Q&A: "New York on the Clock" Goes to a Bris

December 7th, 2009

Philip Sherman has performed over 20,000 circumcisions. In addition to performing the bris ceremony, he’s the cantor at Congregation Shearith Israel in the Upper West Side, also known as The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, New York City’s oldest synagogue. Daniel Ross of “New York on the Clock” joined him for a bris he performed in Lawrence, Long Island. Watch the film now. Inside THIRTEEN spoke with Ross about Philip Sherman and his unique profession.

Q. So why did Philip Sherman pick up this specialty? I mean, who’s a kid and thinks, “Hey, when I grow up I want to perform circumcisions?”

Philip Sherman’s father performed Philip’s bris, and he in turn performed the bris ceremony for his sons when he became a father. As you see in the piece, Mr. Sherman is a very pious man, and believes deeply in the traditions of Judaism, and that carrying them on is a responsibility from which he is not exempt. It’s tough to go deeper than that. I wasn’t there to challenge Mr. Sherman’s beliefs, and to go any further would’ve required asking questions that, at least for this piece, may not have been necessary/respectful/appropriate.

Q. What compelled you to pick Philip Sherman as the subject of this film?

Our executive producer had heard there was a mohel who ran a Web site called eMohel.com. At first it seemed kind of funny. We think of ‘e’ or ‘i’ camel case words like ‘eMohel’ more in terms of consumer goods/mundane things like the iPod. But when you think about it, advertising online is pretty commonplace/necessary. It would be weird if he didn’t have a Web site.

Q. So was it challenging to film a bris ceremony? Were people OK that you were there, filming a religious ceremony?

Yes, it was a challenge. We had some ground rules from the family and the rabbi: no naked baby, and no interviews with the family. We also wanted to be respectful of the ritual, so we kept our camera behind the audience seated in the pews. Most of the footage was shot from distance with the tops of heads entering the lower third of the frame.