Savage Ignorance


michael-savageBy Rabbi Avi Shafran

It’s difficult to know whether shock-jock Michael Savage is in fact the actual person whose Bronx-accented ranting emanates daily from radios across the country, or whether that voice belongs to an adopted persona, a cantankerous, rude and hilariously self-aggrandizing misfit who seeks to capitalize on an assortment of angers lurking in the dark corners of listeners’ souls.

Certainly the fact that the former Michael Weiner adopted the name “Savage,” of all things, and that the portly 70-ish fellow introduces his program with abrasive headbanger music more suitable to a pierced punk rocker than a political pontificator would seem to argue for the alter ego case.  So would optimism about the human condition: It would be disturbing to know that such an abrasive person was in fact real.

Already disturbing is the fact that the fellow (or his affected persona) has Jewish admirers.  Those fans apparently figure that someone who voices fury for terrorists, bashes Israel-bashers and claims to stand up for traditional morals not only can’t be all bad but must be all good.  No logic there, of course, but no one ever claimed that fandom is fettered by reason.

And so some Orthodox Jewish admirers of Mr. Savage (or DR. Savage, as he prefers to be called – he earned a Berkeley Ph.D. in “nutritional ethnomedicine”) were pained to hear the talk show host spend most of two programs last week spitting outrage at a Jewish ritual and its “bearded guys” practitioners.

The ritual, metzitza bipeh, or oral suctioning of a circumcision cut – a practice widely observed in Chassidic and yeshiva-centric communities – is hardly a good poster child for religious freedom.  That it appears strange and even dangerous to uninformed people unfamiliar with the rite is entirely understandable.

But ignorance – something Mr. Savage champions himself as helping lesser people overcome – remains ignorance; and its promotion, heavily larded with ill will, is offensive.  It might not be surprising in a radio personality who famously once asserted that in “ninety-nine percent” of autism cases the child is just “a brat who hasn’t been told to cut the act out” and on another occasion told a listener who dared take issue with him to “Go eat a sausage, and choke on it.”  But the offensiveness remains.

Yes, New York Mayor (a.k.a. “Nanny-in-Chief”) Michael Bloomberg, with the assistance of the New York Board of Health, has waged war on metzitza bipeh, claiming that it has been the cause of infections of Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 (the cold sore virus, carried by most of the population but which can be dangerous in babies).  That fact was the extent of Mr. Savage’s research of the issue.  But it has been compellingly asserted by objective scientists that the mayor and health board’s claims are without basis in fact.

New York Westchester Hospital Chief of Infectious Diseases Dr. Daniel S. Berman, Beth Israel Hospital director of epidemiologic research Dr. Brenda Breuer and Columbia University Professor Awi Federgruen, an expert in quantitative methodology, have all publicly called into serious question the claim that metzitza bipeh represents any quantifiable danger to babies.

(There is, of course, a slightly increased danger of any infection at the site of any open wound – including a circumcision, even when metzitza bipeh was not performed.  But such increased risk of harm doesn’t approach that of the increased risk to life and limb attendant to, say skiing, bicycling or crossing a Manhattan street – even when the “walk” sign is on.)

Affidavits by each of those intrepid professionals (none of whom carries any brief for metzitza bipeh; their only goal is to defend the integrity of science and its objective application to life and law) can be read at (on the click-through to the second page of the site).

Had Mr. Savage taken the time and care to actually research the issue of the Jewish ritual’s alleged dangerousness before launching his crude tirade, he might have been less inclined to render a judgment so quickly, absolutely and rudely.  But that would have required fairness and objectivity, not to mention good will toward people with whom he has little in common.

And such things, admirable though they are, don’t do much for ratings.

© 2013 Rabbi Avi Shafran

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  1. I am surprised the educated Rabbi Shafran as well as many other rabbonim are missing and not addressing a major point here. One of the main reasons why metzitzah b’peh is looked down upon by the secular media is because they view it as some deplorable twisted immoral act performed on a child. They ARE NOT strictly viewing it and analyzing it as whether it is medically safe or not. That is not the issue to many and by bringing proofs why it IS safe, will do nothing to remove this false view of metzitzah b’peh. I am not a public persona and i do not have the correct answer or method on explaining mp to the public however those that do have a public voice should be more careful and address all of the issues raised.

  2. Thanks, Rabbi Shafran. {Too?}Many of us listen to talk radio, if only for the entertainment value. We need to do so discriminatingly, if at all.

