(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Chief Rabbinate and the Religious Services Ministry expressed opposition on Monday to efforts to enact legislation to regulate the field of religious circumcision and the circumcisers, or mohels, who perform the ritual.
This position was relayed during a hearing of the Knesset Committee for the Interior, which was called following disturbing revelations by the Israel Broadcasting Corporation (Kan) last year that showed a senior mohel instructing an untrained apprentice to carry out a circumcision.
There are currently 700 mohels in the country, 400 of whom are licensed by the Chief Rabbinate. Another 300, however, are not licensed, and there is no legislation requiring that a mohel be licensed in order to carry out circumcisions.
The Chief Rabbinate together with the Religious Services Ministry and the Health Ministry have recently drafted new regulations for the oversight and inspection of mohels, but its regulations will only apply to those mohels it has licensed and not the 300 mohels who are not approved by the Chief Rabbinate.
“[The number of] complications during circumcisions are negligible.
Of the 65,000 circumcisions every year, only 60 cases reach the hospital, of which there is maybe only one or two instances that are critical and the rest [comes down] to the hysteria of parents,” said Chief Rabbinate director Moshe Dagan.
Religious Services Minister David Azoulay also said he opposed legislation, arguing that it was not necessary because parents do sufficient research on mohels before hiring one for their son’s circumcision. Despite this position, he said that some form of oversight over unlicensed mohels was needed.
Committee chairman MK David Amsalem was unimpressed, however, with Dagan’s explanations, saying he would not have called the hearing if he did not think there was a danger to the public.
“Circumcision is a kind of surgery and if we need to, we’ll enact legislation that requires a mohel to be licensed,” Amsalem said, adding that licensing was an important safeguard since mohels are often employed through word-ofmouth recommendations and their credentials are not sufficiently checked.
Dagan said since circumcision is a religious ritual, the state should not intervene through legislation.
This comment evinced incredulity from several liberal-minded MKs who pointed out the far-reaching laws regulating religious life already on the statute books, such as the Chief Rabbinate’s control over marriage and divorce, its monopoly on kashrut and a recent law banning the use of public mikvaot for Reform and Conservative conversions.
“It can’t be that here [with circumcisions] the state does not intervene; we’re talking about the health of children, it can’t be a voluntary issue [for mohels to be licensed or not],” Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria said during the hearing.
“It’s unthinkable that there can be a law against fraud in kashrut and not a law for fraud in circumcision,” she said.
Azaria is working to advance the circumcision legislation together with Likud MK Avraham Neguise.
United Torah Judaism MK Yisrael Eichler said legislation would be “anti-religious,” and it would prevent fathers from circumcising their sons in the presence of a mohel, as some men chose to do.
“This is a decree that would not be accepted in any other part of the world,” he said.
At the end of the hearing, Amsalem said he would hold a meeting with the chief rabbis to reach an agreement for obligatory oversight and inspection of non-licensed mohels.
“If we want mohels to be qualified and not allow anyone who wants to hand out business cards [as a mohel] to parents who don’t understand the issue, we need to regulate this issue in a binding manner,” he said. “Why does the rabbinate think it is not in the public interest to ensure that someone is overseeing this field?”
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