Defending Judaism against attacks on Jewish rituals is gradually becoming a
ritual in itself.
A recent recommendation by the Parliamentary Assembly
of the Council of Europe (PACE) to prohibit circumcision has put Israel and
European Jewry on the defensive once again. The Knesset Committee for Aliyah
convened an urgent meeting, in which Israeli and international Jewish
organizations also participated, on how to nullify this resolution.
pattern for these defensive reactions was laid last year after a German court in
Cologne ruled that circumcision was illegal in its jurisdiction. The same
Knesset committee then held an urgent meeting in July 2012. Afterwards, a major
effort was made by Israel and Jewish organizations to combat the decision. In
December a law was adopted in Germany stating that circumcision would remain
Earlier, a similar fight was waged by Jewish organizations
worldwide against anti-ritual slaughter legislation in the Netherlands. The
proposed law, which had been accepted by the Lower Chamber, did not pass the
Senate in June 2012.
Attacks on Jewish rituals in Europe are likely to be
repeated in the future. Israel and Jews are regularly surprised by them. People
ask, “why didn’t we know this before?” or “why didn’t we do our utmost to
prevent it, rather than react to it?” The answer in the current case is that the
issue wasn’t on the agenda – the motion was inserted by German socialist
parliamentarian Marlene Rupprecht at the last minute into a debate on the
protection of children.
Questions are again being raised regarding what
the Knesset, the Israeli Foreign Office and chief rabbis, as well as Jewish
organizations abroad, including in the US, can do.
Another question is
whether the attack should be fought on the basis of freedom of religion, or
should other considerations be introduced? In the case of male circumcision,
there are a variety of reports on the health benefits of the practise. This may
serve as a good argument in debates, yet it distracts from the truth. Jews
perform male circumcision because it is one of the core commandments of the
Jewish religion, not out of health considerations.
Yet another recurring
aspect of reactions to the attacks on rituals is with whom should Jews
collaborate? Muslims are also affected by attempts to prohibit ritual slaughter
and circumcision. Co-operation with them, however, entails political issues.
While Israel is an observer at the Council of Europe, Turkey is a member.
Considering the tense relationship between the two, would the latter want
possible collaboration to be exposed? Furthermore, there are many more Muslims
than Jews in Europe. Their electoral weight in most countries is much
There are, however, basic differences in timing and procedure
between the two religions. Jews circumcise on the eighth day, while Muslims may
do so during puberty.
While Jewish circumcisers are trained, this is not
always the case with Muslims, and they also often let doctors perform the
Current efforts may find a way to make the PACE resolution
harmless by inserting an amendment into it.
However, the same threat is
likely to emerge in other countries. In Norway, for example, the opposition
Center Party promotes prohibiting circumcision. The True Finns, the third
largest party in Finland, which is in the opposition, supports prohibiting
circumcision as well.
Beyond fighting to protect Jewish rituals, there is
a second dimension, which raises questions of a different nature. Were all PACE
supporters of the anti-circumcision motion motivated solely by child welfare?
Was what transpired merely a collision between two universal democratic values –
the other being freedom of religion? One should not be naïve: there is a major,
ongoing battle against religion as Europe moves toward
There is also a strong desire in some political circles
to make life uncomfortable for Muslims.
Problems for Jews affected by
these anti-Muslim actions are often considered collateral damage. Yet this means
that anti-Semitism plays a role in the attacks on circumcision.
Israel should also take a third major dimension of the issue into consideration.
Anti-Semitism in its anti-Israel form has reached major heights in Europe. At
least 150 million out of 400 million Europeans aged 16 years and older believe
that Israel is conducting a genocidal war against the Palestinians, or behaves
toward them like the Nazis did toward the Jews.
In this context,
connections between attacks on Jewish rituals and various anti-Israel measures
emerge. The European Union greatly distorts international law when it comes to
Israel. This has been exposed in a recent letter to Catherine Ashton, the EU
High Representative for Foreign Affairs, signed by more than a thousand jurists
from many countries.
Now that the climate of hatred is widespread in
Europe, anti-Jewish and anti-Israel laws are pushed through far more easily in
many places. Battling attacks on Jewish rituals without confronting the root
problem head-on is a highly mistaken policy for the Israeli government to
The author is emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for