I've been with the Simon Wiesenthal Center since the day our human rights organization began back in 1977. An important part of my work is combating the world's oldest hate, anti-Semitism. Hate crimes, Holocaust denial, Nazi War Criminals. Difficult and emotional issues to be sure, but I always try to approach each with a modicum of objectivity.
But that's not always possible ...
Eight years ago, I sat on Elijah's Chair in a Jerusalem Synagogue, fighting back the tears as I heard my infant grandson being named in honor of my late father, Isaac Cooper. Little Shmuel Yitzchak Wolff was sucking on a grape juice-soaked gauze pad. The 8 day-old had just undergone a Brit Milah -- the ritual circumcision by which every Jewish male enters the Covenant of Abraham. It was a sublime moment of continuity, of validation of my past Jewish heritage and of hope for the future of another Jewish child.
At the ceremony that morning were some elderly men, including Holocaust survivors and former Soviet Jews who had miraculously survived both the Nazi onslaught and Communism's rabid hatred of religions.
Hitler's "Final Solution" murdered a generation of Jewish kids, 1.5 million children. Racist Nazi law forbade Germans from following the abhorrent Jewish practice of circumcision, apparently viewing it as an affront to the image of the pure Aryan race.
Jewish ritual circumcision was banned in the USSR. During the Stalin era, Mohels, the pious practitioners of this biblical commandment, performed the ancient rite in great secrecy. Some of those caught were jailed, sent to the Gulag and/or murdered by the NKVD secret police.
Tragically, Jewish history is fraught with similar draconian decrees. As far back as 167 BC, Antiochus IV, a Greek ruler, ban of circumcision in the Holy Land, helped spark the Maccabees' revolt. A few hundred years later, Hadrian, the most anti-Semitic Roman ruler who sought to crush the Jewish nation, banned this practice as well.
And now we have the San Francisco initiative that would criminalize Brit Milah; that would jail and fine Jewish parents who have the audacity to practice their faith.
Who is behind it and why?
Some backers are just anti-Semites creating, in the tradition of Nazi propagandists, caricatures of "monster Mohels" and the blonde haired blue eyed "Foreskin Man".
Others just don't like the idea of making any changes to the human body. They sweep aside the medical evidence that circumcision also reduces the incidence of penile cancer, offers some resistance to STD's and helps protect against AIDS. My colleague at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein says that what some campaigners really detest is the central message of Jewish circumcision: Not everything that is "natural" is perfect. Humans are supposed to perfect this world through their own actions, indeed improving upon what G-d created. The good Lord deliberately left room for that, to challenge us to act.
Some activists cannot tolerate such talk. Religion is OK if it doesn't bother anyone, but people shouldn't be so stupid as to think that it could be a guide for living. Values should come from the most "enlightened" in society -- like the fanatics behind the initiative. It is they who apparently should be the ones to dictate how children should be raised, not religious values, and not parental instincts.
I am not sure what faith, if any, the primary sponsors of this initiative follow, or if they even have kids. No matter. What needs to be curtailed in San Francisco is not circumcision, but arrogance.