We have often discussed the lack of separation of temple and state in Israel as well as the control of religious figures on aspects of public life. A story this week vividly illustrates the problem. A rabbinical court has fined a woman hundreds of dollars for refusing to circumcise her baby son and thereby endangering her child. Many doctors are questioning the necessity and value of circumcision, which is generally left up to the parents. However, this is an issue with both religious and medical importance in Israel. The mother was fine $150 dollars every day that the boy was left uncircumcised.
Shimon Yaakovi, legal adviser to the rabbinical court, insisted that “The decision is not based only on religious law. It is for the welfare of a Jewish child in Israel not to be different from his peers in this matter.” Note the shift in the medical argument. It is not that circumcision is necessary for good health but rather that the child would be “different” from other children. That is a bizarre basis to deny a parent the right to make this choice. What is equally bizarre is that there is no law requiring circumcision in Israel and the woman contested the jurisdiction of the rabbinical court over the matter. However the court ruled that it had jurisdiction over such a matter of family law.
It ruled earlier that the mother’s objections do not matter. The father’s wishes to have the boy circumcised were considered by the court to be determinative.
The opinion reflects the lack of legal analysis or professionalism. The court accused the woman of taking this stand to try to win her husband back through a type of forced reconciliation. It then added “The general public which does not observe Jewish law does not even think about fighting on this issue. The Jewish people have always and will always see in the brit mila [circumcision] the completion of the act of creation.” Really? I know plenty of secular Jews who vehemently object to the role of such courts and forced compliance on such issues. However, it is not likely that the “judges” on this religious court have much interaction with such groups.
The Court added a dire warning of where such parental choice would take the nation:
“Until now, the rabbinical courts have not experienced an objection in principle to the performance of circumcision as part of a divorce battle, and if an opening is made here and the mother is given the opportunity to prevent the circumcision or to use her objection as a way to obtain things in the divorce settlement, we will likely find ourselves facing an outbreak of such cases, and then another dimension will be added to the [already] frightening divorce process. This trend must be stopped immediately, since the common good outweighs that of the individual,”
Of course, it could also represent a “trend” toward greater religious freedom and the separation of temple and state.