No to Forced Circumcision

Civil courts need to send an important message that individual rights take precedence over religious customs, however widespread they are.

Haaretz Editorial
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Haaretz Editorial

Elinor's baby son was born with a medical problem, so he couldn’t be circumcised after eight days. During the time that elapsed, Elinor learned what the circumcision procedure actually entails, “and I realized that I couldn’t do that to my son. He’s perfect just as he is.” She claims the baby’s father was a party to this decision. But when the two began discussing their divorce in a rabbinical court, the father demanded that the mother be forced to have their son circumcised, as reported by Netta Ahituv on November 26.

In an unprecedented decision, the rabbinical court ordered Elinor to circumcise her son against her will, and ruled that for every day for which she refuses to carry out the procedure, she will have to pay a fine of NIS 500. In response to the appeal she submitted to the Rabbinical Court of Appeals, the rabbinical judges wrote that “Removing the foreskin prepares the spiritual soul to receive the yoke of the kingdom of heaven and to learn God’s Torah and His commandments.”

Another explanation they gave for rejecting the appeal related to the public battles against circumcision in Europe and the United States. “The Israeli public sees this as another expression of anti-Semitism, which must be fought,” they wrote.

Alongside these embarrassing arguments, they claimed that “The commandment of circumcision is the covenant God made with His chosen people.” But circumcision is first and foremost a surgical operation performed on the body of a baby who is under his parents’ care. The fact that this operation is “performed on every Jewish boy,” to quote the rabbinical judges, doesn’t justify their conclusion that “When one parent demands this, the other parent cannot stay his hand.”

The question of whether a baby should be circumcised should not be decided by a rabbinical court at all, but by his parents. If the parents cannot resolve their disagreement, reason actually mandates refraining from this irreversible operation, and letting the child decide for himself when he grows up. It is hoped that the High Court of Justice, which will soon be asked to decide this case, will overturn the rabbinical court’s decision. The justices will thereby send an important message that in Israel, individual rights take precedence over religious customs, however widespread they are.

A Jewish family at a brit mila ceremony. Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen

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