The religious tradition of male circumcision has come increasingly under attack across a number of European states. While critics of the practice argue that the problem is about children’s rights and the proper relationship between secular and religious traditions, Jews tend to see these attacks within the longer history of attempts to assimilate and remake them according to the norms of the majority. Using the 2012 German legal controversy concerning the issue as my vantage point, I explore how contemporary criticism of male circumcision remains entangled with ambivalence toward Judaism and the Jews as the “other.” Through a close reading of the arguments, I show how opponents use the seemingly neutral language of universal human rights to (re)make Jewish difference according to the norms of the majority. I conclude by arguing that such an approach to this issue runs the risk of turning Jews once again into strangers at a time when cultural anxieties are troubling European societies.
The author would like to thank Hilary Charlesworth, Miranda Forsyth, Kate Henne, Kim Rubenstein, Markus Klank, Jay Watkinson, and the anonymous reviewer for their helpful comments on an earlier draft. This research received funding from the Australian National University and the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology. All mistakes are of course mine.
Riedel, M. (2019), "An Uneasy Encounter: Male Circumcision, Jewish Difference, and German Law", Studies in Law, Politics, and Society (Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, Vol. 79), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 55-84. https://doi.org/10.1108/S1059-433720190000079005
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