Octobre 2001
updated december 2002

Restriction on circumcision in Sweden

Aharon is the first foreign Mohel with an authorisation to perform brit milah in Sweden


This a copy of the Jewish Community of Stockholm (once at http://www.jf-stockholm.org/britmila/eng . (A french translation at en français)

On June 1st 2001, the Swedish Riksdag (Parliament) decided to introduce a law containing restrictions on circumcision. For this reason, the Jewish Community of Stockholm has initiated this information page with questions and answers relating to the new law.

Why do we circumcise our boys?
It is the duty of every Jewish father to comply with the biblical commandment and circumcise his son on the eighth day of life, or to appoint a qualified person (a mohel) to do this on his behalf. The ritual is called brit, which means covenant. The word for circumcision is mila. Brit mila thus means “the covenant of the circumcised”. It is a token of the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish people.
“In a world where most religious rituals consist of words and gestures”, rabbi Harold Kushner writes, “circumcision is undoubtedly unique. It is an old ceremony which still has the ability to affect us…Like other Jewish rites, it does not change anything – it is a token of it. What is indicated…is the unbroken chain of Jewish identity, passed on from [parents] to son.”

What does the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) say about circumcision?
“This is my covenant which you shall keep between Me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. At the age of eight days every male among you shall be circumcised, throughout your generations…”- Genesis 17:10-12.
“Abraham circumcised his son Isaac at the age of eight days as God had commanded him.”- Genesis 21:4

What is written in the new Circumcision Act and when does it come into force? How did the members of Parliament vote on this law?

§         A boy under the age of two months old may be circumcised by a person who is not a registered physician provided that person has obtained special authorization from the National Board of Health and Welfare.
§         No boy may be circumcised without an analgesic, which must be administered either by a registered physician or by a registered nurse.
§         The Act comes into force on October 1st 2001.

When the Circumcision Act was passed the division of votes in the Parliament looked as follows:

Why we demand that the Act be amended
In the first place, circumcision as it is carried out in the Jewish tradition is not dangerous. Having children and living in a family with children is a core value for the Jewish people. It is total alien to our culture to expose children, not just Jewish children but any children, to injurious treatment. The love and consideration that surrounds a child at a brit mila, the naming of the child in the synagogue or at a bar or bat mitzvah in the early teens, is without reservation.
In the second place, circumcision is a sign of identity and affinity for the Jewish people. It binds us together with Jews through thousands of years and it creates affinity with the Jews who live all over the world just now. Prohibiting circumcision, or in making it impossible to carry out in practice, would at a stroke cut off the link between the Swedish Jews and Jews in the rest of the world. The Swedish-Jewish congregation, which is already a small minority in Sweden and the Jewish world as a whole, would feel even more isolated and vulnerable.
Thirdly, it is in principle not the task of the Swedish non-Jewish society to educate the Jewish national minority in Sweden. Swedish opinion molders who strive for cultural uniformity are, of course, entitled to their opinion, but it is a scandal that the Riksdag, which has recently recognized the Jewish group as a national minority, shortly after introduces a restriction on Jewish life in Sweden, with unforeseeable consequences. If the Act which was adopted on  June 1st 2001, is only the first step towards a total prohibition, the Riksdag has taken a fateful step which can lead to the end of Swedish Jewry in a not too far distant future.
What is the background to it being considered necessary to introduce new legislation on circumcision in Sweden?
A government commission was appointed after a tragic death where a three-year old Muslim boy died in connection with a circumcision carried out by a registered physician on August 14th 1999. The cause of death was the analgesic, of which an overdose had been given.
What happens when the first Jewish boy is to be circumcised after the Act has come into effect?
After the new Act, his brit mila will take place with an analgesic, which will be administered by a registered physician or nurse.
At present, the National Board of Health and Welfare is investigating how the Act is to be implemented in practice and will issue regulations before October 1st. Maynard Gerber (Jewish congregation’s cantor and mohel) and Lena Posner-Körösi (President of the Jewish Community in Stockholm), attended a meeting with the National Board of Health and Welfare on June 19th 2001 where a number of arguments were put forward on the impracticality of analgesic as the Act is now formulated:

As a brit mila must take place before sunset, it will be difficult for a physician to attend a brit mila for approximately six months a year as the sun sets so early in Sweden. Physicians with their own practice must in all likelihood be there during the day.
What happens when a brit mila has to be carried out on a Sunday or another public holiday? What physician would be willing to attend at such times?
Who is to pay for the physician?

