Peres takes up circumcision battle in letter to Council of Europe

President asks Secretary General of 47 member state body for his intervention on recent call on circumcision ban.

October 7, 2013 19:50
4 minute read.
President Shimon Peres

Shimon Peres portrait 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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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.

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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 rights.”

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 battling anti-Semitism.

“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 xenophobia.”

Echoing the comments of their European counterparts, American Jewish leaders blasted the council’s recommendations.

The 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 countries.

“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.

“The 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.

Foxman 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.”

Circumcision, she 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 context.”

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 scientific evidence.”

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.

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