Once again, Norwegian legislators are attempting to ban a centerpiece of Jewish life.
Norway’s Progressive Party, one of the country’s two ruling political parties, just passed a new bill banning circumcision of males under age 16. If it is approved by the full parliament, it will abrogate legislation passed in 2014 that protected circumcision as a legal right.
That law was approved following a battle in which the nurse’s union in the country called on the government to ban non-medical circumcision of boys under age 15. At that time, a representative of the union told the Aftenposten tabloid, “Jews are a small group in Norway, they have been allowed to influence the debate on this issue.”
Progressive Party leaders now say they intend to introduce the new measure as a full-fledged national law, claiming circumcision ‘constitutes physical and mental harm’ to children and violates their rights.
In ancient times, circumcision – known in Judaism as brit mila (the symbol of the Covenant between God and the Biblical patriarch Abraham) — was banned by the Hellenist ruler Antiochus IV, who tried to force the Jews in the ancient Land of Israel to replace their Jewish customs with those of their Greek occupiers. Circumcision was foremost among them. The Roman Emperor Hadrian likewise did the same when he, too, occupied the Land of Israel and tried to subjugate the Jews to his will.
More recently, circumcision has been targeted by other Scandinavian countries and by several European nations as well.
On October 1, 2013, a non-binding resolution was passed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe defining ritual circumcision as a “violation of the physical integrity of children.” However, the Assembly was technically as consultative body, and therefore the resolution was not legally binding.
European Jewish Association director Rabbi Menachem Margolin said in a statement, “We will act in every way possible to fight this shameful bill…
“There is no doubt that this is an anti-Jewish decision that is blatantly anti-Semitic, because the bill does not harm Muslims who are not obligated to circumcise their children as infants, but rather perform the procedure even at older ages as allowed by the bill.”
The rabbi also wrote an urgent letter to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Diaspora Minister Naftali Bennett, calling on them both to work quickly to establish a joint working team between their government offices and Jewish organizations in Europe to prevent further spread of anti-Jewish legislation.
Just last week, two provinces in Belgium also voted to ban kosher slaughter (shechitah) of meat, which requires the animal not to be stunned.
As in the case of Norway, European Jewish Congress President Dr. Moshe Kantor has called the decision “scandalous,” pointing out that it stands in opposition to the European Union’s freedom of religion laws. “This decision in the heart of western Europe and the center of the European Union sends a terrible message to Jewish communities throughout our continent that Jews are unwanted,” Kantor warned.
Meanwhile, Rabbi Margolin wrote to Israel’s leadership: “I have no doubt that the State of Israel – the State of the Jewish People – cannot remain apathetic against this, and I urge you to exert all your political influence in order to prevent the exclusion of Jews from life in various European communities.”
EJC President Kantor also called on Belgian legislators to “step back from the brink of the greatest assault on Jewish religious rights in Belgium since the Nazi occupation of the country in WWII.”