circumcision

As more journalists report on Iceland's circumcision saga, the country gets a rabbi

As more journalists report on Iceland's circumcision saga, the country gets a rabbi

Iceland, pop. 348,580, is smaller than many U.S. counties but it often makes news totally out of proportion to its size. I recently reported on the country’s attempt to become the first nation in the world to ban circumcision.

The post was inundated with a wave of comments from anti-circumcision activists who ignored the journalism question raised in my post. Tmatt says he spiked at least two dozen of these messages. So, before you read any further, please restrict any comments to the quality of news coverage on this issue, not your own views on the legal and religious issue itself.

But do read my article and the lengthy response by Vilhjálmur Örn Vilhjálmsson on what the true issues are in Iceland about circumcision.

Then I learned a few days later that Chabad Lubavitch, possibly the most outreach oriented Orthodox Jewish group out there, plans to send a rabbi and his family (pictured above) to Reykjavik sometime next fall. Most of the coverage came from Jewish media, such as this piece by the Jewish Telegraph Agency: 

The Chabad movement is sending a rabbi and his wife to Iceland, an island nation with 250 Jews where ritual slaughter of animals is illegal and circumcision is likely to be outlawed as well.
Rabbi Avi Feldman, 27, of Brooklyn, New York, and his Sweden-born wife Mushky, are slated to settle with their two daughters in Reykjavík, the world’s northernmost capital city, later this year, the couple told JTA last week.
The country is not known to have had a resident rabbi servicing an active Jewish community there since 1918, the year it gained independence from what was then the Kingdom of Denmark.

The piece then updated readers on the circumcision debate in Iceland, then quoted Feldman’s response.

“We hope to bring awareness of the relevance and importance of brit milah,” the rabbi told JTA, using the Hebrew-language word for Jewish ritual circumcision, which is typically performed on boys when they are eight days old. “We hope to bring this awareness to local Icelandic people and especially to lawmakers in their decision on rules, which we hope will have a religious exemption clause.”

Chabad.org has by far the most details on the new rabbi and Iceland’s sparse Jewish history

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When reporting on Iceland's attempt to ban circumcision, why not talk to Jews, Muslims?

When reporting on Iceland's attempt to ban circumcision, why not talk to Jews, Muslims?

It was bound to happen: Laws banning circumcision for infant boys. No one knew quite where it might start.

Turns out the place is none other than Iceland, lauded by some as being a “feminist paradise” with a former prime minister who was a lesbian, generous childcare benefits and a strong women’s movement. The circumcision ban is ostensibly to protect children. What the country’s tiny Muslim and Jewish minorities may think of that is not mentioned.

Here’s the bare bones recital from the Independent:

MPs from five different political parties in Iceland have proposed a ban on the circumcision of boys. 
The bill, which has been submitted to the country’s parliament, suggests a six-year prison term for anyone found guilty of “removing sexual organs in whole or in part”. 
Circumcising girls has been illegal in Iceland since 2005, but there are currently no laws to regulate the practice against boys. 
Describing circumcision as a “violation” of young boys’ rights, the bill states the only time it should be considered is for “health reasons”. 
Addressing religious traditions, it insists the “rights of the child” always exceed the “right of the parents to give their children guidance when it comes to religion”. 

As to who thought up this bill and why, we hear nothing. Think about that for a moment. That's a rather important hole in the story. Right?

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Which Old Testament laws actually apply to non-Jews?

Which Old Testament laws actually apply to non-Jews?

VALERIE’S QUESTION:

Do God’s laws apply to Gentiles, including foods that should not be eaten, i.e. pigs, fish without scales?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Valerie raises a broad topic but focuses on the ritually prohibited foods in the Hebrew Bible (what Christians call the Old Testament) as listed in Leviticus 11 and  Deuteronomy 14.

For traditional Jews, kosher observance involves both obedience to God and identity with their people and heritage across thousands of years. However, Judaism does not call upon non-Jews (“Gentiles”) to do the same (more below on what behavior it does expect). In addition to the listings, biblical commandments against eating blood lead to kosher slaughtering methods and draining and salting of meats. Also, the biblical law against boiling a goat in mother’s milk was later extended to bar meals that mix meat and dairy products.

Christianity from the start did not apply these food laws to Gentiles, as shown in two key New Testament passages. It’s generally assumed that Jesus, as a faithful Jew, would have observed the common dietary practices. However, in the Gospel of Mark 7:14-19, Jesus teaches, “Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters, not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on?” Here Jesus is making a general point about the sinfulness of the human heart, but Mark adds an editorial comment on one way the earliest Christians understood his words: “Thus he declared all foods clean.”

Jesus’ implicit message turns explicit in the Book of Acts chapter 10, which depicts the Christian conversion of the Roman soldier Cornelius.

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Circumcision: When, how, who, what, why? And what about secular laws?

Circumcision: When, how, who, what, why? And what about secular laws?

JOHN ASKS:

When did circumcision start and how was God involved? How did its use evolve to today’s practice?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

In the Jewish faith, ritual circumcision of males (bris) to remove the foreskin of the penis has been a requirement ever since God designated it as a “sign of the covenant” with Abraham (Genesis 17:10-14). So God has been “involved” for some 4,000 years now.

Anthropologists tell us that circumcision was practiced long before Abraham, across the globe from pharaonic Egypt to aboriginal Australia. It was often a tribal “rite of passage” at puberty, and not the Bible’s sign of commitment to God performed on eight-day-old newborns. The “why” of circumcision prior to biblical times is uncertain. Macmillan’s “Encyclopedia of Religion” says contemporary experts dismiss the theories that it originated to mark captives, attract women, enhance sexual pleasure, aid hygiene, test bravery, or symbolize submission to elders or the cutting of bonds with mothers.

Jewish surgery and ceremonial are commonly the work of a specialist known as a mohel. The operation is traditionally required for adult converts as well as infants born in the faith. Though liberal Reform Judaism dropped that mandate in 1893, some of its rabbis continue the tradition. Note that any male born of a Jewish mother is deemed a Jew, even if he is not circumcised.

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Der Spiegel and the cutting question of circumcision

 The issue of circumcision has returned to Germany’s newspapers — and the manner in which the controversy is being discussed suggests that while the press is aware of the issues of personal autonomy generated by state intervention into the private sphere, the religious liberty (or perhaps the religious sensibility) issue is missing from the story.

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Pod people: Don't mention the war!

“Don’t mention the war!” is the catch phrase from “The Germans” episode of the British television series Fawlty Towers. I thought of this episode and John Cleese when I prepared a story for GetReligion on the New York Times‘ and Los Angeles Times’ reporting on the Bundestag’s vote to protect the religious freedom of Jews and Muslims by forbidding courts to ban the circumcision of infant boys.

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Scratch a German, find a Nazi, the New York Times reports

The end of term is just round the corner with Christmas less than two weeks away. But before the semester ends we have to sit our exams. You have 45 minutes to compare and contrast these stories from the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and NBC on Wednesday’s vote in the German Bundestag on circumcision. Which story “gets religion”?

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