An interview with Avigdor Feldman, who represents Elinor in her appeal to The High Court of Justice against the ruling of the rabbinical court that forced her to circumcise her son.
The interview was aired in Hebrew on a morning talk show, Orly & Guy, Channel 10.
Following is the transcript of the interview, translated to English:
Guy Meroz: Shalom, Mr. Feldman
Avigdor Feldman: Good morning.
Guy Meroz: The appeal to the High Court of Justice, that you’re involved in, that you’re in charge of, against the ruling of the rabbinical court to force a mother to circumcise her son, the boy is one year old already, correct?
Avigdor Feldman: Yes.
Orly Vilnai: By the way, how come he has reached the age of one and still not circumcised?
Avigdor Feldman: They did not circumcise him because he was born prematurely. Then the mother was against circumcision, and as long as they lived together, the father respected her objection to circumcision, but now they are in the midst of a divorce battle, and the father raised the circumcision as a weapon in the divorce battle.
Guy Meroz: The verdict of the rabbinical court took the side of the father, of course, right?
Avigdor Feldman: Yes. It is really an interesting story. First of all, a little background, for those who are not familiar with the quite intricate system of marriage and divorce in Israel. The rabbinical court has an exclusive jurisdiction over matters of marriage and divorce, and the civil family court has jurisdiction over such matters as custody, property, etc., but, if the father hurries to the rabbinical court he can parcel within the divorce case other issues as well, the apartment, the kids, kids’ education, and so forth. Here he made an interesting move, an unprecedented move, by parceling the issue of circumcision, and we claim that this issue has nothing to do with the divorce case, but the rabbinical court was delighted to seize the opportunity, “The boy is uncircumcised??” the judges exclaimed, and ordered the mother to have her son circumcised, and if she does not comply, she will pay a fine of N.I.S 500 (=$140) for every day she’s delaying the circumcision. Now, this is a very complicated question. The subject of circumcision is explosive, because there is no law regarding circumcision, and some say that because there is no law most of us circumcise, but the moment it becomes an issue… it raises a very complicated question.
Orly Vilnai: Why does she object? The family is not religious, right?
Avigdor Feldman: On ideological grounds. She says, “I don’t want them to physically hurt my son, I don’t want an irreversible surgical procedure performed on him, when he’s of age, when he’s 17…
Orly Vilnai: Like many families today
Avigdor Feldman: Yes, there is a trend that starts to take hold. By the way, I myself if I were the rabbinical court, and there’s no risk of me becoming one, I would have run from this issue like it was fire, because it really released a dormant genie. So, what’s the situation. The father wants to circumcise, and by the way, the religious commandment lies on the shoulders of the father, and the mother objects. What should they do? The rabbinical court said in its verdict, “It’s a commandment from Heaven, we cannot go on see before our eyes a child who is uncircumcised.” Let’s say the parents go to a civil court, the family court, not as a matter that is combined with the divorce battle, as we wrote in the appeal to the High Court of Justice, this matter should be dealt with gloves of silk, and not with boxing gloves, which is what you wear when you’re engaging in a divorce battle, what will the family court do? I have no idea, because (a) we’re talking about a minor, who cannot express his mind yet
Orly Vilnai: You can’t ask the boy
Avigdor Feldman: You can’t ask the boy.
Orly Vilnai: And you say that the law does not mandate…
Avigdor Feldman: The law does not mandate… The father wants… when they both don’t want to circumcise, there’s no problem. They don’t circumcise. The question arises when the father wants to circumcise and the mother objects.
Orly Vilnai: It’s a fascinating question. What can we learn from the history of prior rulings in the courts?
Avigdor Feldman: There is none.
Orly Vilnai: It’s a matter of religion versus an invasive intervention in the body of a human being
Avigdor Feldman: A matter that complicated was not addressed yet by the courts. Because you have here three parties: The mother who is adamant not to circumcise, the father who wants to circumcise, and let’s presume that he acts in good faith and not using the issue as a weapon in the divorce battle, and you have a baby lying in his crib, unaware ….
Guy Meroz: There is one more thing we didn’t discuss yet. A day will come when this boy will be 13 or 18 years old, and he will be able to make a decision that he wants to get circumcised, but this boy will never be able to choose otherwise if it is done now.
Avigdor Feldman: True.
Orly Vilnay (addressing Guy Meroz): When you circumcised your two sons, did you ask them?
Guy Meroz: No, that’s exactly the point I’m making.
Avigdor Feldman: I too circumcised my sons. I have three sons, they are all circumcised. Because we never gave it a second thought. Usually you also have the grandparents in the background, they will get a heart attack, and grandpa will raise hell, the grandma will sob, so you circumcise ‘em, you don’t think about it, but the truth of the matter is that we’re talking about an irreversible procedure, and by the way, it should generally be performed at the age of eight days. When the boy is older, so doctors say, it becomes a rather complicated surgery, carrying certain risks…
Guy Meroz: When is the hearing scheduled?
Avigdor Feldman: The appeal was filed yesterday, I guess the date will be set within a few days.
Orly Vilnai: I understand that the representation is by the Legal Aid Department of the Ministry of Justice. Are you a part of this department?
Avigdor Feldman: That’s very important to mention. The mother in this case is of low means, so she applied to the Legal Aid Department, a bureau that is doing a really remarkable work, mostly in the field of marriage and divorce, but in other matters as well, so she got a legal representation, a lawyer named Marcella Wolf, and she handles this case. And they have contacted me and asked me to join and contribute my skills and expertise. I read the file, and it looked like fun, so I said why not, and jumped on it, so I work with them on this case, of course for an insignificant fee, but it’s fun.
Orly Vilnai: One more question about the health aspect, I guess it will come up in court, for years they’ve been telling us that it’s unhealthy not to circumcise, is there a truth to it?
Avigdor Feldman: It’s an urban legend. Of course it’s not [un]healthy. On the other hand, I have begun to research and found out that in a quite a number of cases there are complications, and when you have a complications they boy needs to be admitted to a hospital…
Guy Meroz: As a result of circumcision
Avigdor Feldman: Correct. Complications can occur even in infancy, and we’ve heard of mohels who come to the Brit Milah ceremony with shaking hands and ask: “Where’s the boy? Where’s the boy?”
Orly Vilnai: It’s horrible.
Avigdor Feldman: So, things can develop in such a way that the whole question of circumcision will be examined, I mean, people, our society today is very pluralistic, we’re not talking about the society that was here in the 1950’s and the 1960’s, so people will begin to ask themselves why are we circumcising in the first place, what is this thing.
Guy Meroz: It’s about time. But, you know, there are the struggles in Germany…
Avigdor Feldman: Exactly. The rabbis, by the way, wrote in their verdict: “We shall not join the nations of the world who carry out actions against circumcision.” I guess the High Court of Justice will issue an interim order, they will not force her to circumcise until a hearing will take place. What will the decision be, it’s hard to tell.