The 5 Towns Jewish Times

Bris Milah Under Attack

By Rabbi Reuven Roth, PA-C

Over the past few years, several religious practices have come under attack in Europe. For Jews, the two most important practices that have been challenged are Shechita (kosher slaughtering of animals) and Bris Milah (traditional neonatal circumcision). There have been several attempts to ban circumcisions on anyone under the age of 18 unless it is for medical purposes.

This past month the Danish Parliament discussed a possible ban on circumcision. While the measure ultimately failed, it enjoyed strong support in Denmark. There was a citizens petition filed in Denmark to introduce a minimum age of 18 for circumcision, and it included potential jail time for those who perform circumcisions on minors. In June 2018, the petition reached 50,000 signatures, which forced its introduction in Parliament.

Denmark would have been the first country to ban circumcision, however, it is a topic of debate in other countries. This year in Iceland a bill was proposed to ban non-medical circumcision. The bill included a maximum of six years prison time for anyone arranging or performing a circumcision on a minor. The bill was supported by many medical professionals in Iceland, including more than 400 doctors and more than 1,000 nurses and midwives who signed a petition supporting the bill. Ultimately, the bill drew strong criticism from many political and religious leaders worldwide and was dropped.

In Germany in 2012, a local judge ruled that circumcision causes bodily injury and is a criminal offense. This drew a strong response from both Jewish and Muslim leaders, and later that year the government passed a law legalizing circumcision, including for non-medical purposes.

Although there has been no serious threat to Bris Milah in America, many groups on the internet strongly oppose neonatal circumcision, calling it genital mutilation. In 2011, a ban on non-medical circumcision almost made it to the ballot in San Francisco. An advocacy group collected more than 12,000 signatures supporting a measure to ban non-medical circumcision on anyone under the age of 18. A technicality in the law (i.e. California law doesn’t allow medical procedures to be regulated on a city level) prevented the measure from making it on the ballot.

The American Academy of Pediatrics found in 2012 that the health benefits of newborn circumcision outweigh the risks. However, the benefits were not great enough to recommend universal newborn circumcision. The Centers for Disease Control also agreed that the health benefits outweigh the risks. For Jewish people, it is more than just a health benefit. Bris Milah is a practice that dates back nearly 4,000 years and symbolizes connection between Hashem and the Jewish people.

Bris Milah in America has yet to see a serious legal challenge. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be alarmed by what is happening around the world. We should be concerned for those Jews living in countries where Bris Milah is being challenged. Additionally, it is important to monitor what is happening in Europe and around the world to ensure Bris Milah remains a permissible and well accepted practice here in America.

Rabbi Reuven Roth is a musmach of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim. He is a certified mohel in the New York area and a licensed PA working in emergency medicine in Queens Hospital Center. For questions or comments he can be contacted at 917-566-2800 or through