Historic: First Jewish Circumcision in the United Arab Emirates, Bringing Together Ishmael and Isaac

January 13, 2020

2 min read

A major milestone in relations between Jews and the Arab-Mukim country of Abu Dhabi,  the capital city of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), took place on Sunday when a Jewish baby was brought into the covenant of Abraham through Brit Milah (circumcision, literally ‘the covenant of the word’). The simple ceremony is a cut that binds. Incumbent upon every Jewish male as the covenant between Abraham and God, it is practiced among the descendants of both of his sones: Isaac as well as Ishmael.

The parents lived for some time in Germany but are currently working in Abu Dhabi. They requested that Chabad Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal from Berlin oversee the ceremony. Rav Shlomo Stein of Beitar Illit, Israel preformed the actual circumcision.

Chabad Berlin told CoLlive it was “the first Jewish circumcision there” and that “it was a particularly impressive and moving experience!”

There is only one synagogue known to exist in the UAE. Established in 2008, it serves a Jewish community of about 150 families of  3,000 Jews. The synagogue in Dubai is supported by the UAE, with the appointment of a Minister for Tolerance in 2016. The Ministry of Tolerance led to the creation of the National Tolerance Programme and official recognition of the Jewish community in the UAE.

Construction of a new and far more impressive synagogue will begin next year as part of an interfaith compound on the Saadiyat Island that will also house a mosque and church. Announced in September, the synagogue is planned to open in 2022.

In May, Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, the chaplain at New York University, became the first chief rabbi of the Jewish community of the United Arab Emirates.

As of 2010, the UAE does not officially recognize Israel and Israeli passport-holders cannot legally enter the UAE. However, there are Israelis with dual citizenship who live, visit and work in the UAE as citizens of other countries. Arab states are increasing relations with Israel and American Jews in an effort to undercut Iran’s growing influence, contain violence in Iraq and Lebanon and push for a Palestinian solution. Some Israeli companies conduct business in the UAE indirectly through third parties.

Another symbolic milestone was achieved in 2018 when Israel’s national anthem was played at a judo tournament in Abu Dhabi when its team member won a gold medal.

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

The UAE is 76% Muslim with the ruling family and the majority of the population is Sunni.


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