 Is the new Act compatible with Halacha (Jewish law)?
This is a complicated question. It is not possible to give an answer yet since it has not yet been investigated how the Act is to be carried out in practice.
However, the extent to which the new Act is compatible with Halacha is unimportant per se. The road that the Swedish Riksdag has taken is a definite restriction on the freedom of religion, and that is what we are focusing on.

How many circumcisions are carried out in Sweden per year?
It is estimated that approximately 3,000 circumcisions are carried out per year in Sweden for religious/cultural reasons, of which approximately 40 are carried on Jewish boys.

Is circumcision painful?
In regards to circumcision carried out on small children without an anesthetic, the answer is yes. However, feeling pain is part of life. Birth is a painful process where the baby’s skull is compressed. When we vaccinate small children, it also hurts despite the purpose being good. What is important in these transitory experiences of pain is that the child is the object of care and total attention.

How do we answer the accusations that circumcision is sexual mutilation, an assault against children, etc? Does circumcision conflict with the UN Children’s Convention?
Mutilating a part of the body means that one damages it to such an extent that it does not work as intended. A circumcised penis functions as it should. The comparison between circumcision and female genital mutilation is unviable. Female genital mutilation entails reduced functions in all respects: sexually, from the point of view of appearance, and it sometimes creates life-threatening problems with everything from visits to the toilet to childbirth.

As regards the UN Children’s Convention, Save the Children has written as follows:
“According to article 24 of the Children’s Convention, the Convention States are to undertake all effective and suitable measures with a view to abolishing traditional customs which are harmful to children’s health. Save the Children does not have sufficient support for male circumcision being harmful in general – it is carried out in many cultures and is considered in some to be a hygienic measure that prevents diseases. There are risks in all types of operations. However, Save the Children does not think that there is sufficient reason to work against male circumcision as a traditional custom that is harmful for children. Save the Children regards the child’s right to belongness with its parents and their culture and religion (according to the Children’s Convention, articles, 5, 14 and 30), as important for the child’s development.” (No. 7, 1999. The journal “Barn”).

Shouldn’t a person have the right to decide themselves whether to be circumcised?

Children are born into a particular context – social, cultural and family-wise. A new-born baby is not freely floating in the universe without connections and affiliation – on the contrary these links and affiliations are important requisites when the individual later constructs his own identity. In the same way as a Christian family wishes to make their new family member part of the family’s context by christening, it is part of the Jewish culture to integrate the new male family member by safe circumcision. However, neither circumcision nor baptism prevent the individual from making his own future and his own context.
There are many who can witness that it is considerably more complicated to carry out circumcision in the teens or adult years. The pain is experienced intensively and for a longer period and there are more questions from those around the person. 

Does circumcision have any medical benefits?

The following is a list of the risk factors for uncircumcised men:

A greatly increased risk of urinary tract infection.
Increased risk for death during the first year of life from complications after urinary tract infections such as kidney failure, meningitis and myelitis.
Penis cancer leading to penis amputation.
Balanitis – infection under the foreskin and the surface of the glans penis, inflammation of the foreskin and tightness of the foreskin (phimosis).
     This can lead to narrowing of the urinary tracts with disturbances of micturition.
Reduced risk of complications if circumcision takes place early in life compared with if it is carried out on adults.
Not being circumcised is a risk factor in heterosexually transmitted HIV infection among men, especially if they have other sexually transmitted diseases at the same time.
  Women run a greater risk of contracting cervical cancer if their partner is not circumcised.

