Cutting Her Off At The Pass
I almost never turn down a Bris. But a few years ago I received a call that was met with a resounding “No!”
“I have friends visiting Israel from Egypt,” a voice said in Hebrew. “They’d like to circumcise their daughter. Do you do that?”
“That is beyond forbidden,” I admonished the caller.
Even though I did my best to explain why this was so problematic, I couldn’t make the caller understand. The man insisted: “We circumcise our boys, and they circumcise their girls. What’s the big deal?” These, of course, are very different matters indeed.
And now it appears that Knesset Member Ayelet Shaked is just as confused about the issue as my caller.
This week, Shaked refused asylum to a woman seeking refuge from Sierra Leone. This refugee requested asylum on the basis that if she were returned home she might be forced to undergo Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Shaked rejected the request saying, “It is unthinkable that the State of Israel would harm its sovereign interest and grant political asylum for an alleged persecution that is similar or close in essence to a common custom among its own citizens.”
MK Shaked may not have realized the full implications of her comments. In comparing Brit Milah to FGM, she has resorted to classic anti-circumcision rhetoric. Those who oppose our tradition and would like to see it outlawed substantiate their case by equating the two practices. The logic is that, if FGM is widely condemned and outlawed (and for good reason), and the two are the same, then Brit Milah should suffer the same fate. But this is a false equivalence.
The victims of FGM will happily point out that the two are polar opposites. Comparing them actually belittles the trauma women have experienced. FGM is usually done during adolescence as the child is reaching the age of puberty. Most of the time, the girl is brought into a dark room where the procedure is sprung upon her and carried out by an unskilled practitioner in an unsterile environment.
But beyond the conditions of the procedure, the intention of the practice is also problematic. Unlike Brit Milah, which is intended to elevate a male child to full status in the community, FGM is meant to keep the woman subservient to her husband. The procedure is intended to rob her of all sexual pleasure so she won’t be tempted to cheat on her partner.
What’s also astounding about Ayelet Shaked’s statements is how out of line they are with Israel’s usual demeanor towards Brit Milah. Generally speaking, Israel is circumspect about publicly criticizing any facet of the rite. Metzitzah B’Peh (MbP) is a highly controversial element within the Bris ceremony where the Mohel has direct oral contact with the wound. Contact like this can result in brain damage or even death to the newborn.
There are those of us who have spent our careers fighting to have public opposition to Metzitzah but the rabbinate won’t do it. They’re concerned that such comments will be used as an excuse to restrict circumcision in places where it’s already frowned upon. As much as this stance frustrates me, I have to admit, it’s better than Shaked's remarks.
I never thought I’d say this, but Ayelet Shaked would benefit from taking a page from the Rabbinut’s book. Her statement has actually endangered Brit Milah on a global scale. The anti-circumcision wishes most to entice the uneducated and do. The last thing we need is for a member of the Knesset to embolden those who oppose our tradition. Even if Shaked was only looking for an excuse to reject the asylum plea, she should have realized how her comments have shot our nation in its proverbial foot.
This first appeared here