Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests

Is President Obama Circumcised?

Sorry if the question sounds tactless, and no I don’t in fact want to know the answer. I ask, instead, to point out the well intentioned but nevertheless inappropriate gesture of the President’s hosting the first ever Seder at the White House. The official photo shows him at the head of the table, where the leader of the Seder would normally sit.
I know, I know, it was meant as a friendly gesture. I’m not condemning him. However while Charlton Heston didn’t have to be Jewish to play Moses in the classic Ten Commandments movie that airs this time of year, a Seder is different.
A theme of this blog is Judaism’s universal significance, but that’s an idea which, while it receives short shrift today, can also be taken too far. The reason is instructive. The Torah very clearly specifies that when there was a Passover sacrifice at the center of the festival’s observances, males who ate of the offering had to be circumcised Jews in good standing:
“And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof” (Exodus 12:48).
The reason for this, at the simplest level, is that Judaism is a faith with a universal message but one that is deliberately framed in particularist terms. The message is given to a particular people to spread, and Obama doesn’t belong to that people.


God chose the Jews as a “people”: “And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians” (Exodus 6:7).
Passover, whose middle four days we are now traversing, is a time for Jews to reconnect with our mission as a people. Hence the requirement that participants in the meal that included the Passover sacrifice include no uncircumcised males. There’s no such offering today, of course, but aspects of Passover remain stubbornly particularist. For example the songs that come at the end of the Seder and that I’ve come to love — most familiarly, the enigmatic Aramaic folk song Chad Gadya.
We can discuss — and I invite you to do so with me — why God might have chosen to speak to the world through a particular people with its own unique character. But to overlook that fact in the name of generating warm feelings is to trivialize Passover.
Obama’s having done so on the first night of the festival stands, by the way, in contrast with the sensitivity of President George W. Bush. My friends Michael and Diane Medved attended a couple of White House Chanukah parties. Whereas President Clinton had assigned himself the task of saying the blessing at the lighting of the menorah, President Bush understood that this would be inappropriate.
Instead, he asked the son of  a Jewish serviceman then in Iraq to recite the benediction and light the candles. Now that’s tact.
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posted April 12, 2009 at 1:50 pm

Especially in liberal/oldline christian congregation it seems to be the vogue to “reconnect” with Jewish roots. Obama (from the UCC) is in that stream. I’m sure whoever planned this Seder thought it was the height of ecumenical activity (the religious form of multiculturalism). Now what I really wonder is if Obama the Christian celebrated the Lord Supper on Maundy Thursday or Easter. The same stream that finds a seder meaningful, disdains what their Lord made of that seder.

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posted April 12, 2009 at 2:31 pm

Who feckin cares!?
There are more things in the world worthy of our attention than this puerile rubbish.

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posted April 12, 2009 at 3:33 pm

Indeed, why should you care how kosher a seder hosted by a lapsed member of the United Church of Christ is, much less the state of his private parts? If this is what one can recover from the Hebrew Bible, better to leave it in the rubbish bin.

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posted April 12, 2009 at 3:45 pm

Whilst I still do not understand why any of this should be deemed of any real importance, I apologise if my choice of language has given any offence.

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posted April 13, 2009 at 12:13 am

It would be the first dinner to which every male guest would have to “drop trou” get get a seat.
Reconnecting with our Jewish roots is not merely fashionable, it only makes sense if a person wants to appreciate all of the implications included in the Gospels and Epistles. Unless you understand the nationalistic fervor of Hanukah, it makes little sense. Failure to appreciate how pharisaism shaped and saved both Judaism and Christianity is important. If you want to know what it means “to be washed in the blood of the Lamb” you have to know both the sacrificial system of the Temple and the Passover story. You cannot understand the fullness of Islam without knowing well both Judaism and Christianity. Any sense of exclusivism is pointless. The Last Supper without the Seder is just another meal without any of the prophetic implications. (Using the Elijah bread and Elijah cup for the last supper, then pairing it with the response to “Who do they say that I am” “Elijah?” cannot be accidental)

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Adam H.

posted April 13, 2009 at 10:33 am

Good question… Is it common practice to circumsize in Kenyan hospitals?

