Holland’s best-known Jewish circumcision pros are breaking the law, Health Ministry says

Photo: Cheskel Dovid

Cnaan Liphshiz

AMSTERDAM (JTA) — Some of the Netherlands’ most frequently used circumcisers of Jewish infant boys are breaking the law, the Dutch Health Ministry said.

The statement Thursday to the NOS broadcaster had to do with an expose about two Jewish circumcisers, or mohels, who perform the procedure regularly but do not have a medical degree or title. The Netherlands has a handful of mohels, and some of the more popular ones are not recognized as medical caregivers.

The expose focused on Herman Loonstein, a well-known lawyer who has performed about 2,000 circumcisions, and Meir Villegas Henríquez, both of whom will be called for questioning by the Health Ministry’s inspection team in the aftermath of the report, a ministry spokesperson was quoted as telling NOS.

“It is not correct that anyone may perform circumcision because circumcision is a religious freedom or because they are proficient in it,” the spokesperson said. “Of course, we will hold to account the people who break the law. We will speak with Mr. Loonstein.”

Jaap Sijmons, a lecturer on medical law, told NOS that the law forbids any operation, including circumcision, by anyone not registered as a medical professional. However, this appears to be an interpretation as the law does not explicitly forbid such practices. Instead it only lists some professionals who are allowed to perform invasive treatments. Circumcisers are not on the list.

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In the Netherlands, the Health Ministry may issue directives forbidding certain practices. But they may be challenged in court, where a judge is ultimately responsible for interpreting the law.

Loonstein, who has never been the subject of a complaint over circumcision, according to the expose, told NOS that he does not recognize the Health Ministry’s authority to intervene when it comes to Jewish circumcision, or brit milah.

“If they approach me, I would ask what’s their business with me. I have nothing to do with the Health Ministry’s inspection,” he told NOS.

The Royal Dutch Medical Association called for banning nonmedical circumcision of boys in 2010, arguing that it introduced unnecessary risks and violated the rights of underage patients.

In 2013, the American Academy of Pediatrics stated that the “benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks but the benefits are not great enough to recommend universal newborn circumcision.”

Across Western Europe, children’s welfare activists, as well as anti-immigration ones, are promoting bans on circumcision, though no country has adopted them. Several countries have adopted bans on the production of halal and kosher meat.

In 2012, a German court ruled that nonmedical circumcision of children amounts to abuse, but the German parliament subsequently passed legislation explicitly allowing circumcision.

The following year, a debate about circumcision in Norway led to legislation that requires the presence of a physician at every circumcision. Sweden had passed such laws years earlier.