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May 1, 2018 12:31 pm

European Jews Need to Remain Alert to Legislative Threats Against Circumcision, Kosher Slaughter, Leading Rabbi Says

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Anti-circumcision campaigners are pushing the Danish Parliament for an outright ban on the practice. Photo: Reuters / Philip Davali.

While the dismissal of proposed legislation in Iceland that would have banned circumcision was welcome, European Jews need to be on their guard against future political attempts to restrict the practice of Jewish ritual, the head of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) said on Tuesday.

“We are happy that the government of Iceland, as well as members of its parliament, understood that such legislation would be a practical ban on existing or future Jewish communities in Iceland,” Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt — the chief rabbi of Moscow who is currently serving as CER’s president — told The Algemeiner.

Fifty leading European rabbis are meeting this week under CER auspices in Riga, the capital of Latvia, with the issue of ritual observance at the top of their agenda.

Following an international outcry at the Icelandic proposal to ban circumcision — a strict religious requirement for both Jewish and Muslim males — the Judicial Affairs and Education Committee of the country’s parliament voted last week to dismiss the bill. “The way we see it, this legislative initiative got buried in committee, and we hope it’s going to stay buried,” Goldschmidt remarked.

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The CER president also pointed to Denmark as an ongoing concern with regard to circumcision. In January, campaigners for a ban launched a public petition which is now just 5,000 signatures short of the 50,000 needed to force a vote on circumcision in the Danish Parliament.

Opinion polls have found that close to three quarters of Danes support a ban on the circumcision of boys, while the Danish Medical Association has called for the practice to be illegal under the age of 18. (Under Jewish law, boys are circumcised eight days after they are born. Muslims do not have a fixed age for the procedure, with many boys undergoing circumcision when they turn 7. )

Rabbi Goldschmidt asserted that the momentum for the legislation in Iceland had come from Denmark. Danish anti-circumcision campaigners “wanted to set a precedent, and they thought it would be easier to pass a law in Iceland, because there are very Jews or Muslims living there,” he said.

“We are going to have to deal with this movement, which is especially strong in the Scandinavian countries,” Goldschmidt said.

Other battles in Europe involving ritual observance have crystallized around the slaughter of animals for meat, with anxiety growing that more countries will proscribe both kosher and halal products.

Research from the CER highlighted the situation in Portugal, where the government has pushed through definitions of “kosher” and “halal” that contradict both Jewish and Muslim religious law. Shechita — the Jewish method of humanely slaughtering animals for human consumption — is meanwhile illegal in several countries, including Denmark, parts of Belgium, and Switzerland, where the practice was banned in 1893.

The CER gathering in Riga will also discuss the rise of antisemitic activity across Europe. The Latvian capital was itself the site of a major controversy in March, when hundreds of people, including children, joined surviving veterans of two Latvian divisions of the Nazi SS for their annual “Remembrance Day” march. The march is the only public event in Europe that honors those who served with the SS, the separate military and security wing of the Nazi Party whose leader, Heinrich Himmler, conceived and implemented the Holocaust.

“Every decent person should be troubled by a march of SS veterans,” Goldschmidt said.

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