Professor Lars Olof Kallings, the Secretary-General of the International Aids Society (AIS) took part on July 1st 2001 in the program “Godmorgon, världen” [Good morning, world] on Sweden’s Radio P1. A discussion took place as to why the difference in the spread of AIDS between adjacent countries in Africa is so dramatically large. Professor Kallings answers “Some reliable differences have been found, among other things that circumcised men, as in Muslim counties where perhaps 99% are circumcised, seems to have a protective effect.”
In the National Institute of Public Health’s journal Hiv-aktuellt no. 1, 2000, Professor Lars Olof Kallings writes “It has been shown that male circumcision protects against HIV and other STD, sexually transmitted diseases. The cells on the foreskin are namely particularly receptive for HIV and STD”.

Do circumcised men have a poorer sex life?

A large number of men are circumcised as adults. The research is still incomplete but there is no support for assertions on poorer sexual experiences. On the contrary, available research indicates that women prefer circumcised partners for hygienic and aesthetic reasons. It is worth pointing out that most American men are circumcised for medical/traditional reasons and not religious reasons. Decisions on whether this is to be done are generally made by the mothers and carried out at the hospital where the child is born.
What is our position on the issue of freedom of religion contra those that say that there has to be limits for what can be permitted in a democracy in the name of a religion that is several thousands of years old?
The question can be put the other way round: what is the reason for ending the tradition of circumcision? It is an operation that takes a very short time with only mild, easily bearable pain that very quickly passes. Research has indicated that circumcision can also prevent certain diseases. And sex life is not affected negatively. Why should this tradition suddenly be ended?
It can be noted that Sweden’s introduction of legislation restricting the right to circumcision has no parallel in Europe since the Nazi period. This is, of course, not the same thing as asserting that the law is comparable with Nazism in general. However, Sweden is the only country in the democratic world where such restrictions now exist.

What has the Jewish Community of Stockholm done about this issue?

The Jewish Central Council of Sweden has replied to the circulation for comment [of Government proposals] on circumcision.
Participated in interviews in Swedish and foreign press, TV and radio.
Informal meetings with various molders of opinion and Government representatives have taken place.
A visit to the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs as a follow up of the referral comment in which Bengt Björksten, Stefan Einhorn, Morton Narrowe, Maynard Gerber and two representatives of the congregation leadership – Lena Posner-Körösi and Harry Pommert – participated. This resulted in the Government’s proposed legislation being in accordance with our line and a two-month limit for who is to be allowed to carry out circumcision and that this person can administer an adequate analgesic up to two months of age (the part relating to pain relief was later made more stringent in the Riksdag).
The Jewish Central Council of Sweden participated in a hearing at the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Welfare on April 24th 2001 with a number of the referral bodies. The hearing focused mainly on the part of the members of the committee on the issue of pain relief - not at all on the existence or otherwise of circumcision.
Informal contacts to be informed about the result from the Standing Committee on Health and Welfare and its proposals to the Riksdag in which it emerged just over a week and a half before the Riksdag’s session on June 1st that the committee had amended important parts of the Government Bill.
At the European General Assembly meeting in Madrid on June 3-6 2001, the Stockholm delegation had a letter and a resolution passed which was then accepted by all the organizations present – the European Council of Jewish Communities (39 European countries), American Jewish Committee, World Jewish Congress, European Council of Rabbis and B’nei Brith International.
The World Jewish Congress has given its support to the declarations of the Madrid resolution in the international press.
Meetings have taken place with Swedish ambassadors in Finland, France, the United States and many other countries and criticism made against Sweden and that legislation has at all been made on a religious issue.
The Congregation leadership held a meeting with lawyers to go through the text of the law and how it is to be interpreted legally.
Participated at a meeting with the responsible lawyers at the National Board of Health and Welfare who is to formulate regulations for implementation of the Act concerning Circumcision which came into force on June 1st 2001.
Produced the information you are reading now.

The Jewish Community will naturally continue its efforts on this issue as long as necessary.

Can the new Circumcision Act be made more stringent?

A follow-up period of four years has been introduced from October 1st 2001 when the Act comes into effect. “It is hoped that a lively discussion will take place during these four years leading to a change of attitude among the groups concerned. And that circumcision will eventually disappear.” (Riksdag och Departement, no.19, p.20).
The writing on the wall is clear. Circumcision is to disappear through a “lively discussion”: We are to be then bombarded with letters, criticizing campaigns, and telephone calls on our alleged cruelty against our boys until we have seen “the light”.This is, of course, unacceptable. Male circumcision is a an indispensable part of our thousand-year religious inheritance and the issue will be whether Jews in the long run can continue to live in Sweden. The same also applies to Muslims, of course.

