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ICJS Scholar Speaks to Denmark Leaders on Proposed Circumcision Ban, Antisemitism, and Religious Freedom
In early December, Denmark legislators discussed creating a ban on circumcision in the country. The U.S. Department of State invited ICJS scholar Dr. Ben Sax to speak at the U.S. Embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark, on the proposed circumcision ban, Antisemitism, and religious freedom. Ben led an hour-long conversation and discussion on December 15, 2020 via Zoom for key Denmark leaders, identified and invited by the U.S. Embassy.
In his talk Ben explored how a potential ban on the Jewish ritual of male circumcision—brit milah—would affect a Jewish community’s ability to not only practice their religion, but also to preserve an essential feature of Jewish identity in Denmark. In addition to a discussion about the theological role brit milah plays in Judaism, Ben situated this potential ban in the context of centuries-old efforts to humiliate and alienate Jewish communities in Europe through law. Even though intolerance and religious bigotry remains a worldwide program, Antisemitism—in particular, laws devised to shame, demean, or persecute Jews—has a unique, tumultuous history in Europe. He also explored another feature of this public debate: religious pluralism and religious freedom. He spoke about how these two concepts have been essential to not only the dignity of Jewish self-determination and belonging, but also to encouraging important developments in Jewish theological self-expression. Religious freedom allowed Jews to be Jews without fear of reprisal. It has also provided Jews incredible opportunities to think critically about their own traditions and rituals.
Preceding the event, a reporter for the Danish Paper Kristeligt Dagblad interviewed Ben. In the interview, Ben argued that pluralism is different from tolerance. While the measure of tolerance is based on how well one deals with cultural, ethnic or religious differences, pluralism is best measured by how well a society incorporates these different voices into its civic and political life.