An Israeli woman appealed to the Supreme Court on Wednesday against a rabbinical ruling that ordered her to circumcise her one-year-old son, the Justice Ministry said, in the first case of its kind.
There is no law in Israel making circumcision obligatory for Jews, but a rabbinical court that was presiding over the woman’s divorce case ruled last month that she must fulfil her husband’s wish in the matter.
It fined her 500 shekels ($142) a day until she did so.
Circumcision is one of Judaism’s most fundamental decrees. It symbolizes the covenant between God and the Jewish people and nearly all Jews in Israel abide by it, performing the ritual when their son is eight days old.
Traditionally, the circumcisions are performed by a mohel, a religious man trained in the procedure, and are carried out in a festive ceremony called a “brit” – Hebrew for covenant.
Rabbinical courts in Israel have jurisdiction over matters of marriage and divorce and operate under the Justice Ministry. But in her appeal, the woman, who has not been named, said the rabbis had no jurisdiction over her son’s circumcision.
“This is precedent-setting,” said Amnon Givoni, an attorney for the Justice Ministry’s Legal Aid department, which is representing the woman along with two other lawyers.
“Performing or not performing circumcision is a serious matter and it should be discussed deeply … and separately from the matter of the couple’s divorce.”
In their ruling last month, the presiding rabbis said the woman was using her refusal to circumcise her son as leverage against her husband.
The couple began divorce proceedings when the baby was one month old and in the time that has passed, the ruling said, the woman has been standing in the way of her husband, who wants to fulfil one of the most important Jewish edicts.
Jewish law, the rabbis said, puts the onus on the father to see his son is circumcised.
But the mother says circumcision is tantamount to physical abuse. “I don’t believe in religious coercion,” she told Channel 2 News last month, facing away from the camera so her identity was not revealed.
The rabbinical court had no immediate comment, but in a statement it issued after its ruling last month, it said that it was acting in the child’s best interest.