What do you think about the new Circumcision Act and the discussion that arising from it?

Anders Carlberg, President of the Jewish Community of Gothenburg:

There have been Jews in Sweden since the eighteenth century and congregations for over two hundred years. In the nineteenth century, discrimination against Jews was prohibited and we received rights as citizens that were more advanced than in other countries. The spirit of the law from 1870 no longer applies. The consequence is in fact that it is no longer possible to be a Swedish citizen and a Jew at the same time. I do not believe that the Riksdag realizes what it has done. It is now up to us, the leadership of the Jewish communities to explain to the elected representatives and the state that a change should be made as soon as possible. Because if this is not a mistake, it is a hostile action.

Meir Horden, orthodox rabbi of the Jewish Community of Stockholm:

Brit mila is the first mitzvah (commandment) that we Jews were ordered to carry out and it is fundamental since it symbolizes the covenant between the Jewish people and God. This covenant which was introduced with the first Jew, Abraham, is still binding today.
Over the ages, brit mila has been something which many nations have tried to combat in different ways. The Greeks prohibited brit mila in 300 BCE, (which was revoked in connection with the Jewish revolt that led to the establishment of the Jewish festival Chanukah). The Romans made clear their opposition by posing rhetorical questions such as “If God really wants us to circumcise our children, why aren’t they born without a foreskin? Do we have the right to have the right to change God’s creation?” The rabbis answered that we must constantly do what we can to develop what has been created into something better and more refined. Just as the grain from wheat must be processed to become flour and then bread, so it is with circumcision and our covenant with God.
Brit mila has always been something that has troubled our opponents. Nothing seems to have changed on this matter. The world has developed industrially and technologically although the old way of thinking remains. Today, opposition against brit mila is carried out under the cloak of “protection of children’s rights”. It is very clear to us that there are forces in Swedish society that will not be content until they have succeeded in introducing a total prohibition on male circumcision in Sweden.
The Jewish people all over the world have carried out brit mila for 4000 years. In Sweden we have done so for 225 years with a total of thousands of children circumcised in this country. This does not seem to have been taken into consideration when the matter now comes to the fore through a tragic death in another population group, where circumcision is carried out on other grounds than among the Jewish population. To pass legislation on such a matter, it might be expected that some form of scientific research would take place where evidence is put forward. It can be quickly seen by a deductive study of the history of circumcision among Jews in Sweden (and the rest of the world if wished) that no problem exists.  Passing legislation against us on such loose grounds, as has been done in Sweden, is unacceptable.
Sweden takes pride in being a tolerant country and a protector of minorities and their rights. During the years I have been in Sweden, exceptional work has been carried out primarily through the Living History project. However, we must not forget that Sweden has already retained legislation for many, many decades that restricts the freedom of religion in this country – the law that prohibits shchita (kosher slaughtering). This is unique in the whole European Union. We should never have accepted living with this law. The right to shchita is a basic freedom that we should have as Swedish citizens. Can anyone show that shchita is more painful for animals than, for instance, hunting (which is permitted in Sweden)?
I consider that we must vigorously oppose all restrictions that have been made against the Jewish minority in this country. I am sure of one thing – throughout history we have always succeeded in overcoming regulations like this that are directed against our religion. May this also be the case in Sweden.

Berndt Katina, President of the Jewish Community of Malmö:

The legislation is deeply tragic since it leads Sweden into a dangerous path. This time, it is circumcision undertaken for religious reasons that politicians wish to stop, next time they will perhaps go further. The Riksdag’s motivation for the Act is concern for children’s best interests. However, we must not forget our history: the Nuremberg laws were introduced to “protect” the Jews. Jewish circumcision is more than a tradition, it is the basis on which the Jewish religion rests. When a blow is struck against Jewish circumcision, regardless of the noble motives claimed, it is de facto a blow against Judaism and the Jewish exercise of religion. I do not consider that this issue should be discussed in the media. Circumcision is a religious action and is not a subject that is open to discussion. Through a public debate, we give our opponents an opportunity to attack us and our four-thousand year old religious traditions.