  3. You’ve overlooked the primary impetus for his thinking and vociferous tone. He’s a Xtian, and as such, he sees everything from that prism. Anything that is related to Jewish Tradition is abhorrent to him and others of his type. When I Did listen to him I found on many an occasion he would mock even the most basic of Tradition, for example the blessings on food. (If he knew all the blessing there were he would possibly go berserk). He would usually trace it back to his perception of the “Pharisees”. To him, and many a Xtian for that matter, these people were the most evil of any Jew that lived. It IS hammered home in the Xtian text and thus colors any perceptions these people have of virtually ALL Jewish teachings And traditions. It is the “evil” “Rabbinic Judaism” that so many speak of. I see no way to counteract this thinking because they simply do Not want to be educated in Torah Law. It is considered defective, faulty and so requires any reference to it to be ignored. Therefore no matter how much evidence is brought it is No evidence.

  4. Instead of the illiterate buffoons calling Savage and making an utter fool of themselves and strengthening his case, why did Rabbi Shafran not call to debate him?

  5. i found it so interesting when i listened to his show that he kept asking, “how,IN THIS DAY AND AGE, can anyone tolerate this ritual?”

    this really is the answer to his own question. he believes that the world has become greater, wiser and more enlightened and as such we have the advantage over our ancestors. however, if one simply shifts this to our perspective in which our ancestors are the pinacle of greatness and wisdom, and with each passing generation we lose some of that, the whole question disappears. if the ancestors did it, so do we!
    i found it even more disturbing that he did not discuss it with any rabbis who practice it, as evident from the absolute misrepresentation of the procedure altogether. what hypocracy!shame!
    truthfully, however, this need not even be an issue. savage is not the spokesman for anybody, for he swings regularly between philosiphies, and those who really take him seriously do as well. it is not for us to fix the stupidity of others. mistakes, maybe; but outright stupidity, ignorance and clear bias, no.

  6. People should not take the ravings of this man lightly. He has a large audience and is very articulate. Most of what he said was a total lie, such as that bris milah is performed by an old man with a rusty knife, and that there is some kind of perverted motive behind MBP. If we just ignore or boycott this man and hope that he will go away, do not be surprised if he one day brings up things like niddah and shechitah etc. through his warped and ignorant viewpoint all in the sake of “searching for the truth.” He needs to be taught a lesson so that this will not happen again. In my opinion, a group of mohelim should make a class-action lawsuit against him, siting the absolute lies that he spewed as examples of either slander or hate-speech. Pressure should also be put on the radio stations that host him. This is the only way to ensure that he will not open his big mouth again without thinking beforehand. Why is it that the Orthodox Jews think that the right thing to do is to forgive him and turn the other cheek? We must instead fight back and protect ourselves!

  7. The problem is that outsiders, unfortunately, perceive this as having a certain character. In fact, it is no different than a cut on a finger. If bris milah was done on the child’s finger, and we would do metzitza b’peh, this whole brouhaha would not have happened. It’s the disgusting modern times and immorality that has caused the perception to change.

  8. Rabbi Shafran – lots of bones to pick here…

    Gemara says must do metzitzah – not necessarily bpeh
    Chasam Sofer – dont do MBP

    are any of the above not frum enough?

    not to mention…
    Chief Rabbi of Moscow – dont do MBP
    Rabbi Herschel Schachter- dont do MBP
    R’ Moshe Pirutinski (sefer habris w/ haskomo of RMF, RAK etc.) – dont do MBP
    Overwhelming number of doctors and research studies – dont do MBP it’s dangerous
    NYC dept of health – MBP is dangerous

    So blast away at Savage all you want.

  9. I believe that this topic is the beginning of a systematic attempt to dismantle and ridicule our Jewish believes. Their line of thinking and agenda will lead to ban circumcision all together chas v sholom.

    Mr. Savage is and ignorant person who did not know even the correct number of our mitsvos citing 616 :O.
    For someone so listened by orthodox Jews it is sad and even ridiculous to be so ignorant.

    He claimed that our sages can make mistakes and as such we should change our traditions. Coming from such and ignorant demagogue… how dare he call for a change in our fundamentals believes?

    Mr Savage..we do not own you an explanation !

    We are not interested in the dirty minded society that out of their own decadence and lack of modesty dare question our moral standards.

    Mr Savage you cited the bible as only stating circumcision and nothing else but fail to understand that reading about it does not tell you how is it done.

    Mr Savage.. Can a person call himself a doctor simple by reading a book?
    every profession needs oral tradition that is why people go to colleges and universities.

    Finally MR Savage we had in the past dealt with the likes of you…..we will not roll over and let you lead us!

