In a recent article in the Guardian, Homa Khaleeli sought to humanize the widespread issue of female genital mutilation. But in the article’s conclusion, she drops this zinger: “Although Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities carry out FGM, mainstream spiritual leaders from all three religions have denied that the practice stems from religion.”
“It is not an accepted part of any religion, but from what I understand it is practised amongst Ethiopian Jewish communities,” Khaleeli responded on Twitter.
She may be right. Though there is nothing in Jewish religious sources requiring female genital mutilation, among Ethiopian Jews the practice does seem to have been common — though it was likely for cultural, not religious reasons. A study published in The Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences reports: “In Ethiopia, FGM is universal among Christian, Muslim and Jewish groups. All women interviewed reported that FGM was universal in Ethiopia, but none intended to continue this practice with their daughters.”
Upon emigration to Israel — which, if we’re to believe, all the Ethiopian Jews have now done as of last week — the practice appears to be almost entirely abandoned. “Female genital surgery is hardly performed in Israel and women express no desire to continue this practice,” wrote Hebrew University professor Shalva Weil in an article about Ethiopian Jewish women.