE, although most of it is filmed here.

Lotan starts by sharing his personal experience, which is very much about living abroad and being different, this being the starting point on a journey to seek the historic origins of the custom, as well as his own family history. His investigations go into two directions – one is a historical and demographic research which leads him to being aware that the custom is rather widely practiced in different parts of the globe because of religious or medical reasons.  More interesting are however the investigations he makes in Israel, questioning family, rabbis and mohels (the specialists who perform circumcision), people who oppose the tradition and chose not to follow it for their sons in a society where the ‘brith’ is norm, and people who approach it in an almost mystical manner.

There is no earth-shaking revelation for somebody who knows well the Israeli society and Jewish customs, yet the film is well made and the debate interesting and pleasant to watch because of the low-tone and humor of the commenter-hero-film-maker. The author is also openly gay, and his questioning of the circumcision adds taboo-breaking to taboo-breaking – without a tolerant and smooth approach the debate could have easily slid into controversy. The organization of the film in several short episodes ended by stop-frames transformed into graphics adds consistency and breaks the potential tension of the debate that could become too tense if taken too seriously. The interesting twist at the end of the film has the author aligning with the tradition, after questioning it all over the film. A final irony, taken in the same good spirit this whole documentary is being made.

I have found the film on YouTube, but it’s unfortunately only the German version. Here is the first episode:


(video source ElectricFlattery)