Wednesday, December 17, 2014 Kislev 25, 5775

An Attack on Liberty

July 6, 2011
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This week, as we celebrate the independence of the United States, is a propitious time to reflect on just how far we have come as Jews in this country. Founded on the abiding principles of democracy, religious liberty and minority rights, we have gained -- and earned -- a level of religious freedom, economic success and political status unparalleled in the world and throughout our history (outside, of course, the state of Israel.)

Which is why it's so disturbing that some radical fringe elements in California are seeking to outlaw circumcision, the ancient Jewish ritual of brit milah that continues to be one of the most widely practiced among Jews today.

The proposed ballot initiative in San Francisco was started by individuals, so-called "intactivists," who believe circumcision is a form of genital mutilation.

The measure would make it "unlawful to circumcise, excise, cut, or mutilate the whole or any part of the foreskin, testicles, or penis of another person who has not attained the age of 18 years," with fines and jail terms possible for violators.

Of course, circumcision is not just a Jewish issue. Circumcision is widely practiced as a religious rite among Muslims and is done routinely in hospitals by millions of others who see it as a medical benefit.

The initiative may be losing steam, with a legal challenge and outcry coming from both California and national groups. A lawsuit against the proposal cites a California law prohibiting cities from setting restrictions on medical procedures, but that does not go far enough in that it wouldn't also protect religious circumcision.

This is not the first time that circumcision has come under fire. And indeed, even in Jewish circles, there are those who question its value. But the idea that the state or federal government should intrude on such private, parental matters of religious liberty and ancient ritual is absurd.

Though we're not prone to cry "anti-Semitism" at every action we don't like, it's hard not to see an anti-Jewish hand behind this initiative, especially when the measure's proponents have distributed comic books and cards depicting the battle over circumcision in starkly anti-Semitic terms.

As San Francisco city officials who oppose the initiative put it: the opponents "portray the battle against circumcision as one between good, represented by a blonde, blue-eyed superhero and his fair-skinned female friend, and evil, represented by four dark-haired, dark-skinned menacing Jewish characters with prominent noses, sinister expressions and sadistic tendencies."

San Franciscans and other Americans need to send a strong signal that such a proposition is not only constitutionally illegal but ethically immoral and has no place in the land of liberty and justice for all.

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