    Can I call for a boycott against this enemy of Jewish tradition?

  10. You loose your case when you start calling people names
    And question the validity of perfect credentials.
    I doubt that you have the ability to earn
    a degree in higher education, and wonder
    why you are so wrapped up in defending
    a practice that clearly is at best a custom not

  11. As an ultra Orthodox Jew, I was pleased to hear Dr. Savage address this very real issue, as my own peers refuse to own up to the very real dangers involved. My grandfather, the Chasam Sofer did not condone MBP but unfortunately he’s not too popular with his opinion on this subject.

  12. GREAT ARTICLE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


    REALLY GOT IT TO THE POINT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. #4, you are 100% correct (though I don’t know if he considers himself xtian).
    I have personally stopped listening to him because of this.
    What a waste of time.

  14. Matzav- you are extremely dishonest as you continually edit my (and others who post) posts without having the common courtesy to at least say ‘Post edited by moderator’ or something like that.

    it also means your arguments are weak and wont hold up, and rather than let others address what I (and others) write that you disagree with, you choose to edit out our comments instead.

  15. Torahis1, since you are so learned, instead of just mentioning names, please provide a mareh mokom, actual source. Where is the Chasam Sofer that you mention? By quoting a Gemorah, you know that we dont just pasken like a Gemorah, that is why we have a Shulchan Aruch and Rambam to pasken for us. I await your reply

  16. Savage is against MILA!

    He said it!

    For those who talk about “safety” aka The “Savages”; your next agenda will be no Bris for children its cruel…. wait till he is older, with the ability to make his “own choice” and it has to be done in a hospital with the whole 9 yards (surgical gear etc.!!!!)

    MBP were done by gedolim. Al Titosh Toras eMecho

  17. I think some are missing the point here. This is NOT a question of whether a community follows metzitzah b’peh. This article concerns Savage and his radio program and whether or not he is resorting to fact or hysteria. The audio in the previous article had Aaron, I believe, who mentioned there were other mitigating reports. Now, Savage purports to find truth. If he were considering that he would have postponed continuing the subject until he researched it thoroughly, but he didn’t. His mind was made up, the “truth” notwithstanding.

    As far as debating him on His show, this would be completely ineffective. It will only result in an attack on All of Judaism. When dealing with such total ignorance, especially with an idolator (“Jewish Xtian”), one question would lead to a myriad of questions. What these people require, or rather desire, is a simple “soundbite” of an answer. Jewish Traditions simply cannot be reduced to soundbite length. As Rabbi Goldstein points out, you cannot have Torah Sh’biksav without Torah She’baal peh but since that’s disputed there is no common ground to dispel the ignorance.

    For those against this procedure it is not wise to side with one who is hostile to Judaism, especially against anyone in the frum community. There is a tactic among Xtians to create a wedge between individual Jews and even among communities. This happens far too often. It takes on such a subtle form some are unaware of what is transpiring. I’ve seen this from experience.

  18. Thank you Rabbi Shafran for a perfect response to the rantings of Dr. Savage. As I had originally commented about this brouha, he is an am haaretz shoteh. To: Sharbano, #4, who writes that Savage is a Xtian; not true. He is Jewish from both parents but completely void of any Jewish knowledge. He is married to a non-Jew and, therefore, his children are non-Jewish. He speaks hours about the treifus he eats constantly. He just doesn’t know anything of being a Jew and no one would say anything if he hadn’t gone on such a tirade – these feelings might come out at times because of his own guilt feelings and instead of seeking out his roots, he denies them and denigrates Judaism. Don’t know whether to feel pity for him or just disgust at his humiliating Torah/Judaism.

  19. to No. 4:

    Savage is not a X’tian (do a little research on him)He suppossedly even goes to Shul a few times a year (I think to Chabad)
    To No. 12:
    Who told you that Rav Pirutinsky z”l, did not do MP?
    He malll’d all of my boys.
    The real issue here is not MP (more than just Chassidim practice it0
    The issue is government interference in matters of Religion.

  20. 17 your grandfather would not be very proud of you! He would be one of the first of our great Gedolim to exclude those anti MBPs from Klal Yisroel! The now famous slogan ‘Chadash Asar Min Hatorah’ was created by him….

    Now, hear oh hear, all of you out there…

    A very very close relative of mine, a 3 week old baby passed away from herpes. There was herpes IN THE FAMILY at that SAME time. WHY do they blame it on MBP and do not want to know what else may have caused it????? Although they were begged to check it out so that we know the true cause.

    I think we all know the answer!