Hayim Leiter
Rabbi, mohel, misader kiddushin, beit din member

Half off on circumcisions

Philip Veerman gives only half the story in his recent blog post, ‘Law proposal in Iceland heats up: Children’s rights debate on circumcision not on ice.’ There he stated, “On April 28, The Times of Israel gave the impression (“Key Iceland parliament committee favors scrapping bill to ban circumcision”) that the Judicial and Education Committee of the Parliament took a critical look and “recommended scrapping a bill that would ban the non-medical circumcision of boys”. Wishful thinking. Contacts that I have had with different spokespeople in the Althingi, the Icelandic Parliament, have led me to conclude that there has been no “scrapping” of this bill.”

You see, Dr. Veerman would like you to believe that nothing has changed in the Parliament, that plans remain the same to criminalize all non-medical circumcision under the age of 16. But that’s not true.

I must admit, when I first saw the news that the legislation was being scrapped I was taken back. It seemed rather sudden and a bit out of the blue. At the same time, I was elated. Subsequently, I’ve done some research of my own.

According to my sources, who have been directly involved in the ongoing debate in Iceland from the Jewish side, they agree that the bill is not being scrapped. But the Conference of European Rabbis and those who were opposed to Iceland’s proposed legislation were not asking for a complete dismissal of the bill but rather an alteration.

Here is the statement from the Icelandic Foreign Ministry in Icelandic and in English. The most relevant portions state:

“Emissaries of individual states against Iceland have asked about the bill and in individual cases expressed their concern about the consequences of this being by law. Then have been received indications of high-level individuals within the international system that, despite obvious good intentions and with the rights of children as a guiding principle, laws like this one could be interpreted as antagonism against certain religions and cultures, thus contributing to extremism at times there.”

And here the most important part, the proposal of the Foreign Ministry:

“In this regard, the ministry considers it more preferable to take more balance with opposition perspectives and go the way in which other Nordic countries have gone – in accordance with the law: circumcision of boys is permitted only if the operation is performed by a diligent and accredited medical officer and with the consent of a boy or his guardian.”

It seems that the Nordic method is where the legislation is headed. Of course, things can change during the legal process and there are detractors both in and out of the government. But the religious communities, at this point, are content with the proceedings. Within this framework, Jewish and Muslim life can continue to exist and thrive in Iceland. And that’s what we all want. So, yes, it is true that the bill is not being thrown out, but because of the proposed emendations, neither are the Jewish and Muslim communities.

Hayim Leiter is a mohel for the greater Jerusalem area.  He can be reached at

About the Author
Rav Hayim Leiter is a rabbi, mohel, wedding officiant, and member of a private Beit Din in Israel. He founded Magen HaBrit, an organization committed to protecting both our sacred ceremony of Brit Milah and the children who undergo it. He made Aliyah in 2009 and lives in Efrat with his wife and four children.