An article clearly biased against the Jewish rite of circumcision published in the Forward on Monday (Circumcision Rates Are Slipping — Even In Israel), willfully misrepresents the obvious adherence of the vast majority of Israeli parents—secular and religious alike—to this tradition.
“In the United States, activists […] have been working for at least 30 years to lower circumcision rates and raise consciousness about the ritual,” writes former NPR News correspondent in Jerusalem Linda Gradstein, concluding victoriously: “Now even Jews in the Jewish state are starting to share such sentiments.”
Of course, throughout history, there have been Jews who refused to circumcise their sons, and Israel over the past century and a half has seen its share of socialists, nihilists, converts to other religions and just oddballs who opted to leave their offspring without the mark of the covenant with God. That’s nothing new. Gradstein’s mission, apparently, is to prove a growing trend of Israelis who are moving away from the Brit Milah.
So, to make her case, Gradstein interviews a kibbutznik, Rani Kasher, who did not circumcise three of his sons; an anti-religious coercion activist named Ronit Tamir who claims to be running two Facebook groups, each with 1,000 followers; Prof. Sergio Della Pergola, a demographer who ties the supposed anti-circumcision trend in Israel to the green movement; and Eyal Raviv, who runs and operates MEPEACE, a network for peace in the Middle East.
At the very end, Gradstein balances her three vehement anti-circumcision voices with that of Dr. Guy Hidas, head of pediatric urology at the Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem, who supports circumcision for both traditional and medical reasons.
If that were Gradstein’s entire piece, it would have been interesting, although a good editor would have recommended changing the grandiose headline about slipping circumcision rates, because a serious magazine like The Forward would want to back this statement up with real numbers.
Ergo the misleading paragraph Gradstein plants early on, which states: “While exact statistics are not available, it seems clear that the decision to forgo circumcision is becoming more acceptable, at least in secular Israeli circles.”
No it doesn’t.
Over the past ten years, at least two surveys, one, in 2007, commissioned by Ynet-Gesher, the other, in 2017, by the Israeli chief rabbinate, have shown that, in fact, the figures have demonstrated a marginal upswing in circumcision rates, from 97% to 98%, and the preference for a mohel over a doctor shooting up from 63% to 93%.
The first survey, in 2007, found that 97% of the Israeli public will circumcise their sons, 78% will do so for religious reasons, and 69% would prefer a certified mohel to a physician.
In response to the question “What is the main reason why you will do a brit for your son?” 78% of respondents said that this is a basic and essential tradition for every Jew. Only 13% based their choice on health reasons, and another 9% did not want the child to be an outcast, because “everyone does it.”
Among secular Israelis, 63% answered that tradition is their main reason, 20% cited the health reason, and only 17% feared that they or their children would be outcasts if they didn’t do the circumcision.
Among traditional Israelis, 86% preferred religion, 10% health, and only 4% expressed concern about deviating from the social norm.
97% of the religious and 100% of the ultra-Orthodox respondents agreed that tradition is their decisive reason.
The second survey, in 2017, which has not been challenged by the Israeli media which is not known for its love for the Chief Rabbinate, found that 98% of parents in Israel circumcise their children, of whom 93% are careful to take a mohel ordained by the Chief Rabbinate.
Seeing these figures, it becomes obvious why Gradstein pulled the “exact statistics are not available” shtik. Because numbers, unlike The Forward, don’t lie, and against the near-uniform adherence of Israeli society to one of the most crucial Jewish commandments – their three esoteric objectors are exposed as just that.