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Circumcision Is a Vital Part of Jewish Life

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Male circumcision has been a fundamental practice in Jewish life for over 3,500 years, originating with Abraham.

It is more than just a rite of passage; it is an essential link to our heritage and our culture. It is a joyous family celebration. This is a position shared with many in the Muslim community, where circumcision is a near universal rite.

There are numerous religious reasons behind brit milah, as the practice is called in Judaism, as well as the widely accepted health benefits.

An expert study just released by John Hopkins University concludes that the procedure is linked to the prevention of sexually transmitted infections and related cancers.

It warns that declining rates of US infant male circumcision could add billions to health care costs. Nowadays those who are trained to perform circumcisions, mohels, are often doctors using anaesthetics and are so proficient that hospitals frequently ask them to perform non-religious circumcisions.

Beyond public policy concerns, and contrary to dogmatic rationalist thought, circumcision is not viewed by Judaism as an act of destruction. It is believed that humanity must finish God's work by removing the unnecessary. The very same belief that is the root of the Jewish idea that we must play an active role in shaping the world, paramount to all aspects of Jewish life; charity, family, community, self-improvement and philanthropy.

Those considering a ban must consider the devastating impact it will have on Jewish and Muslim communities.

Those who understand the true nature of religious circumcision understand the deep communal and familial links created in the process.

Those who wrongly portray circumcision as a sacrifice like ritual, who believe that Jewish and Muslim communities seek mutilation of their children, are either gravely misguided or have sinister motivation.

These images hark back to antisemitic and Islamophobic attacks that have occurred throughout history. If the society we live in is willing to deny one of our most fundamental rituals, what else are they willing to prohibit?

There are two sides to the 'pro-ban' camp. The first are those mentioned above, the xenophobes, who wish to excommunicate and ban 'the other'. Alongside the rise of Islamophobia in Europe we hear calls from the far-right to ban circumcision, using shadowed pretences to conceal their racism.

The other camp is the humanists and individualists who lead the attack on this fundamental religious practice and seemingly care nothing for the essential connection that Jews and Muslims feel with their co-religionists through this rite.

Those who deride religious practices as ancient and barbaric with no place in a modern society - seeing circumcision as easily replaced by a 'modern' alternative - are unable, or unwilling to tolerate religious values. Freedom of religious practice is a cornerstone of liberal democracy.

Angela Merkel was right to distance her government from the recent Cologne court ruling and to introduce legislation to ensure the continuation of brit milah in Germany. This challenge to Jewish practice has already created a snowball effect. The prospect of a German Rabbi being arrested for performing brit milah has sent shivers through the spine of European Jewry - and rightly so.

As any parent can attest to, many difficult choices are made for their children before they are old enough to do so for themselves. These choices affect a person's entire life and personality. Brit milah is not unique; it is another one of these choices. Education, values, religion, and other matters such as vaccinations are all such choices, made without the child's express consent. Nobody seeks to curtail the rights of parents in any of these matters. Why should circumcision be treated any differently?

This piece was authored with input from Jon Benjamin, CEO of the Board of Deputies of British Jews