European Jewry is in serious trouble. For those of you who don’t get Google Alerts on circumcision, let me bring you up to speed. Almost two weeks ago the news broke that the Parliament in Iceland has proposed a bill to ban all non-medical, neonatal circumcisions, punishable by 6 years in jail. The MP who proposed the bill, Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir of the Progressive party, claimed that her reasoning was that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has been outlawed in Iceland since 2005 and she realized there is no similar law to protect young boys.
This is a clear case of misinformation. The only common thread between FGM and Brit Milah is cutting and genitals. Beyond that, they couldn’t be more dissimilar. FGM is the partial or complete removal of the external female genitalia. The procedure is usually carried out in dark rooms where young girls are completely unaware of what’s about to transpire. The intent is to stop these women from experiencing any sexual pleasure so that they will never cheat on their husbands.
Brit Milah is the complete opposite. The ritual is the only way a Jewish male can reach full status in the community. The ritual does not hold the young boy back, but rather it propels him forward. Granted, there are most likely differences in sensation with the loss of the foreskin, but the intention is not to leave the individual unable to experience sexual pleasure, nor subservient to a spouse. And what’s most striking about these distinctions is that women who have unfortunately been marred by FGM will be the first to point them out. In fact, they don’t want the two compared at all because it belittles what they went through.
Even scarier than all of this is that within a week of the news from Iceland, Denmark announced that it has 20,000 of the necessary 50,000 signatures needed to force a vote on a bill to ban circumcision. It is certain that Denmark will not be the last country to propose a ban of this nature, especially if one of them passes. For years, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has been threatening a ban on circumcision for all of its 47 member states.
No matter what the motivations are for these bans, if they pass, Jewish life will undoubtedly be unlivable in the areas. The announcement of these bills, in conjunction with Poland’s recent attempts to whitewash its involvement in the Holocaust, seems more than coincidental as Purim arrives this week. This past Shabbat we read Parashat Zachor that speaks of God’s command to both remember and wipe out the memory of Amalek, the nation that attacked us from behind in the dessert, killing men, women, and children alike. Dare I ask, are we facing another Amalek in the history of the Jewish people?
The only consolation in the face of this present reality has been where our support has come from. There have been many non-Jewish clergy who vocally opposed these bills. One of the outspoken clergymen is an Icelandic Imam. Of course, it’s not surprising that he’s taken this stance. This bill affects him and his community just as much as it does ours because they too practice neonatal circumcision. But in a way this makes us even closer allies. Bishops of the EU immediately condemned the proposal of this bill, also striking a cord of hope. But the most inspiring of the non-Jewish support came from the Bishop of Iceland herself who was quoted as saying, “The danger that arises, if this bill becomes law, is that Judaism and Islam will become criminalised religions, and that individuals who subscribe to these faiths will be banned in this country and unwelcome, […] We must avoid all such forms of extremism.” But even with all of these powerful displays of support, it seems that the lawmakers show no sign of changing their minds.
There is no doubt that we are facing another Amalek of sorts. This threat is large and harkens back to the Europe of old. We must do everything in our power to make sure that history does not repeat itself. But since the landscape of our allies has changed, we must respond accordingly and work together with our non-Jewish brothers and sisters in blotting out this evil. I am doing all I can to make sure that these plans never come to fruition and I call on everyone out there willing to help to please be in contact with me. Happy Purim to all.
Hayim Leiter is both a Mohel and a Rav at the Pardes Institute. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org