Chief rabbi Emeritus Morton Narrowe:

James Madison, who demonstrated a mixture of practical political knowledge and philosophically depth, was one of the United States most important Presidents. Madison was the author of the famous, and very influential “Federalist Papers”. In these documents, he analyzed among other things the political philosophy of democracy and clarified, at least for me, what recently took place in the Swedish Riksdag in connection with the debate and legislation on male circumcision.
Madison realized that the democratic system has some weak points which legislators and society as a whole must be on their guard against. One of these he called “The Tyranny of the Majority”. Madison explains that a democratic society needs a constitution and a strong Supreme Court to ensure that all minorities in the country are to be able to follow their own cultural and religious traditions. This right is of course anything but absolute and without limits. The Mormons (after Madison’s time) were not permitted to continue with bigamy and extreme religious sects were not either allowed to offer their children to their idols. However, the Bill of Rights protects minorities usual although differing liberties. An intolerant majority could otherwise in its eagerness to enforce conformism deprive the minority of their democratic rights – to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
We have seen what the tyranny of the majority can lead to in the new Act on Circumcision, where unfortunately an ignorant and, what is worse, ill-willed political majority in the Swedish Riksdag, took a big first step towards a future prohibition against male circumcision. Many debaters made clear during the debate that they aim for prohibition and even voted for this. American pediatric experience has clarified and underlines that male circumcision has certain medical benefits and hardly any proven disadvantages.
In Sweden, one speaks about the “Swedish way” an expression worth considering. I know that the understanding of male circumcision was not the old “Swedish way”. However, it pains me to find out that the majority of the Riksdag, the people who should be leading us from a homogenous to a multicultural society do not protect the unique rights of the minority and ensure their freedom of religion.
Madison can serve as a guide for us in the “new” Sweden. We must be on our guard against the tyranny of the majority.

Lena Posner-Körösi, President of the Jewish Community of Stockholm and the Jewish Central Council of Sweden:
In the past year, the Community has in various ways been one of several parties in the discussion that has taken place on male circumcision and legislation in the medical profession and in Läkartidningen [journal for physicians] and in other media channels.
After the Jewish Central Council of Sweden had made a statement in the form of a comment on the referral, the statement was supplemented by a meeting at the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs. This meeting led to the Government and the Ministry in their Government Bill fully responding to the points of view of the Jewish group. These concerned both who is to be able to carry out circumcision on boys up to two years of age and which type of analgesic is to be administered.
Everything was satisfactory until the various referral bodies, including the Jewish Central Council were invited to a hearing at the Standing Committee on Health and Welfare in April. The hearing focused on the issue of pain relief, since the majority of the referral bodies there represented medical expertise. Cantor and mohel Maynard Gerber, Professor and pediatrician Bengt Björksten and the undersigned represented the Jewish Central Council.
Despite the emphasis on the question of pain relief, we none the less considered that the discussion was nuanced. To our great surprise, and after a conversation with the Ministry a week and a half before the decision on the Act, we were informed that the Standing Committee on Health and Social Affairs had demanded a more stringent treatment of the issue of pain relief and was therefore going to propose that they disregard the Government’s views on this issue.
So, confronted with that fact, the Riksdag decided that an exemption could be given to persons who were not physicians to circumcise a boy who was 2 months and younger. However, in the presence of physician who is to administer an analgesic.
The matter is now at the National Board of Health and Welfare where the regulations are to be formulated. Thee will constitute the guidelines for implementation of the Act on Circumcision. The Act is to be evaluated in four years. We know that there are strong forces in Sweden that want a complete prohibition of male circumcision undertaken for religious reasons. We have four years to convince society that male circumcision must be permitted. It is a question of freedom of religion. The struggle and discussion must be continued, and not just by the leadership of the congregation, but also by all people who care about freedom of religion in this country.
Otherwise, we can be on a very dangerous road. We should be aware that the world’s Jews are following this issue with great concern and commitment. Let us continue to write letters to the press, and discussion articles, to inform and get the Swedish people to understand, including MPs, that the issue of circumcision is not just a medical issue, although there are clear medical benefits, but in the first place a matter of freedom of religion.

