Esor Ben-Sorek

No Brit Milah in Iceland

I had not previously been aware of anti-Semitism in the tiny Scandinavian country of Iceland with a total population of 320,000 people.

The Icelandic parliament has now proposed and will pass a new law prohibiting circumcision in the country.

With a total  population of about 258 Jews in the country and a Muslim population between 800-1000, it makes absolutely no sense at all.

Icelandic males generally are not circumcised but Iceland is following the difficult proposals against circumcision by the kingdoms of Norway and Denmark.  Soon it will probably be Sweden’s turn.

The fact that brit milah is now prohibited in Iceland is only based upon a history of anti-Semitism even in the centuries that not a single Jew lived in Iceland. The first lone Jew arrived there in 1625.  Iceland’s Jews and its Muslims will be very affected by the new prohibition.

At the Christmas celebrations in Icelandic Lutheran churches, the choirs sing a song written in the 18th century by an anti-Semitic Icelandic clergyman whose verses openly blame the Jews for the crucifixtion of Jesus.

In the mid 1950’s when I was a doctoral student at the Universite de Poitiers in France, one of my classmates, Hrobitjur Hrobitjurson, born in the capital city of Reykjavik, had never met a Jew. As I was the first Jew he met, we became friendly and he was always polite and cordial to me, asking many questions about the origins of Judaism and the history of its holidays and traditions.

On a flight from Reykjavik to Keflavik, I stopped for a coffee at the airport. A pretty waitress asked me from which country I had come. And when I told her that I was an Israeli, she smiled and politely said “you are the first person from Israel I have ever met”.  There was no sense of hostility, only a friendly exchange in conversation.

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Educational Center has an online course called “Anti-Semitism: Its Origins to the Present”.  Reading through the many pages of lectures presented by Israeli scholars was fascinating. It naturally dealt with anti-Jewish history particularly in France, Germany and Russia from past centuries to the post-Holocaust era.  But one would be truly amazed to learn of anti-Semitism in tiny Iceland.

What is it that causes people to become Jew haters? A main cause is that we are seen as the “other”, the “outsider”. We eat different foods, we have different religious and cultural backgrounds and we generally are a clannish people preferring to socialize with our own familiar folks, rather than with non-Jews.

The non-Jew looks upon us as being different from him and not wanting to socialize with the majority non-Jewish population.  Most non-Jews believe that we Jews worship money and are clever in business dealings. In some countries there is resentment that so many  doctors and lawyers are Jews, which, if not hostility is at least a jealousy that is expressed through anti-Jewish remarks or openly anti-Semitic activity.

Interestingly and for what unknown reason, a large portion of foreign tourists to Iceland comes from Israel. Other than magnificent scenery and views of geysers erupting into the air, there is very little to see and do in Iceland. A visit of three days is sufficient to see the whole country.

With this new law, Iceland would become the first European country to officially ban circumcision of male babies unless deemed medically necessary. The penalty for performing circumcision is six years imprisonment.

For Jewish male children there can be two alternative suggestions. They can hire a mohel from one of the other Scandinavian countries, preferably Denmark, who could perform the procedure privately and secretly in the family’s home or the parents could take the infant to Denmark for a kosher brit milah.

Without those options, regrettably there can be no brit milah performed in Iceland.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
Related Topics
Related Posts