An Israeli court slammed the Knesset on Thursday for failing to enact legislation regulating circumcision, saying it should have done so long ago.
Ashkelon Magistrate’s Court Judge Haim Nachmias issued the rare criticism in his verdict acquitting two mohels, or “ritual circumcisers,” on charges of negligence.
“The legislators would be wise to regulate the profession of performing circumcisions, and the supervision of those performing this religious commandment, through legislation,” he wrote. “And it would be better had this been done already.”
The indictment stemmed from a circumcision performed in Ashkelon in July 2010 by a well-known mohel from Jerusalem with many years of experience. The mohel brought a student from overseas with him, and the two performed the circumcision together. Both during and after the circumcision, the baby’s father complained that it had taken too long, and the baby suffered heavy bleeding as a result.
The indictment charged that the mohel’s certification from the Chief Rabbinate had expired, while his student had not yet been certified.
But during the trial, it became clear that no law actually defines for who is or is not authorized to perform circumcisions. This fact, combined with a urologist’s testimony that the baby incurred no lasting harm, led Nachmias to acquit the defendants on the grounds that no crime had been committed.
“It’s inconceivable that a mohel should allow a student without any practical training to circumcise a newborn infant, especially when the family’s consent for this had not been obtained, given the damage this could cause [the baby],” the Southern District Prosecution said in a statement. Coupled with the mohel’s expired certification, this fact justified indictment for negligence, the prosecution argued.
Earlier this year, a bill to regulate circumcision was submitted to the Knesset. But in his verdict, Nachmias noted that similar bills have been submitted many times over the last two decades, including two in 1993. Yet thus far, none has been enacted.
Nachmias noted that another court had criticized the Knesset’s failure to enact legislation on this matter as far back as 2003, but that criticism appears to have had no impact.
One major reason for the Knesset’s consistent failure to deal with the issue is that Jewish law obligates every father to circumcise his own child. In practice, most people hire a professional mohel. But in principle, imposing criminal sanctions on the performance of a religious commandment would be problematic from the standpoint of freedom of religion.
In the past, mohels have been convicted of negligence only in cases where the child suffered actual harm. Nevertheless, the prosecution decided to indict in this case, because neither the mohel nor the student had valid certification at the time the circumcision was performed.
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