Ignorance Is Bris

The Deity replies to Foreskin's Lament, Shalom Auslander's fall-from-Orthodox memoir

Shalom, Shalom Auslander. It's YHVH. Remember me, the spiteful deity you love to hate? The one you claim to believe in, but whose wrath you tempt by calling a "prick" all the time? Well, I've just finished reading your memoir, Foreskin's Lament, in which you bemoan your upbringing and rake's progress in an Orthodox Jewish community in Monsey, New York—recounting the tales of your secret indulgence in masturbation and non-kosher junk food, your career as a shoplifter, and your compulsive lying and marijuana habits. Here's a typical line from our "conversations": "You fucking Fuck, I said to God. You fucking, fucking Fuck." You say this to me when your doctor thinks your unborn kid might have Down syndrome. It's a false alarm. Oy gevalt, you're the Moses of drama!

You know, I watched over your shoulder as you wrote this book and peeked at the excerpts that appeared in The New Yorker, so revisiting it bored me a tad. (You call me cruel, but I arranged the play-date between David Remnick's and Ira Glass's kids that gave Remnick the idea to publish you, so what gives?) Please excuse the ennui: Earth doesn't occupy much of my time—I've taken it off my CV, actually; the only ongoing project I've got there is a plate-tectonics thing. Normally, I pass all the Earth stuff to my assistant: the massive pile of dossiers, those mawkish letters from children, spam from believers in "The Secret"—I could barf. Anyway, I'm sorry it took so long to get to this; I heard you praying for a good review.

When I created you, I had a sort of joke in mind. I'd made Denis Leary a while before, and I liked that type, so I wanted another. But I needed to put a new spin on it, so I made you a writer and an Orthodox Jew. A Hebrew National frank packed with trayf. Funny, right? 'Cause Leary's a foul-mouthed, nicotine-addicted, trashy, hedonistic macho creep, and you are too. But you also tremble before Me—which has made you neurotic, paranoid, and self-absorbed as well. Brilliant. I'm really great, verily. You should see my review of Hitchens's book.

Shalom Auslander—the Denis Leary of lapsed right-wing Jews?
Patrik Andersson
Shalom Auslander—the Denis Leary of lapsed right-wing Jews?

Details

Foreskin's Lament
By Shalom Auslander
Riverhead Books, 310 pp., $24.95

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Now, I may be a prick, but when I get mad, I externalize. I cry, I wipe out civilizations, I get over it. Most people seem to understand that it's not personal. But not you. In the book, you say that when you write fiction that you think will embarrass the Jews, violence in Israel escalates, seemingly because I'm angry about your work. True, the Word has power. But you don't really believe in your ability to stir up Hezbollah—you're just making a glib jest out of your emotional journey. Maybe if I'd given your humor greater scope and originality—if I had made your persona more sympathetic, perhaps, someone who leaves his straitjacket faith to devote himself to a worthwhile secular god like rock 'n' roll, or art, or literature, not Slim Jims and Vanessa del Rio Vibrating Sex Mouths—maybe your goyish readers might feel as if the Orthodox Jews' loss was their gain. But fast-food America needs another tasteless, solipsistic male chauvinist suck-up like L.A. needs more aspiring screenwriters.

And like many a macho creep before you, you have confused me with your own father. This cranky schmuck physically abuses your brother, does lots of home improvements, and makes your life hell. Despite a few outbreaks of sympathy, you mostly despise him. Your debauchery's even linked to your hatred of him: You start transgressing when you discover that the sins of a boy under 13 go on the father's account. You think that if you eat non-kosher food and take four steps without your yarmulke on, I'll kill him. I don't. Later, you cut him out of your life due to a conflict that comes to a head (so to speak) over the issue of your son's circumcision. Hence the book's unfortunate title, and the awkward metaphor of the outcast-as-foreskin that arises later.

In your tensest moments, your wife Orli has a habit of whispering: "They really did a number on you." She sounds like a sensible lady, despite her taste in men. She knows better than to imply that I had more to do with your suffering than a certain sect's strict interpretation of my needs. I mean, I like burnt offerings—they smell nice wafting on a cool autumn breeze—but I'm not sending a thunderbolt if you don't get them exactly right. Really. I'm done with that. Nothing to do with Jesus, either—it's just . . . how long can you micro-manage an entire planet full of people? You're like disappointment machines. I just finished creating a planet with the density of balsa wood, delicate and exquisite— I'm exceptionally proud of it. And you think I care what happens on Earth, Shalom? Honestly, you guys don't need me to destroy yourselves.

 
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