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Norway Passes Law Protecting Circumcision

New legislation on the religious practice goes against the European grain

Yair Rosenberg
June 27, 2014
House of Parliament, Oslo, Norway (Shutterstock)
House of Parliament, Oslo, Norway (Shutterstock)

Typically, when circumcision makes headlines in Europe, it’s because a court or a parliament is attempting to ban it. Despite the practice being fundamental to both Judaism and Islam, and despite research by the National Institutes of Health and American Academy of Pediatrics documenting circumcision’s ample medical benefits, many European countries have taken steps to restrict or outlaw it. Just this past October, the Council of Europe overwhelmingly passed a resolution declaring circumcision to be a “violation of the physical integrity of children,” to the chagrin of religious minorities across the continent.

But Norway has just challenged this state of affairs by passing its own legislation protecting the right of religious parents to circumcise their sons, while also implementing several safeguards for the practice. As the act states, “The purpose is to ensure that the ritual circumcision of boys is conducted in a safe manner, and to ensure that the possibility of ritual circumcision is available.” To preserve this commitment to both religious liberty and public safety, the law requires that the circumcision be performed by a physician, or in the presence of one–a nuance which is particularly important for Jews, as it allows a mohel to perform the procedure.

At a time when anti-Semitic and Islamophobic tensions continue to roil Europe, with anti-Jewish violence and legal impositions like kosher/halal slaughter bans on the rise, Norway’s circumcision legislation offers a more moderate approach for addressing this difficult topic without alienating religious minorities. Whether other European countries follow its lead remains to be seen.

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.