A heated debate has erupted in the wake of Iceland’s plan to abolish male infant circumcision – a ban that, according to UK Jewish academic Dr Irene Lancaster, above, should be rigorously opposed by all observant Jews, even if it means breaking the law.
Writing under the headline “Banning circumcision would give Hitler a posthumous victory” in Christianity Today, Lancaster said:
Circumcision of the baby boy at 8 days, known as brit milah in Hebrew, is the single most important marker of Judaism, surpassing everything else, including Shabbat.
By circumcising a son on the 8th day, Jewish people are re-enacting the creation of the world, the completion of the 7 days of creation. And the occasion is regarded as a great simcha, a time of food, joy, singing, dancing and celebration.
Circumcision marks the expression and dignity of self through acknowledging and internalising the Creator as one’s King. It is the primary step that must be cultivated in order to ascend to the next level.
The next level, attained through childhood, is complete trust and bonding to G-d – giving oneself over to G-d as a result of one’s awareness and awe. That trust, bonding, awareness and awe is not possible without the initial first stage of circumcision on the 8th day …
Although it is incumbent on Jews to obey the laws of the land, this is only when these laws are not opposed to G-d’s laws.
Lancaster went on to say that she expressed her concerns to Dr Rowan Williams, above, Master of Magdalene College Cambridge, and asked him to comment on the banning of circumcision. His response was:
It has to be recognised that circumcision is an integral aspect of Jewish identity, not a mere cultural extra. A ban on the practice in any country would amount to an expulsion of observant Jews.
Meanwhile it is reported by IBTimes that Iceland’s bill likens ritual male circumcision to female genital mutilation (FGM), which is already outlawed in most European countries.
Muslims and Jewish leaders have condemned the bill, describing it as a “dangerous attack” on religious freedom.
Following the Icelandic proposal, British medical bodies are facing mounting pressure to support a ban on non-therapeutic, ritual circumcision.
Around four percent of boys born in the UK are circumcised by the age of 15, according to the most recent study in 2000.
The British Medical Association (BMA) is undertaking a periodic review of its guidelines which currently do not outline a clear policy for doctors dealing with religious circumcision requests. The procedure is considered lawful if both parents consent.
The Royal College of GPs told The Times that current guidelines put doctors in a “difficult situation” as there is “very little guidance for GPs and other medical professionals on how to manage requests for circumcision.”
The General Medical Council (GMC) states that doctors are “not obliged” to perform the procedure, but says that “cultural, religious or other beliefs” must be taken into account.
Anti-circumcision campaigners hope that an age of consent for the procedure will be introduced in the UK, in line with the NHS consent age, which is 16.
Richard Duncker, above, who founded the campaign group Men Do Complain, described ritual circumcision as “without doubt an infringement” a young boy’s rights. The group is staging a protest in Brighton in June, to coincide with the BMA’s annual meeting.
Duncker previously said:
I think an enormous amount of doctors are sympathetic to our cause but are shouted down with a religious freedom argument.
Pinchas Goldschmidt, President of the Conference of European Rabbis, said a political campaign to ban ritual circumcision sent a negative message.
While open anti-Semitism has become politically incorrect in our time, we witness covert initiatives to rid countries of its Jewish population. It is clear as day that once circumcision will be outlawed in Iceland, it will become impossible for young parents to stay in this country. We call on Iceland’s lawmakers to fully comprehend the implication of this law.
Moshe Kantor, President of the European Jewish Congress, told IBTimes UK:
We can only assume that this attempt to ban a core practice of Jewish communities comes from ignorance about the practice and its effect on Jewish children, rather than to send a message that Jews are no longer welcome in Iceland.
We call upon one of the world’s oldest legislatures to respect the values of openness and tolerance for an age-old practice and for which there is absolutely no evidence that it is at all harmful.
And in this report, Jonathan Romain, above, rabbi at the Maidenhead Reform Synagogue, has called for a national authority to be set up to regulate the practice of circumcision.
He said such a body could be accredited and serve faith groups other than Judaism.
Ultimately circumcision is a medical procedure and so whether done for religious or health reasons, it should be monitored and safeguarded like any other medical procedure.
He called for:
A national audit, so that we can have a true understanding of how many circumcisions take place and crucially, whether there are any issues, or problems, or complaints.
He claimed criticisms of circumcision were reaching “greater levels of intensity than ever before,” and a national regulatory body would help to quell concern.
Rabbi Romain said much of the criticism was focused on the process of Muslim circumcision, which he described as:
Often unregulated and undertaken by those with little training or medical knowledge.
He also said a climate of concern about child abuse in general and protecting children from adult harm was a reason to have a regulatory body.
The appalling revelations about what has been happening in schools, churches, football clubs heightens awareness of the rights of children and how they have been breached, and which some are also applying to religious procedures.
A national body would help
Weed out untrained circumcisers and give parents confidence in standards of safety.
The rabbi’s comments come after he caused controversy earlier this week by suggesting more Jews were opting to hold naming ceremonies for their baby sons instead of following the tradition.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn (Romain report)