Here it is — the video that embattled mohels have been waiting for… and we have Lorde to thank for it.
It’s fortunate that the title of the teenage New Zealander’s hit song “Royals” happens to rhyme with the Hebrew word (with Yiddish pronunciation) for Jewish ritual circumcisers. Otherwise, Jewish a cappella group Kol Ish may not have thought to make its amusing “Mohels (The Bris Anthem)” parody video on the serious issue of proposed circumcision bans in countries around the world.
“Mohels have emailed us saying how happy they are to see positive reinforcement for what they do,” Kol Ish member Shawn Levine tells The Times of Israel. “We even heard from mohels in Europe who are organizing underground in order to be prepared if ritual circumcision is legally banned.”
In an announcement sent out when the video premiered online in mid-November, the group made clear the connection between its video and current headlines.
“Today, the Jewish people face a new challenge, as circumcision bans have begun to gain support in Europe, and in some places in the U.S. as well. Today it was reported that Norway may ban the brit milah practice.”
While the satirical video employs the requisite humorous elements (think cigar cutter), it also sends a serious message about the right of Jews to practice the ancient tradition of brit milah. To bolster the religious freedom argument, Kol Ish also includes in the video various statistics, study findings, and health organization statements supporting the efficacy of circumcision in fighting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
According to Levine, “Mohels” is a natural fit for Kol Ish’s repertoire.
“We started off singing Hebrew songs, but we’ve always included comedy in our performances. Then we began making videos in 2011,” he said.
The group’s most popular parody video so far is their first one, “I Just Had Chametz,” which was released for Passover two years ago. Their “Kiddush Club” Shabbat satire has also been popular with YouTube viewers.
Levine began singing with fellow group members Eliyahu Dvorin, J.J. Katz, Michael Gevaryahu, David Lipsitz, and Ayton Sanders in 2005 at the University of Maryland in College Park.
The Modern Orthodox friends, now all between the ages of 26 and 28, have continued to perform together post-graduation. Despite their living in different cities across the U.S., they still manage to come together about once a month to perform at a wedding or bar mitzvah, to give a concert, or to record a video. Levine, who runs his family’s Jewish bookstore in Manhattan, coordinates the group’s activities.
In addition to praise from mohels and others in the pro-circumcision camp, the video has also received its fair share of negative feedback.
“There are a lot of crazies on both sides fighting each other on Twitter and YouTube,” Levine noted.
“We were calculated in our decisions about this video,” he said. “We wanted to give a voice to the pro-circumcision side of the argument. The lyrics were not just thrown together. We really wanted to take a thought-provoking approach.”
Although “Mohels” is not explicitly a Hanukkah video, Levine pointed out that its release in the run-up to the Festival of Lights was not just by chance.
“The Assyrian-Greek rulers banned circumcision,” he said about Hanukkah’s historical origins. “The Greeks are just a footnote of history now, but we are still here celebrating our traditions.”