Philip Spectre, rabbi of the Great Synagogue of Stockholm:

The following is a brief history of what has happened here in Sweden concerning circumcision during the last months and what you might do to help our situation.
A governmental committee suggested that circumcision be accompanied by “an appropriate palliative” administered to the child.  Since it did not outlaw a mohel nor did it require intrusive anesthesia, the Jewish Community of Sweden believed that, if passed, it might be possible to live with such a pronouncement.  That is, a palliative salve or even the calming effect of a bit of sugar water or diluted wine could be administered by a mohel.  Nevertheless, the committee was told, that any restrictive law was not what the Jewish community had wished for nor would it be calmly accepted.  We were, however, given to understand that because of a tragedy following one Muslim ritual circumcision in Sweden, it was felt that some legal restraint needed to be enacted.
From that governmental committee the law went to parliament for final vote into law.  It was there that a very unusual and unprecedented event took place.  Since the parliament was not well informed (for example, they may not have known that no complications nor, G-d forbid, infant deaths had ever taken place in the Jewish Community of Sweden as a result of circumcision), the recommendation of the committee of public health and social welfare was rewritten.  Now the law states that “analgesic” (note the word “appropriate” was stricken out) must be given to the child while a nurse or doctor are in attendance. We are presently waiting for the health department to give its interpretation of the law. We hope this spelling out of the intent of the law will be general enough and not require intrusive anesthesia.
The Swedish Jewish Community and its elected president, Lena Posner Körösi, have been proactive throughout this very tense period.  Both she and our local Mohel, Cantor Maynard Gerber have attended meetings and consultations with government authorities, medical professionals and legal experts.  It has also been emphatically stated to the authorities that this is the first anti-circumcision law to be suggested anywhere in the world since the time of the Nazis.  Those in favor of this law demure that they are only attempting to comply with the United Nations’ child rights pronouncements in order to avoid any action taken without a child’s consent.  This is not true as has been repeatedly stated to the authorities.
The Jewish Community of Sweden is, indeed, upset by this unusual turn of events.  At the recent congress of the European Jewish Communities held in Madrid, the following resolution, orchestrated by the President of the Swedish Jewish Community, was unanimously passed:
(See supplement: Swedish Resolution – Adopted during the GA of European Jewry).
We appeal to all concerned people to subscribe to this resolution and respond in a positive and informed manner. Though the law has been passed and will be enacted at least for a four-year trial period, much depends upon how the wording is interpreted and that, in turn, can be influenced by world public opinion. Please address your supporting statements to:

The National Board of Health & Welfare
Åke Gustavsson, chairman

The National Board of Health & Welfare
Kerstin Wigzell, executive director

Standing Committee on Health & Welfare
Ingrid Burman, chairman

Swedish Association of Health Professionals
Eva Fernvall Markstedt, chairman

Swedish Medical Association
Anders Milton, president

Embassy of Sweden in Tel Aviv
Ambassador Anders Lidén

Embassy of Sweden in Washington DC
Ambassador Jan Eliasson

Embassy of Sweden in London
Ambassador Mats Bergquist

Minister of Health & Social Affairs Lars Engqvist

Prime Minister Göran Persson

The Swedish Parliament

The Swedish Government


 Leonard Book, rabbi of The Jewish Community of Malmö:

I have written many articles and replied to many letters both private and in the Swedish press regarding circumcision. The basic facts remain, namely,

  1. That the Swedish Government is attempting to remove parental rights and privileges – this is contrary to the U.N. parental/children’s rights charter.
  2. Whilst we are mainly speaking about ‘BRIT MILAH’, the spiritual aspect, they are more concerned with ‘MILAH’, i.e. the practical aspect. Hence we are not speaking the same language.
  3. Brit-Milah is a non-negotiable part of Judaism. It is of no concern to those who practice other religions. Circumcision is a Jewish Privilege it is the Covenant that gives us our identity. Hostility to Jews through the ages has been partly due to our different practices.
  4. Circumcision is neither violent nor barbaric. It is a procedure that is carried out every day. It is one of the most popular procedures in the world. The press makes the ‘religious’ circumcision issue highly emotive owing to the sensitive nature of the area involved. It often prints incorrect information to inflame the issue. I believe anti-Semitic tendencies lie behind such attacks. There are many cases of genuine daily violence against children, which the Swedish press, does not appear to be so concerned about.
  5. There is danger that the Swedish circumcision regulations may spread to other countries.
  6. The tragedy is that, I, as a Jewish father, could be breaking the Swedish law by practicing my faith – and that is absurd!