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Steve H.

posted April 14, 2009 at 9:45 am

As a Jew, I find it patronizing for the President to hold a Seder at the White House. A Seder is the re-telling of the Exodus story with participants imagining themselves as having actually left Egypt. It isn’t necessary or desired for a non-Jewish President to validate my religious beliefs by holding a Jewish religious ceremony at the White House. In fact, it detracts from it. Lighting a Menorah is one thing; conducting a Seder is quite another.
No doubt President Obama meant no offense by this act. I hope he doesn’t choose to slaughter a sheep on the White House lawn during the Muslim holiday of Eid.

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posted April 14, 2009 at 10:48 am

I thought it was a very nice thing to do. I see no reason to be concerned about his private part. This was the first time a president acknowledged this holiday in the White House.

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posted April 14, 2009 at 2:52 pm

I’m a pretty secular jew, and if i had to bet I’d say he’s not circumsized. But don’t take it too seriously, I’m sure he was just trying to reach out and be nice. anyway if he wants to please this jew he needs to work overtime to end the failed policies of prohibition. that applies to all of us and if we don’t, we are not serious about fixing this economy.–lahitraot

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posted April 16, 2009 at 6:05 pm

If he is, FINE. Zie Gesunt. If he is not, I think that every Jewish person should find offense in this trying to be politically correct situation. It makes a mockery of our most Highest Tradition. While Jesus was a Jew, his followers, Christians, do not practice the Passover. Ask and most of them do not even know that the Last Supper was the first Seder. After all what else would Jesus have known? The raised question is indeed the overwhelming question to the whole thing. In my first marriage, to a convert, when it was brought up to have both families attend a Seder, I was told it was offensive for me to ask if the males in her family were circumcised. TOO BAD. I asked. We never had the combined Seder. As nice a gesture as he was trying to make, it is two-faced. Some Rabbi advisor, he has to have one, should have pointed out the wrongness of it. Actually this could be, to some degree, an extension of the Jackie Mason situation, with the use of the Yiddish language and an unconscience attempt by the president to impune his anti-semetism on us, by casting disparaging remarks and trivializing our most sacred traditions and our lanquages. And then using them against us. Something new, Right. Can you imagine the fallout, if the Seder HAD NOT taken place and the Real reason was explained to the gentile world. What a field day the media would have had. P.S. = I wonder if the Reverend Wright was invited.

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Amy rosenberg

posted April 17, 2009 at 11:02 am

I am sure that President Clinton has attended many seders. His daughter has been dating a Jewish man for many years. His nephew is Jewish. I think that President Obama is very sure of himself, to the point that he makes many mistakes. His ego allows him to feel that his mistakes are changes in protocol. I wonder how many other people would get away with this behavior. I guess his father’s genetic pool has given him this ego, the same ego that allowed his father to marry 9 women.

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posted April 22, 2009 at 3:12 am

I think it was wonderful to have a seder at the White House. The seders that I have been going to for years had a mix of family and friends, both Jewish and gentile. We all get a Hagaddah and take turns reading. It is a fun and warm experience. So, I see nothing wrong with this.
I bet that the people who complain are the ones who voted for McCain and are just looking for any reason to bash the president.

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Lets grow up 2

posted April 29, 2009 at 6:34 pm

well this is scary, I for one in the year 2009 can’t see why we are talking about some ones penis, this negates the point of the Jewish message. The times have changed and we need to change with them or risk alienating people thus destroying are mission on Earth.
The message is given to a particular people to spread, and Obama doesn’t belong to that people.
Waw that is scary that you feel that way about our world, kinda sad as well. Christians also felt that way about us at there dinner tables and that gave us Hitler.
Lastly this makes the symbolism lost by making it materialistic and almost raciest.

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Michael in Minnesota

posted August 27, 2009 at 10:32 am

I have to look back and see, but isn’t the roasted lamb shank a SYMBOL of the sacrifice, and not an actual sacrifice?
“And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the passover to the LORD, (Non-Jewish guests attend the Seder, but do not keep the Passover) let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof” (Eat of the sacrifice? We don’t have one, not having the Temple, right?)(Exodus 12:48).

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posted August 27, 2009 at 10:48 am

Hi Michael in Minnesota.
To whose words was your comment referring? If David’s, it seems to me that the answers to your three questions are implicit in his essay. The answers being a) correct, b) yes, in those times, c) right.

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