Menachem Mendel

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Foreskin Fact Checker Needed

In a post about the recent German court case outlawing ritual circumcision, Charles Lane writes the following at the Washington Post:

In any case, what this remarkable judge does not grasp — or does not care about — is the fact that a male cannot be a Jew unless circumcised eight days after birth. (A separate rule applies to converts.) Jewish law is crystal clear on this and has been literally since the dawn of recorded time. Therefore, among other disadvantages, the male child could not be made a bar mitzvah at the age of 13, and would thus miss out on full membership in the Jewish faith.

Charles Lane needs a better fact-checker, brit milah is a biblical commandment that is required of every Jewish father, and if the father doesn’t circumcise his son, then the male himself is obligated to have himself circumcised when he becomes an adult, but an uncircumcised Jewish male is still 100% Jewish. People are born Jewish or convert to Judaism, circumcision is not the Jewish equivalent of baptism. His claim that “the male child could not be made a bar mitzvah at the age of 13, and would thus miss out on full membership in the Jewish faith” is also incorrect. There were rabbis who prohibited an uncircumcised boy from celebrating his becoming a bar mitzvah in the synagogue, but this was not because they weren’t Jewish, rather, it was in order to fight against those who didn’t circumcise their sons. For a discussion of this issue see this post by Rabbi Chaim Weiner and this responsum by Rabbi Solomon Freehoff.

8 Responses to “Foreskin Fact Checker Needed”

  1. 1
    Rebecca Lesses:

    Actually, it’s not a law, it was a court decision.

  2. 2
    Menachem Mendel:

    Thanks. I’ll correct the post.

  3. 3
    Mar Gavriel:

    “There were rabbis who prohibited an uncircumcised boy from becoming a bar mitzvah”

    How can they prohibit the boy from becoming obligated in the commandments? Don’t you mean that they just prohibited the boy from making a celebration in their institutions?

  4. 4
    Menachem Mendel:

    Mar Gavriel,

    I’ll clarify the language.

  5. 5
    Mar Gavriel:


  6. 6

    There’s a line of cases in the USA about christain scientists who do not treat their children with medicine. In a few cases, or at least one, the kids died from lack of medical attention. The question was whether the paretns freedom of religion extended to their children. I dont knwo much about it, but I sure hope the cases came out in favor of the parents. Otherwise, its a looming contradiction with allowing parents to circumcise their sons.

  7. 7

    Thanks for the clarification. Within the current debate in Germany, it is very tempting to fall back on the idea that “being Jewish” requires circumcision (though to be sure some are arguing against the court decision on completely different grounds)–partly because the judge in question explicitly based his decision partly on the view that a male could be Jewish and not circumcised. Many people are taking the equation of “being Jewish” with being circumcised as a basis for saying that this court decision threatens Jewish existence as such in Germany. So it is important to know that it is not quite accurate to equate being Jewish with being circumcised. Assuming, however, that you do not agree with the court decision, then, what would be your argumentative strategy for preventing the criminalization of circumcision in the wake of this court decision?

  8. 8
    Menachem Mendel (Michael P.):


    Freedom of religion should be one of the freedoms that is rarely violated in a democratic society. A court should be very careful about what type of precedent the prohibiting of religious practice that are objectionable to some people might lead to.




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