David Ha'ivri Services

On European Council resolution on “Children’s Right to Physical Integrity.”

In October of this year, the European Council passed a resolution entitled “Children’s Right to Physical Integrity.” This effort –  spearheaded by German MP Marlene Rupprecht – is said to protect children from physical violence. In this case, the physical violence the committee is addressing is not war, famine, racism or even sexual abuse. But now, their focus is on acts carried out by the children’s parents, for their own well-being, according to the parents’ understanding.

The listing of “circumcision of young boys” as one the types of violence that concerns the committee has caused major concern in the Jewish world. Rabbis, community activists and even representatives from Israel’s Knesset and government have voiced dismay at the EU resolution. Though led by a German MP, it passed by a very large majority in the council’s vote.

Only a handful of members of the council voted against the resolution – mostly representatives from Muslim countries like Turkey and Azerbaijan. Although circumcision is a very sensitive issue for Jews and almost all Jewish men are circumcised, Jews make up only a very small percentage of all the circumcised men in the world. According to the World Health Organization, about 30% of the men in the world are circumcised. Jewish men make up less than 1% of the total 661 million, while Muslims account for about 70%.

To give you a perspective on the other types of bodily mutilation that Rupprecht’s report is including with circumcision for religious reasons, the list also includes female genital mutilation and early childhood medical interventions in the case of intersex children. The list also addresses the subjection to or coercion of children in the categories of piercings, tattoos or plastic surgery.

Circumcision is a very sensitive issue in the Jewish community – largely because it is an important mitzvah – a commandment of the Torah, which goes all the way back to Abraham, the father of our nation, who circumcised himself and his sons as a sign of his covenant with God. However, there are further implications involved. Banning the practice of circumcision has historically been a tactic employed to oppress Jews throughout the ages. The Greeks, Stalinists and Nazis all took turns passing laws outlawing circumcision. From those dark periods of Jewish history, we are taught the tales of acts of bravery by Jews who risked their well-being and everything else just to carry out the obligations of our faith.

So in this age of liberalism, Jews are shocked to again be confronted with open efforts to ban circumcision in a central democratic body of western civilization. What is behind the efforts of Ms. Rupprecht? Is there an xenophobic agenda hiding behind her words of concern for the welfare of children? Is this a new way for European law makers to say “Jews are not welcome in these parts – change your customs or leave”?

Ultimately, that would be the result of a ban on circumcision for Jewish boys. Alternatives could include underground ceremonies, which would be counter-productive if the original goal was to provide more of a safe atmosphere for the children involved.

Some have suggested that Israeli embassies provide sanctuary for local Jews to have their Brit Milah ceremonies and so to bypass local laws restricting circumcision. But would that set a precedent for other countries to allow their unusual norms into the west? Say, if Saudi Arabia were to copy the concept and provide their embassies as bases for marrying off young girls?

I would be glad to hear back from readers with thoughts on this issue and suggested solutions for this crisis.

Published on Times of Israel, Dec. 15, 2013

Israel snowstorm winter 2013

In a region with about 8 months of summer and barely enough days of rain to provide the water needed for consumption by the local population, it is not unusual for the rabbis to call on the public to add special prayers for rain. On this issue, the secular seem to appreciate the efforts of the observant. When the rain finally does make its debut, the Israeli public reacts as if our national soccer team won the World Cup.

That being said, snow is a very exciting prospect for Israelis. It is pretty rare, only coming around for about one brief snow day every three years. Some holds on in the towns on mountain tops, like Jerusalem, Tzfat and the communities in Judea and Samaria.

The kids, of course, wait with great anticipation for the snow. Truth be told, it’s not just the kids. When it does snow, Israelis from the seashore areas go on pilgrimages to the hills to see the phenomenon for themselves.

From the beginning of last week, the weatherman said that a big storm was on its way, but even with advance warning, it seems that Israel was not ready for what it was about to experience. Thursday brought cold and heavy rain all day. Kids stood by the windows for hours, examining the drops of rain to determine if they might really be snow in disguise. When it got late and the snow hadn’t yet covered the ground, my little ones refused to go to sleep, in case the snow might fall and not wait for morning. I assured them that if the snow did show up during the night, it would still be there in the morning. At about that time, a bit of snow did begin falling, mixed with the cold rain. We all bundled up and went to sleep. In the middle of the night, I realized that the whole town was in total darkness. We had lost our connection to the main electrical grid.

By Friday morning, the Shomron was covered in snow. Our electricity, phones and Internet were down. We got ready for Shabbat by cooking on the gas stove and using snow to keep our food cold. With no electricity to keep the refrigerator working, I collected some pots of snow to keep the fridge cold, too.

Hot water for showers before Shabbat was not available. We lit a lot of candles, had early Erev Shabbat services at the main synagogue with all of our neighbors who had chosen to stay home and not seek refuge with family or friends in the lower Tel Aviv region.

Our family had the Shabbat meal by candlelight, as the electric company had not succeeded in getting the lights back on before Shabbat. Later on that night, a generator was trucked in to provide for many but not all of the families in their homes, but we still had no street lights, no phone lines and no Internet.

Over Shabbat, our community was totally isolated. An army helicopter landed to evacuate a baby with pneumonia and a woman giving birth. Almost 50 members of our extended family gathered in our home to spend the day of Shabbat together and share the warmth. Nieces, nephews and in-laws were happy to know that everyone here was alright, but we all remained concerned for family members who live at more distant locations – on the hilltops of Itamar and elsewhere. They were totally cut off from all utilities and communication until Sunday morning. Our communities are still not back on the main electrical grid and our phone lines are still down.

On one hand, it is shocking to realize that a flash of bad weather can close down the entire region of Judea and Samaria and the capital, Jerusalem, for the better part of three days. But considering that the last time the region experienced such a bad storm was some 70 years ago, how well prepared can the authorities be?

We appreciate all of the workers from the electric company, the regional municipalities, the IDF and the emergency agencies who are working tirelessly around the clock, out in the thick of this harsh weather, to do their best to provide solutions for the people suffering. It is really amazing how Israel’s society mobilizes to help in situations such as these.

In our town, we have a volunteer committee called “Tzachi”, which takes upon itself to deal specifically with emergency situations within the community. With great efficiency, they managed to map out who was here and what type of assistance was required. A friend from outside the community volunteered his bulldozer to clear away snow and provide access to roads within the town.

Personally, as a dad, I am very proud of my son, Yair-Macabee who was sent with his IDF unit to Jerusalem in the thick of the storm and went knocking on doors from home to home, to make sure that civilians there had the basics to make it through this freezing cold weekend.

Published Jerusalem Post, Dec. 16, 2013

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