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

Happy New Year Brit Milah?

Brit Milah has gotten off to a rough start in 5780. Since the new year’s arrival, literally three days ago, there have already been two stories depicting the potential of a grim future for the Jews of Europe. 

The first story is out of Sweden. “The [World Jewish Congress] joined Sweden’s Jewish Central Council in speaking out against the [Swedish Center] party moving ahead in promoting a ban on circumcision […] The motion was put forward by the party’s youth chapter, and while it was initially rejected by the party board, it won the popular vote during a gathering of the party in which roughly 700 proposals were discussed, hence going against the party leadership.”

The World Jewish Congress responded by “Noting that circumcision is “a central tenet of life and ritual for Jews and Muslims,” WJC President Ronald S. Lauder argued that making non-medically motivated circumcision in Sweden illegal, “is tantamount to decreeing an end to the future of [Jewish and Muslim] religious life in [Sweden].”

The positive sign, in this case, is that the media in Sweden has been overtly critical of this legal proposal. To date, Sweden has generally been respectful of freedom of religion issues. The question mark is will that trend continue?

The second story broke today and comes out of the United Kingdom. It began two weeks ago when Cheif Rabbi Mervis responded to the statement of the National Secular Society, which said “’The demand for religious freedom to be respected is often little more than a demand for the state to turn a blind eye to the violation of other’s rights and freedoms when done in the name of religion.” Cheif Rabbi Mervis rebutted: “For Jewish men, it is an essential part of our existence. An attack against our right to perform circumcision is an attack against a most fundamental element of our belief.”

Today, the Jewish Chronicle reported, “In comments made at a fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, Crispin Blunt [a Conservative MP] also failed to distance himself from calls to campaign against ‘infant circumcision’ and against the ‘stunned slaughter of animals.’ In addition, “[Conservative Humanists chair James Baird] also called for ‘campaigning on issues such as infant circumcision, female genital mutilation, and against stunned slaughter of animals.’”

All of this is in the backdrop of the Democratic presidential hopeful Andrew Yang who has openly spoken out against circumcision, in addition to voices present even in Israel. 

It must be clearly stated, these attacks are antisemitic and they are attacks on our freedom of religion. The language used always calls Brit Milah inhumane and there is good reason for this.

The former Chief Rabbi, Lord Doctor Jonathan Sacks stated when Germany attempted its own circumcision ban, “In the post-enlightenment Europe of the nineteenth century the highest authority was no longer the Church. Instead it was science. Thus was born racial antisemitism, based on two disciplines regarded as science in their day: the ‘scientific study of race’ and the Social Darwinism of Herbert Spencer and Ernst Haeckel. Today we know that both of these were pseudo-sciences, but in their day they were endorsed by some of the leading figures of the age. Since Hiroshima and the Holocaust, science no longer holds its pristine place as the highest moral authority. Instead that role is taken by human rights. It follows that any assault on Jewish life – on Jews or Judaism or the Jewish state – must be cast in the language of human rights. Hence the by-now routine accusation that Israel has committed the five cardinal sins against human rights: racism, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, attempted genocide and crimes against humanity. This is not because the people making these accusations seriously believe them – some do, some don’t. It is because this is the only form in which an assault on Jews can be stated today.”

Since these attacks are draped in the langue of human rights, they are extremely persuasive, even to our community. But we must resolute in our commitment to our tradition. Just as we don’t wait for children to choose their own schooling system, we Jews begin imparting values on day eight. This tradition has existed since the time of Avraham and has survived many attacks. But we cannot simply wait and see if our freedoms will persist. We must make our voices heard and drown out the swell of noise which is growing all over the world. Please join the fight which Magen HaBrit is battling on a daily basis. We need your help.

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.
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