DETROIT FREE PRESS, 23 August 2002.

Cleric's arrest outrages circumcision celebrants

August 23, 2002


Driving. Flying planes. Now add one more thing that drinking doesn't go with: circumcision.

A man on his way to perform a ritual Jewish circumcision on an 8-day-old infant was arrested on a charge of driving under the influence blocks from his destination. He is scheduled to appear at a pretrial hearing Monday before 52-1 District Court Judge Michael Batchik.

Samuel Greenbaum, 58, was charged June 18 with driving under the influence and failing to undergo a Breathalyzer test. Greenbaum, a cantor and former president of the congregation at Beth Shalom in Oak Park, is one of only a handful of Detroit-area mohels -- those who perform the delicate Jewish ritual that involves removing a male infant's foreskin with a razor-sharp scalpel.

The arrest stunned the baby's parents who had staged an elaborate gathering of 70 family members and friends to witness the traditional Jewish procedure, called a bris.

"He was essentially about to perform surgery on my son," said Ken Gutman, of West Bloomfield Township. "If the charges are true, it's an inexcusable betrayal of trust."

Neither Greenbaum nor his attorney, Gerald Gordinier, returned phone messages left Wednesday and Thursday.

Oakland County Sheriff's Capt. Michael McCabe said an off-duty West Bloomfield police officer reported Greenbaum driving his red 1999 Ford Taurus erratically in Commerce Township late in the afternoon on June 18. A deputy confirmed the erratic driving and watched Greenbaum cut off another driver before pulling him over, McCabe said.

After smelling intoxicants, and based on the results of a preliminary breath test and field sobriety tests, deputies arrested Greenbaum, McCabe said.

"He indicated he had performed a bris earlier in the day, and had a couple glasses of wine there," McCabe said. "And he told the deputy he was on his way to another one, and had a lot of people waiting for him."

Gutman, principal of Scripps Middle School near Lake Orion, said the bris was performed by a different mohel two days later. It was a deviation from strict Jewish tradition which calls for abris on a baby's eighth day of life. "Under the circumstances, I think God would understand," said Gutman. "I think things happen for a reason, and ultimately circumstances prevented him from arriving."

Gutman's initial anger has subsided, and he even understands why the incident merited a mention by late-night comic Jay Leno.

"Yeah, it was on Leno," he said. "It was hysterical.

"Unless you were my son."

Contact HUGH McDIARMID JR. at 248-586-2611 or

(File prepared 23 August 2002)