'The Foreskin's Lament': Is Religious Extremism Hilarious?

Shalom Auslander sees himself as a foreskin—"unwanted, cut off, bloodied, tossed aside"—because of his repressive ultra-religious upbringing among the Orthodox Jews of Monsey, New York. This tortured and, let's face it, icky metaphor underlies all the stories in 'The Foreskin's Lament,' which is about Shalom's struggle to come to terms with a nasty, vindictive, stickler of a God who, much to his chagrin, he still sorta believes in. Weirdly, I was reminded of 'A Million Little Pieces' while reading 'The Foreskin's Lament'—it is an addiction memoir, of a sort. A 'this is how I manfully dealt with my terrible addiction' memoir. Sucks for Shalom that the drug he's trying to kick is the sick thrill of worrying desperately that some omnipresent deity cares enough about what you eat and how you surgically alter your child's genitalia to punish you for screwing it up.

Reviewers of this book tend to talk about how funny it is. One of the back cover blurbs promises that if you try to read it while eating, "food will come out your nose." I didn't find this to be the case, but I read the book the day after my grandfather died, so!

Actually, the book came in handy in a funereal context. The night before I started it, my mom and I were looking at Wikipedia to determine what the correct Jewish thing is to say when you find out someone has died—for the record, it's "Baruch dayan emet," which means, "Blessed is the One True Judge." Creepy. Shalom also manages to mention this within the first few pages of the book. It felt weirdly synchronous that I'd be reading this book while coming into contact with more Judaism than I'd experienced in a while, even though my family's brand of Judaism is, despite my convert Mom's best efforts, a secular kind that means a rent-a-Rabbi comes to your funeral and gets names wrong.

So the whole time Shalom was ranting on about his dad getting drunk on Manischewitz on Shabbat and the lasting legacy of mistrust and fear and sadness that's left him seemingly unable to love or feel connected to anyone besides his wife and their son and his therapist, I kept thinking about how nice it must be, even if you spend a lot of your time feeling scared and sad, to believe in a God who at least sort of cares.