guest post by Eli Ungar-Sargon
A few weeks ago, my good friend Mordechai Levovitz mentioned on Facebook that he would like to see a debate between myself and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on the subject of circumcision. I was aware of the fact that following a brief back and forth on CNN, Rabbi Boteach had challenged Lloyd Schofield, the man behind the ballot initiative in San Francisco, to a longer form debate. I was also aware that Schofield had declined the challenge. I wrote to Rabbi Boteach suggesting that he debate me instead. Much to my surprise, I received an email a few days later saying that Rabbi Boteach was interested. The terms we agreed upon were that there would be 10 minute opening statements followed by 5 minute rebuttals, and an hour and a half of Q&A. We also agreed that I would be provided with an unedited copy of their video in addition to which I would be able to shoot my own video of the event. The debate was scheduled to take place at the Manhattan Jewish Experience on July 18th. I prepared for the debate and flew out to NY with my camera and tripod in tow.
A few hours before the event, I was having lunch with my mother and sister on 72nd street when I got an email from Boteach’s people requesting that I call them urgently. They informed me that I would not be allowed to shoot video of the debate and that no cameras other than the MJE’s official camera would be allowed in the room. No explanation for this change was forthcoming and I had to take it or leave it. Despite advice from close family and friends to pull out on account of this blatant breach of terms, I went ahead with the debate and at the last minute, set up an audio recorder. The debate itself was spirited and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience despite the glaring absence of a moderator. But my absolute favorite moment of the evening came just after the debate was over. Rabbi Boteach came up to me and by way of apology for all of the drama said “You have to understand. No offense, but I just didn’t know who you were.”
Upon returning home, I asked Boteach’s people for an unedited copy of the video as per our original agreement. They refused. Luckily, I had my audio recording which I posted on the Cut website and on YouTube. It was not long before Boteach’s people posted their video, which turned out to be the first 40 minutes of the debate shot from a bizarre dutch angle at knee height and compressed to within an inch of its life. Here are the two versions of the debate: