Dear Lord Sacks.
Jewish religious law states that circumcision is a mitzva aseh which means a "positive commandment" to perform an act and is obligatory for Jewish-born males and for non-circumcised Jewish male converts.
My understanding is that it is only postponed or abrogated in the case of threat to the life or health of the child. It is usually performed by a mohel on the eighth day of life in a ceremony called a brit milah. Although 19th century Reform leaders described it as "barbaric", the practice of circumcision "remained a central rite" and the Union for Reform Judaism has, since 1984, trained and certified over 300 practicing mohels under its "Berit Mila Program".
A new group, Milah UK, has been launched to promote the practice of Jewish circumcision in the UK. The new group will serve all members of the community, from strictly Orthodox to Liberal Judaism. Milah UK is jointly chaired by Dr Simon Hochhauser, former president of the United Synagogue and Prof David Katz, from the defence division at the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
Dr Hochhauser has said: “There is a growing opposition both in the UK and abroad to our community’s accepted and age-old practice of milah. We will now be able to draw on all sections of our community to respond to this increasing and perennial threat to our core religious practice.”
Lord sacks, where do you stand on this issue? Recently three rabbis were arrested in Germany for performing a brit. A regional court, supported by the German Medical Association, ruled that circumcision of new born boys by Jewish and Muslim communities amounted to assault against the child.
Lord Sacks, you will know the furore in the media about cover-ups regarding under-age sex allegedly carried out by celebrities such as Jimmy Saville. Nasty business. But where do you stand on the mutilation of male babies? Isn’t that even worse? For mutilation is what happens to countless new-born babies who have had the misfortune to be born into a faith that through religious doctrine and historic precedent, cuts a part of their sex organ?
Is it not preferable that a male human should be able to be born, develop and grow into an adult, and be able to make his own decision about whether to cut off his foreskin? Why is that fundamental choice is denied a Jewish new-born male? Are you afraid of free-will and allowing a person to think for themselves? It may well be that many Jewish young men will decide to have the operation. That is their choice when they reach the age of maturity and adulthood.
My parents had the wisdom and wit to allow me to go to Sunday School, so that I could see what that type of religion was about, and from there make my mind up as to whether I wanted to follow Islam, Christianity or atheism. I am eternally grateful to them for that. If they had been Jewish I would have had no choice under the religious teachings that you support. I would have been circumcised at 8 days and then for the rest of my life bear the mark of Cain.
So Lord Sacks, do you support baby mutilation when there is no medical reason for it? What is your view on Milah UK? I think, as a member of the House of Lords, that it should be debated there. Will you attend that debate?
An Open Letter to the Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi for Britain
Dear Lord Sacks.