At the beginning of this month a court in Cologne, Germany, ruled that to circumcise young boys is against the law. The “fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents” it said. In this case the boy was a four-year-old Muslim.
Since the circumcision of boys is practised under Judaism as well, the court’s decision sparked outrage among the Jewish community, even beyond Germany’s borders. Israel’s president Peres wrote to his German counterpart to support the right to ritual circumcision.
The way the protests are running is interesting in itself, but for now let us consider the issue under Otoom.
Human activity systems are essentially just that – systems. A nation constitutes a system, so does religion, so does an economy, a political party, and so on. Furthermore, they all contain sub-and sub-subsystems right down to the individual and together they form a whole at whatever scale happens to be under focus.
Systems also possess an identity, and since their constituent parts interact with each other the performance of any one of them has consequences for the whole.
How a system such as a nation identifies itself is in the end up to that society. Whatever its perspective (an aggregate of all its subsystems), it influences the overall outcome and by doing so establishes the degree of sustainability in the long term.
Here we have a large-scale system (Germany), containing another system (Judaism), and the question is, what happens when one law (a subsystem) is in opposition to another. What are the consequences?
If a society has decided that there are fundamental principles around which it turns, and if these principles have been arrived at by considering the untenability of changing the body of someone who is incapable of giving consent, then such a decision is based on a rationale which derives its validity from a conscious process of examining the possibilities inherent in not starting from such a base.
In other words, should some idea (or fashion, or custom, or ideology) suggest a transgression of the fundamental principle, the principle itself needs to be re-examined under the same auspices of rational consideration. This constitutes the ultimate protection against a lack of reason.
A religion functions under a different framework. The particular interpretation of what ‘god’ means, what is assumed to be that god’s law, and how the members of this system are supposed to act are immutable once the religion has established itself. That moment could have occurred 400 years ago, it could have occurred 4000 years ago. In any case, the identity is maintained because it is held to be immutable.
If a society contains members of a religion, then the hierarchy of principle rules has to be decided upon. What comes first, the principles of the society (let’s label them ‘S’) or the principles of the religion (‘R’)?
If S comes before R, then any demand from R is subjected to an examination based on S. If S is based on reason, R will be allowed or rejected dependent on what S has to offer.
Suppose R is held to be above S, and suppose further that it is claimed R conducts itself with due consideration given to the welfare of its subjects, therefore S has no need or indeed any right to interfere.
If S is above R, the opportunity, no, the guarantee exists that any problematic consequences are examined under due process (see above). But if R comes before S, what guarantee exists now? The consequences are not analysed under rational auspices but within the framework of a subjective interpretation of what is right and what is wrong. The outcomes will be a result of someone’s belief that they are right and so many others are wrong and the process stops there.
Therefore, however well-meant a decision may be, there is no assurance its consequences will reflect the current standard which the members of the entire system are capable of. R controls S, regardless what society wants.
Hence S must always be higher than R.
Chief Rabbi Meir Lau from Tel Aviv said that if Germany does not change the ruling, there is no reason for Jews to be there; “the Jews (in Germany) will realise this is not the place where they belong”.
He is right. If Jews identify themselves according to principles each one of which is held immutable, then a society where rational considerations apply cannot be their home. Of course, Jews are able to identify themselves without the orders from a rabbi; they could well decide to align themselves with a modern state where human rights are part of the ongoing debate.
Could they still manage to call themselves Jews?
That is not for me to decide.