A circumcision ceremony. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The controversy over Iceland’s proposed ban on circumcision has escalated, with prominent European rabbis and their supporters holding protest meetings in recent days in Reykjavik and Brussels.

According to Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, the Conference of European Rabbis succeeded in attracting the support and attendance of American congressmen, representatives of EU institutions, doctors, and academics who support the practice of circumcision and oppose the ban.

The proposed ban would impose a prison sentence on anyone who circumcises a child, regardless of their religious beliefs. It passed its first reading in the Icelandic parliament in February.

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, head of the Conference, said of the ban, “The Nazis made such a law in 1933 and we all know how that ended. … This path is not just a violation of the basic human right to freedom of religion or belief, but a sign to every person with a Jewish or Muslim background that they are not wanted in Iceland.”

Conference member Abraham Guigui, the chief rabbi of Belgium, echoed Goldschmidt’s statement, saying, “To place in doubt the freedom of Jewish families to circumcise their sons means the undermining of the most fundamental identity in their collective memory. When a certain country forbids circumcision, they are publicly announcing that no Jewish community is wanted there.”

In an interview with The Algemeiner in February, Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir, the Icelandic parliamentarian who proposed the ban, stated that she opposes circumcision because “the individual right of the child to choose is taken away. Those procedures are unnecessary, done without their informed consent, non-reversible and can cause all kinds of severe complications, disfigurations, and even death. Thankfully, many do not have any complications, but some do and one is too many if the procedure is unnecessary.”

When asked whether she understood that such a law would effectively make Jewish life in Iceland impossible, she replied, “Banning circumcision does not go against the religious freedom of the parents. Jewish people will always be welcome in Iceland.”

In response, Pinchas Goldschmidt told The Algemeiner, “It is clear from the words of this member of parliament that she has not comprehended the ramifications of her proposal.”

Circumcision, he added, “is a core principle in Jewish life. Proposing a ban is an affront to Jewish people who will have no other option but to leave the country in which they are legally prohibited from religious practice. … It is clear as day that once circumcision will be outlawed in Iceland, it will become impossible for young parents to stay in this country.”

Goldschmidt related the ban to the rise of populism in Europe, saying, “While open antisemitism has become politically incorrect in our time, we witness covert initiatives to rid countries of their Jewish populations.”

The European Jewish Association Chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin agreed.

“The import of such legislation ever becoming law is that it sets precedents for other European nations, and normalizes the branding of the entire Jewish population as ‘criminals’ for performing this important, vital, and precious rite of ours. It cannot and will not be allowed to happen,” he said.

Dr. Moshe Kantor — president of the European Jewish Congress — made similar statements, telling The Algemeiner, “The European Jewish Congress has always fought against any ban which infringes on the right to religious freedom. We have always said that an attempt to ban a basic Jewish practice is a crude way of saying that Jews and their traditions are not welcome and this is absolutely unacceptable.”

Scandinavian Jewish leaders have also chimed in. In an open letter issued by the Jewish Communities in the Nordic Countries, leaders Aron Verständig, Dan Rosenberg-Asmussen, Ervin Kohn, and Yaron Nadbornik said of the ban, “Throughout history, more than one oppressive regime has tried to suppress our people and eradicate Judaism by prohibiting our religious practices.”

Speaking directly to the Icelandic government, the letter added, “If any country with next to no Christian inhabitants would ban a central rite in Christianity, like communion for instance, we are certain that the whole Christian world would react as well.”

Following the protest meetings, the participants issued an “emergency call” urging the Icelandic parliament to end the deliberations over the law.


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