Europe Again

The recent resolution passed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) calling bris milah a “violation of children’s physical integrity” may or may not be based on anti-Semitism. But it is most certainly based on arrogance and stupidity, and risks being used by anti-Semites to further their contemptible cause.

While the resolution is not legally binding, it hopes to spark a public debate on “non-medically justified operations and interventions” in light of the child’s “best interest.” It fully expects to see this debate result in legislation making it illegal to circumcise eight-day-old boys (in the view of the author of the PACE report that was issued with the resolution, a German Socialist MP, bris milah must wait until the child is 14 and can give his consent).

At the heart of this measure — masquerading as a human rights issue — is the belief that the state knows best what is in the best interest of the child. It is therefore entitled to usurp the rights of parents to raise their children in accordance with their own beliefs, values and customs. Bris milah is just the opening shot in the battle to deny Jews, or any group for that matter, the right to pass on their unique traditions to their children.

Big Brother can decide that it’s “child abuse” to keep a child in cheder until 6 p.m. or to let him stay up all night learning Torah on Shavuos or to deny him access to the internet. The arrogance that underlies the attempt to prohibit bris milah ultimately will lead to a less democratic society, in which the state imposes its homogenized, media-driven value system on the entire public; as such, it should be of concern to all democracy-loving citizens of Europe.

Bris milah, which is commanded to Avraham Avinu in this week’s parashah as a sign of the eternal covenant between Hashem and Am Yisrael, has defied all the trends and divisions and physical dangers of more than 3,500 years. As a prominent London askan noted, the attempt to restrict bris milah has all Jews up in arms, including Reform and Conservative.

Indeed, bris milah is so identified with the Jewish people that even non-Jews, including England’s royal family, oppose any attempt to restrict it.

The danger, though, is that the public debate on bris milah will turn into an attack on Judaism and Jews. Already, the PACE report refers to bris milah as the “dark side” of Judaism and falsely suggests that “alternative rituals” are accepted by mainstream Jewish religious authorities. At the very least, there will be attempts to “sanitize” bris milah, by allowing them to be performed only in hospital settings by those who have received medical training.

The PACE resolution outrageously seeks to compare bris milah with forms of mutilation that are common in parts of the Arab world. As Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement, “Claims that circumcision harms young boys’ health and body are false, and do not rest on any scientific evidence. Rather, the contrary is true. For example, an official paper published by the American Academy of Pediatrics in August 2012 shows the health benefits of newborn male circumcision.”

The resolution, it continues, is “an intolerable attack both on … religious tradition … and on modern medical science. … [It] casts a moral stain on the Council of Europe and fosters hate and racist trends in Europe.”

As our askan in London observed, “[T]he PACE resolution may not be based on anti-Semitism, but anti-Semites will use it. Extremist right-wing groups are now suddenly concerned about children’s rights in the context of bris milah.”

Europe has come a long way in the past nearly 70 years, but it is still Europe. It remains fertile ground for anti-Semitism. As such, responsible leaders have an obligation to nip this dangerous phenomenon in the bud.

A public debate on a practice that is already being described as representative of the “dark side” of Judaism is bound to stir up all kinds of anti-Semitic attacks by those feigning concern for “human rights.”

And any country that does legislate against bris milah will effectively be serving an eviction notice to its Jews. As ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman said, “It is inconceivable that a Jewish community could remain in any country that banned brit milah.

Europe is guilty of committing the most heinous crimes against humanity on its soil. It must immediately annul the PACE recommendations in order to ensure that it not drive out its Jews once again.

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