Ed. Note: This post was originally written in 2011. In June 2012, a German court outlawed circumcision.
Recent anti-circumcision efforts around the globe have aimed at clamping down on the Jewish ritual practice of brit milah, aka the bris.
Last week, San Francisco voters learned that their November ballots will feature a proposal to ban circumcision of male children without exemptions for religious rituals such as brit milah. The anti-circumcision group MGM Bill has since filed a petition for a similar measure in Santa Monica, and the Los Angeles Times reports today that religious groups are responding. Earlier this month, Norway’s Jews came out against a legal amendment that proposed an age limit on circumcision.
Of course, circumcision "flaps" are nothing new to JTA readers. Out of a few hundred results, here are eight "snippets":
- On New Year’s Day 1924, Warsaw was in the midst of internal Jewish fighting over the issue of circumcision. In 1927, a leader of the Warsaw Bundists refused to have his son circumcised, touching off a debate over Jewish identity that was cited later in the Bundists’ decision to secede from the Warsaw Jewish Community in 1929. That same year, the Warsaw rabbinate announced that it would require every mohel to undergo health training and certification.
- Meanwhile, in America, mohels and physicians appeared to be engaged in something of a turf war in New York and Boston hospitals. A similar conflict took place in Buffalo in 1967 but was amicably resolved between rabbis and physicians.
- Research and advocacy touting the health benefits of circumcision have long been on display, as seen in JTA’s 1926 reports on a world health expo in Germany and a German physician citing circumcision as a medium to prevent cancer. A similar view was proffered by a Florida-based Jewish physician in 1964.
- Reporting from Moscow in 1931, JTA covered the trial of a Minsk mohel who was sentenced to three months in prison following the death of a child. The cause also was taken up by Jewish communists. In the years surrounding that trial, Russian courts appeared to modify their stance on Jewish ritual circumcision at least once.
- Theodor Herzl’s son, Hans, who committed suicide after his sister’s funeral in 1930, "told the curious fact that he had not been circumcised at birth but had undergone circumcision when he was 13 while he was living in London. He declared he resented this, which, he said antagonized him against the synagogue."
- Ritual circumcision — or lack thereof — played a critical role in uncovering two 1940 operations of Nazi espionage: the discovery of 16 Nazi spies in the Netherlands and a school in Prague that trained Nazis to pose as Jews to infiltrate other countries.
- In 1963, Israeli security officials found an Egyptian-born Armenian spy who had successfully infiltrated the Israeli army. He, too, had been circumcised, though that wasn’t what "tipped off" authorities.
- Following a sizable immigration from Communist countries in 1957, Israel facilitated increased accommodations for ritual circumcision throughout the country. In a separate story, JTA reported on a "unique" double circumcision ritual of two Marranos – a 52-year-old father and his 18-year-old son – who moved to Israel from the Spanish isles of Majorca in 1963. For some Marrano immigrants, however, the prospect of circumcision upon arrival in the promised land was less a cause for celebration than surprise.