Oct 18, 2021

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New regulations in Canada threaten to limit the performance of one of the most important Torah commandments: Brit Milah (circumcision). This would echo the horrific actions of the Amalekites, the eternal enemy of Israel, who were especially derisive of this essential aspect of the covenant between God and the Jews.

Manitoba: Circumcisions only in a medical facility

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba issued new standards of practice which, as written, would only permit a male infant circumcision to be performed in a medical facility or doctor’s office. The college says its proposed practice standard is being developed to minimize risks around a range of specific office-based medical procedures, with male circumcision among many outlined in the draft.

This restriction would go into effect in the fall and would effectively ban brit milah, the Jewish rite that was first described as being performed by Abraham in the Bible. The commandment welcomes each Jewish baby boy into God’s covenant on the eighth day after his birth and is performed by the vast majority of Jewish parents including those who self-define as secular. The vast majority of Israeli Jewish parents even decided that they would choose the mohel of their first son to conduct the brit milah of their next male child.

Canadian Jews object

Circumcision is common to both Judaism, which refers to it as brit milah, and Islam, which refers to it as Khitan, though it is not mandatory in Sunni Islam. When Abraham circumcised his son Isaac, the father of the Jewish people, he also circumcised Ishmael, the father of the Arabs.

Then Avraham took his son Ishmael, and all his homeborn slaves and all those he had bought, every male in Avraham‘s household, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins on that very day, as Hashem had spoken to him. Genesis 17:23

A group of five Manitoba Rabbis co-signed a letter of feedback to the physicians’ college questioning the new restriction, claiming that “there is no evidence to support that brit milah is not safe.”

“Why now? What’s the problem?” the letter asked. “Jews have been doing this for decades with trained doctors. In fact, our Jewish community in Winnipeg is fortunate to have Jewish doctors who have taken special training in this procedure and the accompanying rituals and blessings, and have been performing this task outside of their offices and in non-hospital settings for years.”

The new standards would require that doctors perform the religious ritual in a medical facility.

“Denying the ability of physician mohels to conduct a home brit milah may mean the most experienced and medically expert individual is not available to a family,”  University of Manitoba law professor Bryan Schwartz told the physicians’ college in a lengthy written submission.

“Given the potential impact on the viability of Jewish families to maintain their faith and way of life, the college is required by overriding human rights law to consider the specifics of the brit milah and calibrate carefully any limitations that might affect how it is performed,” Schwartz said.

Officials reconsider 

“We recognize as currently written, it would implicate a practicing member of CPSM performing a male circumcision outside of an appropriate medical facility,” Dr. Anna Ziomek from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba responded. “That was not the intention when drafting the standard. At a minimum, the working group will consider adding an exemption in the standard for male circumcision performed in a religious ceremony or tradition.”

The CPSM received about 200 written responses from the Jewish community objecting to the change, including a lengthy statement from the Winnipeg Council of Rabbis. 

“We want to assure the public that the standard will not infringe on any human or religious rights and freedoms whatsoever,” Dr. Ziomek added.

The CPSM updated its website last week, promising to revise its guidelines regarding religious circumcision. 

Brit Milah: equivalent to all other mitzvoth

The Talmud states that the mitzvah (Torah commandment) of brit milah (literally ‘the covenant of the word’) is equivalent to all other mitzvot in the Torah combined and performing a circumcision on the Biblically mandated eighth day even precludes the Sabbath, The Talmud goes on to explain that without the mitzva, the world would not exist. According to other Jewish sources, through the merit of brit milah, God split the sea for the Jewish people and permitted the Kohen Gadol (high priest) entered the Holy of Holies every year on Yom Kippur.

Rabbi Yosef Berger, the rabbi of King David’s Tomb in Jerusalem, explained the deep spiritual meaning of the mitzvah.

“The Midrash teaches that after killing the Jews, the Amalekites, Israel’s archetypal and eternal enemy, cut off the male organ and threw it up towards heaven,” Rabbi Berger told Israel365 News. “Brit Milah (circumcision) literally means a covenant. It connects heaven and earth. It is a sign that a Jew, no matter where he is, carries the connection between heaven and earth on his body. The Jew acts as this connection. Rejecting this specific mitzvah (commandment) is an attempt to sever this connection, cutting off the entire world from God.”

More countries trying to ban brit milah

Restrictions and outright banning of ritual circumcision are becoming more common. Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang self-identifies as an intactivist, opposing nontherapeutic infant male circumcision. Though Yang is ethnically Asian, his opposition to circumcision garnered support from anti-Semites and white supremacists who saw it as anti-Jewish. 

There have also been political efforts to ban circumcision in Sweden, Iceland, and Denmark.