August 24, 2012
What should Jews do about the circumcision crisis?
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?