Yisrael Rosenberg

A new cut on circumcision – part II

Let the nations of the world outlaw circumcision within their national borders, if that’s what they want.
Circumcision was never meant for them in the first place.

Should Non-Jews Undergo Circumcision?

In a previous article on the subject of circumcision, we asked some questions and arrived at some startling answers about what circumcision is and why we have been doing it for nearly 4000 years, even at the risk of our lives.

How about non-Jews? Should they also circumcise?

The proper answer is: No, no, NO!

We know that some physicians believe that there are health benefits to circumcision with respect to sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS. In such conditions, I would agree that circumcision as a societal norm might be an option. But in advanced Western societies where such diseases do not pose an epidemic threat to most of the population, the need for such precautions is minimal. We must weigh the health benefits of circumcision against its wider detriments, such as ‘cutting back’ on the sexual pleasure that the grown man will experience. The foreskin is a natural part of a human being, and unless there is a demonstrated necessity for removing it, why mess with nature if one doesn’t have to?

It should be clear that this cost-benefit calculation is for non-Jews. Jewish people, however, have a completely different equation. Circumcision in Judaism is a divine commandment that connects directly to the most profound aspects of our identity and destiny as descendants of the biblical patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Jewish nation has a powerful and pressing reason to continue with this ancient practice: it ties directly into the very concept of being Jewish!

But wait. What if a nation, say, Germany, determines that the this practice is not in line with the national aspirations and laws in effect on German soil, and reaches the consensus that they do not want such a practice to take place in their country?

Jews and the Policies of Other Countries

Such a situation brings us to a serious question: Whose country is it, anyway? Is Germany in any way the property of the Jewish nation who happens to be living there as German citizens? Or is Germany actually off-limits to the Jewish nation, who was given one and only one place to exercise their self-determination – the Land of Israel? The answer can be found through understanding the very issue we are looking at here: circumcision.

As we have shown, the whole purpose of circumcision is to set us apart, to mark the nation of Israel as signatories to a divinely-requested agreement. God himself established this pact between his beloved servants, the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, and their descendants, the Nation of Israel. One of the critical clauses of this agreement is that if this nation follows God’s laws as set forth in the fine print, then the Nation of Israel will have eternal possession of one small spot on the globe: the Land of Canaan, also known as the Land of Israel. In fulfillment of the terms of this agreement, Jews circumcise every male Jewish child. So even when we are not living in the land set aside for us, we are visibly still its residents.

Another aspect of this very same agreement between God and the Nation of Israel fuels one of the greatest social experiments of modern times – the return of a wandering nation to its original patrimony after a national absence of more than 2,000 years. Along with the return of Jewish sovereignty over the land that God promised to the Nation of Israel, our times are witnessing a spiritual return – the return of thousands of secular, unaffiliated Jews to practicing the ancient faith of their forebears. Furthermore, in an unprecedented linguistic miracle, today more than 7 million people speak a resurrected language, Hebrew – the very language of the Biblical account of the conclusion of the agreement between God and the Jewish nation.

It seems today that everything Jewish is making its way back to the Land of Israel.

So what does all this mean?

Well – I would like to propose that once history gives us control over the Land of Israel, we no longer have the right to claims on any other lands. While in collective Exile, we had to hold onto our locations in order to survive. But with the return of our national sovereignty over the land that God has given us in the first place, our claims to legitimately influence the other nations of the as citizens in their countries are looking a little silly, aren’t they? Particularly since  we insist on making sure that our children walk around with a very graphic sign on the most sensitive area of their bodies that indicates that they are part of a much older deal, one that pre-dates by millennia today’s modern concept of citizens and the nation-state.

Looked at in this manner, the very idea of our being citizens, or even residents, of other countries – with rights to vote, own land and determine the nature of national life within those countries – now seems used up and superfluous. According to this thinking, we no longer have a right to tell the Germans, or the Californians, or anyone else how they should run their countries.

Our only real obligations as the Jewish nation are to this small strip of land situated strategically between Africa and Asia, and culturally between the East and the West. It is enough of a task to exert our national will on this place in a way that will benefit ourselves and the members of other nations who are living in our land as guests.

Guests in the Land

All non-Jews living in the Land of Israel can be considered guests, because the transfer of responsibility and rights from the Diaspora to Israel is a two-way affair. Just as the Jewish nation has given up claims on other lands so as to exercise our God-given rights as citizens in the land he gave us, it stands to reason that the nations of the world can no longer have any claims on this land. The Land of Israel is the one true focal point of our nation. Our claim on Israel is enshrined in the core texts of all three of the world’s great monotheistic faiths: Islam, Christianity and Judaism (yes, even in the Holy Qu’ran – see Sura 7:137).

The implications of this position are far-reaching. When the non-Jewish majority of citizens of foreign lands claim that the Jews of their lands harbor dual loyalties, the honest answer is, ‘you are right. We intend to address the situation. We are about to pick up and move to the land that was set aside for us by God. Then, you can run your country any way you please.’

Imagine if we had claimed such an idea at the time of the Holocaust only 70 years ago, whose industrial-strength, scientific means for annihilating the Jewish People were perhaps the most brilliant brainchild of the German nation. But alas, we could not have answered that the Land of Israel, and not Europe, is ours, because an independent Jewish state did not come into existence until after the war.

New Solutions for Old Problems

Today, however, the situation is very different. With all its up and downs, modern Israeli society maintains a flexible and highly workable governmental system that allows maximum personal freedom while giving every sector its own responsibilities within the collective national whole. The Israeli state exercises sovereignty, some de jure and some de facto, over a significant portion of the land that God promised to Abraham and his descendants all those years ago. This means that Jews have come home.

Such a situation is a call for a complete rethinking of what it means to be Jewish, in Israel and in the Diaspora. And now, with the ugly specter of anti-Semitism once again raising its head throughout much of the world, especially in its most advanced countries – new solutions must be found for old problems.

It is time we recognize that our status in the Diaspora is shifting. Paradoxically, the world has known this for a long time, while the Jewish nation has often had trouble seeing the facts in front of us. Our future as a nation lies in Israel, and not in the ancient and increasingly irrelevant communities of the Diaspora. Those nations who have hosted Jews for centuries are sending out very powerful signals that they will no longer tolerate the Jewish People in their direct midst. Recent attempts at making circumcision outside the law of the land are only one expression of this shift.

Let us hope that we will have the perceptiveness and courage to understand the messages that are flashing across our walls. After 64 years of Jewish independence in the Land of Israel, maybe it is time for all Jews outside of the land to rethink who they are and what they are doing so far from home.

About the Author
Yisrael Rosenberg is a former New Englander who made aliyah 30 years ago. He lives with his wife and four children in Jerusalem.