Jewish Journal


What should Jews do about the circumcision crisis?‎

by Shmuel Rosner

August 24, 2012 | 11:31 am

A Jewish circumcision ceremony, or brit milah. (Photo: Reuters)

My two smart and well-informed colleagues, Dr. Rabbi Dov Maimon and Nadia ‎Ellis (of JPPI fame), just published a new report on the so-called Circumcision ‎Crisis. That is, the attempt to limit or ban circumcision and other religious ‎practices in Western Europe. The paper is not too long, and is the most ‎comprehensive analysis thus far of recent events, the background and their ‎possible implications. The full report can be read here.

At the end of the report, the authors list a number of policy dilemmas for those ‎charged with taking action to thwart this problematic trend. Yesterday, President ‎Shimon Peres already took some action by sending a letter to his German ‎counterpart. Circumcision is “a Jewish ritual that has been at the core of Jewish ‎identity for thousands of years and defines the Jewish people, from the time of ‎the first commandment given by God to Abraham,” he wrote.‎

Maimon and Ellis give decision-makers some more food for thought. Here’s one ‎dilemma they examine:‎

Concerning human rights: Will Jewish authorities want to point out to decision-‎makers that Judaism is in line with liberal rights and with the new “human rights ‎ideology,” rather than trying to keep their rituals private and unknown because it ‎has been “this way”  for centuries? ‎

If they choose to adopt such a line, it may be very important to refer to the vast ‎amount of scientific literature that has already tried to prove the benefits of ‎circumcision as performed by the Jews, as well as ritual slaughter as performed ‎by the Jews. Conferences on the subject should be organized and new ‎research financed and conducted to provide further scientific proof. The Jewish ‎communities may want to be proactive in declaring the proven and transparent ‎health benefits of defamed Jewish religious practices, while avoiding protesting ‎the latest trends only on the grounds of freedom of religion. The European and ‎liberal cultures have proven in various cases that religious freedom, when ‎comprised of specific practices, is subordinate to other human and secular rights ‎‎(as is the case with polygamy, or wearing the Burqa in public). If this is the trend, ‎then providing a defense solely on the grounds of freedom of religion will likely ‎not be enough.‎

And another, probably more politically controversial dilemma:‎

With whom should we coalesce? Uniting resources, and mainly numbers, with ‎the Muslim European population seems to some to be a valid course of action. ‎Muslims seem to be the main target of the Christian and nationalist reactionary ‎movements, yet coalescing with them may not be the best strategy. ‎

Whether or not Jews should emphasize the differences between their rituals ‎and the Muslim ones is a question that requires deeper attention and merits ‎further reflection (Jewish circumcision, performed on a newborn, may appear ‎relatively less barbaric than the Muslim circumcision, which is carried out on a ‎young boys or even teenagers, and Jewish slaughter houses are under stricter ‎veterinary and hygienic control than Muslim ones, etc). Moreover, in the ‎European zero sum game, the balance of power in which victory of the ‎multiculturalism partisans is a defeat of the central governments (which ‎throughout history have demonstrated themselves to be the main protectors of ‎the Jews), such a Jewish-Muslim coalition might ultimately empower the ‎Muslim activists while doing a disservice to Jews…‎

Not an easy one to resolve, is it?‎

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