President Shimon Peres on Monday sent a letter to Council of Europe
Secretary-General Thorbjorn Jagland, asking for his intervention on the call for
a ban on ritual circumcision by the inter-governmental body and urging it to
reconsider its position.
The 47-member state body is not affiliated with
the European Union.
Stressing the great importance of circumcision in
Jewish and Muslim religious traditions, Peres remarked that male circumcision
has been practiced by Jewish communities for thousands of years and is a
fundamental element and obligation in Judaism.
Addressing Jagland by his
first name, as an indication of their close relationship, and reminding him that
he has dedicated a large part of his career to defending civil liberties, Peres
stressed that Jewish communities across Europe would be greatly afflicted to see
their cultural and religious freedom impeded upon by the Council of Europe,
which Peres observed is “an institution devoted to the protection of these very
European Jewish leaders have responded to the proposal that
governments reassess their rules on circumcision harshly, calling the Council of
Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly’s declaration that the practice is a “violation
of the physical integrity of children” everything from an expression of
anti-Semitism to insanity.
In response to criticism by the Foreign
Ministry accusing the European body of equating female genital mutilation with
male ritual circumcision and ignoring medical research indicating the practice’s
medical benefits, Marlene Rupprecht, the Parliamentary Assembly’s rapporteur,
placed the fostering of debate over circumcision into the same category as
“The text adopted by the parliamentarians in a
vote does not intend to stigmatize any religious community or its practices. On
the contrary, the assembly calls for public debate, including intercultural and
interreligious dialogue, aimed at reaching a wide consensus on the rights of
children to protection against violations of their physical integrity,” she said
in a statement on the group’s website.
“It is the Council of Europe’s
mandate to promote the respect for human rights, including children’s rights, on
an equal footing with the fight against racism, anti- Semitism and
Echoing the comments of their European counterparts,
American Jewish leaders blasted the council’s recommendations.
Anti-Defamation League asserted that the resolution “targets Europe’s Jewish
citizens” and predicted dire results if such an anti-circumcision measure should
actually become law within any of the intergovernmental body’s member
“Circumcision on the eighth day is nearly universally
practiced among Jews, and its ban could lead to entire Jewish communities
leaving Europe,” ADL national director Abe Foxman said. “The resolution’s
suggestion for socalled ‘dialogue’ with religious leaders to ‘overcome’ this
4,000-year tradition and to adopt laws requiring a child’s consent, are steps
toward de facto prohibition. It is inconceivable that a Jewish community
could remain in any country that banned ‘brit mila.’”
The report on which the
resolution is based contains “attacks” on Judaism, he continued.
report calls the religious practice the ‘dark side’ of Judaism, labels it a
‘human rights violation,’ and falsely suggests that ‘alternative rituals’ are
accepted by mainstream Jewish religious authorities,” he said.
accused Rupprecht of expressing “regret that the German parliament protected
circumcision,” likely referring to her prior assertion that “having explored
this issue in detail during the recent legislative debate in my own country,
Germany, I would like to show why circumcision applied to young boys clearly is
a human rights violation against children, although it is so widely performed
both in the medical and in the religious context.”
wrote in the report upon which the council resolution was based, “may have
serious short-term and long-term consequences for the health and well-being of
boys and men. Although it has been practiced for thousands of years, it should
therefore be strongly questioned today, both in the medical and the religious
Rupprecht was disappointed, she wrote, that the German
Bundestag had legalized ritual circumcision last year and had not heeded her
recommendation that “prior to the operation the child should have reached the
age of 14, given his consent, and that the circumcision should always be carried
out by a paediatric surgeon or urologist” rather than a mohel, one trained to
conduct circumcisions according to Jewish law.
World Jewish Congress
president Ronald Lauder echoed Foxman’s sentiments, stating that the resolution
was “one sided” and that the contention that “that the brit mila, which is
performed by specially trained circumciser (“mohel”), constitutes an infliction
of permanent bodily harm on a baby is wrong and is not supported by any
In 2012, German lawmakers voted to legalize the
male ritual circumcision several months after a court ruled that it constituted
unjustified bodily harm. Swedish lawmakers have recently pushed for a ban in
their country as well.