An Israeli mother has been ordered by a religious court to circumcise her son against her will or face fines of 500 shekels ($150) for every day the procedure is not carried out.
The unprecedented ruling has been handed down by one of Israel’s rabbinical courts, which have legal jurisdiction over religious issues — including marriage and divorce — concerning the country’s Jewish majority.
It was issued by a panel of three rabbis after the boy’s parents filed for divorce. The father insisted during the proceedings that his son be circumcised, as required under Jewish religious tradition.
The mother, whose name was given only as Elinor, said her son had been born with a medical problem that prevented him undergoing ritual circumcision on the eighth day after birth, as is customary in Jewish law.
“As time went on, I started reading about what actually happens in circumcision, and I realised that I couldn’t do that to my son.
“He’s perfect just as he is,” Haaretz newspaper quoted her as saying. In their ruling, the three rabbis wrote: “Circumcision is a standard surgical procedure that is performed on every Jewish baby boy, so when one of the parents demands it, the other cannot delay it except where it is proven to be medically dangerous.
“Fulfilling the command of circumcision is not a [mere] surgical medical act … Brit milah [the rite of circumcision] is exactly what it says: a covenant that God made with His chosen people, the nation of Israel.”
The judgment was upheld by a higher rabbinical court after the mother appealed against the decision. The appeal ruling warned that a verdict in her favour could trigger “a flood of [similar] cases,” giving a “terrifying dimension” to divorce proceedings.
“This trend must be stopped immediately for the common good, which takes precedence over that of the individual,” the judges concluded.
They added: “Removal of the foreskin prepares the soul [of the baby] to accept the yoke of Heaven and study God’s Torah and commandments.”
Rabbinical courts are part of Israel’s judicial system and are overseen by the ministry of religious services. In addition to holding exclusive jurisdiction over the marriage and divorce of Jews, they have the power to rule on matters of personal status, alimony, child support, custody and inheritance.
Their rulings are enforced by the police and other legal agencies in the same way as those of civil courts.
The mother plans a further appeal to Israel’s supreme court,Haaretzreported.
The rulings were made against a backdrop of rising concern in Israel over recent attempts in Europe and elsewhere to prohibit ritual circumcision on humanitarian grounds. Israeli officials and rabbis claim the trend is prompted by anti-Semitism.
Israel’s foreign ministry condemned the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe last month after it adopted a resolution calling for regulation of religious circumcision, which is also carried out on Muslim boys shortly after birth.
The foreign ministry demanded that the resolution be annulled, saying it “casts a moral stain on the Council of Europe and fosters hate and racist trends in Europe.”