The latest public campaign to ban circumcision in Denmark fell apart earlier this month after the nation’s ruling party stated its qualified opposition to the measure. Yet, Jews in Denmark—as well as in many other nations in Europe and around the world—are continuing to face high hurdles to maintain the legality of the 4,000-year-old religious practice that is a cornerstone of Judaism.
“In a society where more than 85 percent of the people believe you are abusing your child by performing a brit milah, maintaining it, even amongst some in the Jewish community, requires dedication,” said Rabbi Yitzchok Loewenthal, who directs Chabad-Lubavitch of Denmark with his wife, Rochel.
“But the brit milah is a mitzvah that Jewish parents around the world have maintained throughout the generations despite any and all difficulties,” Lowenthal told Chabad.org, “and I believe it is the merit of doing the brit milah itself that has helped the Jewish community to win the challenges.”
Among the vocal opponents of the proposed ban was Dan Rosenberg Asmussen, chairman of the Jewish community in Denmark. “This spring has been nightmarish for the Jewish community,” Asmussen said in June, noting that a ban would “make it difficult for the next generation of Jews to maintain a religious life in Denmark.”
Loewenthal said that a combination of factors, including a media campaign and the government realizing the ban could effectively send the message it “was asking the Jews of Denmark to leave,” helped motivate the decision. He reiterated, however, that he believes it is the lofty nature of the observance itself—first performed by the Jewish patriarch Abraham—that is the underlying force that overcomes the external and internal opposition in every case.
Addressing Concerns in the Jewish Community
Since arriving in Denmark’s capital of Copenhagen 22 years ago to serve the Jewish community, the couple has seen more than a few legal attempts to ban circumcision. They regularly hear from constituents in doubt about whether to proceed with the ceremony even when there is no immediate legal opposition.
The situation is by no means limited to Denmark. In late April, Iceland’s lawmakers chose to table legislation proposing a ban. Germany, Norway, Sweden, Belgium and the United Kingdom are among the other countries that have held public debates on the topic, with various proposals to eliminate or further regulate the ritual.
The rabbi said that an estimated 20 to 30 brit milahs are performed annually by Jews in the country of about 6,000 Jews, some of which take place only after counsel and encouragement from him and others. He cited a most recent example of a mother determined to have her son circumcised despite protests by members of her own family.
“Even without the legal challenges, which have come up before, people in Denmark are wary about brit milah,” the rabbi said. “So, they call me to be convinced. They want to hear the arguments, which I am more than happy to provide.”
Nevertheless, the rabbi points out, some Jewish families in Denmark remain steadfast in their commitment to continue the mitzvah of circumcision. “When my son was born, we had a mohel perform a brit on him,” said Copenhagen resident Judie Scholnik. “Despite the heavy discussion in Danish society, we are happy that we have done it.”
“A brit is connecting our son to the past of Jewish history and the future of Jewish life,” she said. “We are proud to be a part of it.”