Auslander, Shalom. “Foreskin’s Lament”. Riverside Books, 2007.
Laughing at Religion
“Foreskin’s Lament” is a very funny and very honest look at a man’s struggle with his religion, his family, his community and his G-d. Shalom Auslander has a complaint and is not afraid to share it with us. He cries out against Judaism because his education about it was abusive to him. Auslander holds nothing back and he says what many think but can never bring themselves to say.
What the author has done here is theologically through wry humor deconstructed the Judaism he was taught and in its place built his own sense of values and morality. Undoubtedly this will not work for all but it obviously works for him. If it is possible to follow his method, it may, indeed, be possible to find a way to be closer to divine spirituality.
Auslander is a satirist who takes it upon himself to have a deep and hard look at the Jewish religion and as he probes it to manages to come to a new understanding of both Judaism and himself. He was raised revering G-d and even when he left the community in which he was raised and educated; he finds that everyday he struggles with and against G-d.
In “Foreskin’s Lament” we watch the author as he grows up in a very strict Orthodox community and how he rebelled constantly to the point that he was able to construct a new life without all of the traditional Jewish values. His youthful rebellion took various forms—from shoplifting a pair of jeans to walk to Manhattan on the Sabbath to watch a ball game. As he matures, so do his struggles to understand the concept of G-d. He was amazed at the forgiveness given out on Yom Kippur and he profaned blessings. He eventually settled for a compromise in hopes that his new born son will grow free of guilt, struggle and doubt.
Auslander is an angry man but this is due to his struggles with the spiritual. He seems to be on an unending quest for truth and acceptance. At times, the book pinched a nerve in me as I am sure it will anyone who lived through a traditional Jewish upbringing in which the stereotypes in many cases ring true. I found many points of identification and there were sections of the book that pained me greatly. Somehow, Auslander’s comic writing style eased the pain but underneath his humor there is a great deal of truth.
Undoubtedly there will be comparisons made between Philip Roth’s Portnoy and Auslander does come across as being very angry and full of complaints. As Auslander cries out against Jewish theological “dogma”, we get a look at ethnicity and cultural identity. The book is essentially a dialog between G-d and the author and from it we learn about how many truly insane people are espousing religious doctrine.
The book can be read on a variety of levels and therefore can be interpreted differently by many. What will guide the reader is the idea that he can understand the text the way he chooses.