European opponents of circumcision have been able to frame the debate over banning a ritual integral to Jewish identity as one where medical and humanitarian concerns should override the right of religious believers. Their recent successes in getting a court in Cologne, Germany to rule that circumcision is illegal, the potential prosecution of a rabbi in Bavaria for performing a brit milah, and the fact that several European hospitals have now banned the procedure are all based on the idea that “enlightened” Europeans must halt a practice they have branded as unhealthy, if not primitive. But a stinging rejoinder to that claim has just been issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
As the New York Times reported today, the Academy announced in an article in Pediatrics, “new research, including studies in Africa suggesting that the procedure may protect heterosexual men against H.I.V., indicated that the health benefits outweighed the risks.” This gives the lie to those opponents who have tried to depict circumcision as a danger to male infants who must be protected from the desire of their parents to practice their faith. The ruling is a switch from a 1999 ruling that had taken a neutral stance on the issue. This helps clarify the debate being promoted by opponents of circumcision. Once the medical argument is taken away from them they are left with only two possible motivations: The dubious assertion that no parent ought to have the right to make the decision to carry out such a procedure on an infant, and anti-Semitism.
It should be specified that neither Jews nor Muslims, who also practice circumcision, do so for health reasons. Both treat the circumcision of males as a positive religious commandment and not one of either health or hygiene. But where opponents have been able to brand the procedure as either dangerous or without medical benefits has undermined support for the procedure even though the question is one of religious freedom.
Last week in Germany, an ethics committee sought to overrule the Cologne court but the country’s Professional Association of Pediatricians called the reversal “a scandal.” Given the evidence of the benefits of circumcision, it’s difficult to understand the willingness of German doctors to join the chorus of those seeking to ban the practice without thinking about the history of anti-Semitism in the country.
One of the authors of the American Pediatricians study, Dr. Douglas S. Diekema, told the Times that he wasn’t in favor of pushing anyone to circumcise their child but thought they ought to be given a “choice.” That’s exactly what the Germans pushing to ban circumcision want to deny parents. Such a position is only explicable in the context of what the U.S. State Department has rightly called “a rising tide of anti-Semitism” throughout Europe.