Denmark’s proposed circumcision ban tarnishes nation’s admirable history

Robert A. Cohn is editor-in-chief emeritus of the St. Louis Jewish Light. Photo: Kristi Foster 


For decades, Denmark’s heroic resistance to the Holocaust and its protection of its Jewish population have been held up as shining examples of bravery and backbone. 

When the Nazis invaded and occupied Denmark, King Christian was said to have put on the yellow star, which the invaders demanded that Jews affix to their outer garments. Because Denmark did all that it could to protect its Jews and had rescued the Jews of Norway in a historic boatlift, it was able to save more than 90 percent of its Jewish population from the Nazi death machine. 

In view of the exemplary conduct of Denmark in resisting the Nazis, it came as a painful shock that the nation is considering a ban on nonmedical circumcision of boys. This ban would prevent Jews and Muslims from fulfilling one of the bedrock beliefs and practices of their faiths.

For 4,000 years brit milah — circumcision — has been practiced by Jews throughout the world. The circumcision of male Jewish children on the eighth day after birth is the oldest Jewish religious practice — the Covenant of Abraham.

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A disturbing report by Cnaan Liphshiz of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) is headlined: “Denmark is considering a ban on circumcision that has some Jews thinking about leaving.” It documents why this Danish proposal is so profoundly disturbing and quotes Hannah Bentow, whose bat mitzvah was interrupted when a jihadist terrorist killed a guard outside the synagogue. 

Bentow and her family and friends were trapped inside until police could pursue and later kill the terrorist.

As horrifying as the violent incident that accompanied her bat mitzvah was, Bentow told JTA that the very fact that there is a proposal to ban male circumcision in Denmark “makes me feel like I don’t belong, and like Denmark doesn’t want me to belong either.”

The proposed ban, like a similar one recently considered by Iceland, has the 9,000 Jewish citizens of Denmark increasingly fearful for their security in the nation that did so much to stand up to the Nazis during World War II. 

Mette Bentow, Hannah’s mother, told JTA that the Jews of Denmark are “so pressed already, with armed police at our school and armed police at our shul, [this debate on circumcision] is sucking the marrow out of wanting to be Jewish.”

Like periodic proposals to ban kosher slaughtering in various European nations, the proposed ban on circumcision is usually couched in humane or clinical terms: that kosher slaughtering is cruel to animals and that brit milah is a form of “male genital mutilation.”

Muslims would also be affected by such a ban, which would bar a ritual called khitan performed on older Jewish males.

Opponents of the bill to ban kosher slaughtering point out that in 1933, the year Adolf Hitler and the Nazis took power in Germany, kosher slaughtering was abolished.

In a February story, the British newspaper The Guardian described Iceland’s proposed ban on circumcision as including a harsh penalty for anyone who performs such procedures for nonmedical reasons, a sentence of up to six years in prison.

Numerous studies, including surveys conducted by the World Health Organization, proved not only that male circumcision is safe, but that it helps to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases including AIDS-HIV.

No matter how much propaganda attempts to disguise the motivations of those who seek to ban fundamental Jewish practices, it seems clear that a major motive might be to delegitimize not only the State of Israel and Zionism, but the Jewish religion itself – a kind of virulent “anti-Judaism.”

Wiser heads prevailed in Iceland, and the circumcision ban was revoked. One hopes such proposals that undermine Judaism and Jewish practices will also be withdrawn immediately.

These proposals resurface every few years in various European nations and in the United Kingdom.

We must remain vigilant and vigorously oppose all such legislation that disrespects the religion of Judaism as practiced by millions of our people around the world.