Swedish Resolution – Adopted during the GA of European Jewry

Madrid, June 3, 2001

 At today’s General Assembly of the European Council of Jewish Communities, attended by 700 delegates from 39 countries, the following declaration was unanimously adopted:
 We strongly protest the passing of legislation by the Swedish Parliament on June 1st that seeks to interfere with the religious tradition of circumcision of newborn Jewish males. Regrettably, this decision was contrary to the Swedish government’s original proposal.
 This new legislation is totally unacceptable to the Swedish Jewish community and to the Jewish people as whole and infringes on our fundamental religious rights.
 May we remind the Swedish Parliament that this is the first time since the infamous laws of Nazi Germany that such legislation has been introduced in any country in the democratic world.
 In light of Sweden’s long-standing tradition of respect for religious freedom and tolerance, and given Sweden’s recent laudable initiatives to promote Holocaust education, we are all the more disturbed by this drastic step taken by the Swedish Parliament.
 We therefore urge the Swedish Parliament to reconsider its decision.

 European Council of Jewish Communities

Jacob Cobi Benatoff


 American Jewish Committee                                            B’nai B’rith International

David Harris                                                                    Dan Mariaschin   

Executive Director                                                     Executive Vice President


Council of European Rabbis                              World Jewish Congress

Chief Rabbi Sitruk                                                         Avi Becker


Statement by Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, Chief Rabbi of Israel

B’H, 4 Tamuz 5761 [June 25th 2001]
Re: Restrictions on brit mila [circumcision] in Sweden
We deplored hearing about the legislation that places restrictions on brit mila in Sweden.
The Chief Rabbinate in Israel has had a special discussion on this question and decided as follows:
1. The Israel Chief Rabbinate views with very great concern the restrictions formulated in the Swedish Act on Circumcision. Brit mila is the primary and most basic mitzvah (commandment) which the Jewish people have fulfilled for thousands of years. This mitzvah is carried out with very strict halachic [Jewish law] considerations for the child’s health and in every generation, it has been seen that there never existed any problems or risks in carrying out this mitzvah. It is fundamental in halacha that circumcision is to take place in the safest conditions and circumstances.
2. Israel’s Chief Rabbi appeals to the Swedish government to permit Jews to carry out the commandment on circumcision as it has been done since the days of our forefather, Abraham, by professional and certified mohalim [approved Jewish circumcisers] as it is done in the rest of the world.
With blessings,
Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron
Chief Rabbi of Israel

From Reuters news agency on the statement by the World Jewish Congress

Jews protest Swedish circumcision restriction
NEW YORK, June 7 (Reuters)
A leading Jewish group accused Sweden on Thursday of placing the first legal restriction on Jewish religious practice in Europe since the Nazi era with a law that affects how circumcisions are carried out in that country.
 The New York-based World Jewish Congress said that it is receiving many complaints from European members about a law passed by the Swedish parliament on June 1 that said circumcisions can only be performed after the administering of an analgesic by a doctor, nurse or person with special permit.
 The law was passed after a circumcision led to the death of a Muslim boy. Both Jews and Muslims practice circumcision for religious reasons with Jews performing the rite when the child is eight days old and Muslims when they are considerably older. About 3,000 boys a year of both religions are circumcised in Sweden, the WJC said.
 A WJC spokesman said, "This is the first legal restriction placed on a Jewish rite in Europe since the Nazi era. This new legislation is totally unacceptable to the Swedish Jewish community." the Swedish Jewish community numbers about 18,500. Jewish circumcisions are performed by a religious official in a religious ceremony.
 The WJC spokesman added he expected that the issue would be discussed when the Swedish prime minister visits Israel over the weekend. The law is to take effect on Oct. 1.

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