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