Couple fined for son's circumcision by British rabbi

Finnish Jews Moshe and Miriam Levi have been fined by the Helsinki District Court after British rabbi Yossi Simon did not use an anaesthetic when circumcising their son Aviv.

By Jessica Elgot, February 25, 2010
The Helsinki Community synagogue in Finland

The Helsinki Community synagogue in Finland

A Finnish couple who employed a British rabbi to circumcise their son must pay their child 1,500 Euros in damages after a Helsinki court found them guilty of conspiracy to commit bodily harm.

Moshe and Miriam Levi, members of Helsinki Community Synagogue, asked Chabad of Finland, to organise the circumcision for their son Aviv, their first child.

Dan Kantor, executive director of the Jewish community of Helsinki, said the couple were strictly Orthodox and did not want to use the mohel of the Helsinki shul, or a mohel from Sweden.

He said: “Usually circumcision is performed by our mohel, who is a member of our synagogue.”

Chabad arranged for Rabbi Yossi Simon, of Golders Green, a registered member of the Initiation Society, to fly to Helsinki to perform the circumcision, which took place in Finland in April 2008.

In the morning after the circumcision, Rabbi Simon checked the baby to make sure all was well. He was satisfied the circumcision was fine and returned to London.

But that afternoon the baby was rushed to hospital with excessive bleeding. The boy was treated by Dr Harry Lindahl at Helsinki University hospital and kept in overnight.

Dr Lindahl is a well-known campaigner in the Finnish press against circumcision. He was later called as an expert witness in the case.

Helsinki prosecutors decided to take up the case to attempt to set a legal precedent that circumcision can only be performed by a doctor, not a lay mohel.

Mr and Mrs Levi have now been found guilty of conspiracy to commit bodily harm by Helsinki District Court and must pay Aviv 1,500 Euros for pain and suffering.

The court ruling hinged on the fact that Rabbi Simon did not use an anaesthetic when performing the circumcision. The court did not rule that only doctors can perform circumcision.

A spokesman for the Initiation Society said that their mohelim rarely use anaesthetic when performing circumcisions as using a pain relief cream can cause inflammation, which can cause pain and inhibit the procedure. A pain relief injection could cause more pain to the baby than the procedure itself.

Nevertheless, anaesthetics can be used if parents request it.

Circumcision has already been put on trial in Finland. The Supreme Court in August 2008 ruled in the case of a Muslim boy that circumcision carried out for religious reasons in a medical manner was not a criminal offence, as long as pain relief is used.

But as the brit took place in April 2008, the precedent to use anaesthetic for circumcisions had not yet been set by the Supreme Court case.

The prosecutor is expected to appeal against the decision by the court not to specify that the mohel must be doctor.

Rabbi Simon was unwilling to comment. Helsinki prosecutors attempted to get co-operation with London authorities to prosecute the rabbi in Helsinki but no further action has been taken against him in the UK.

Finland’s Jewish community is made up of approximately 1,600 Jews, with 1,200 living in the capital.

The country has two Orthodox synagogues, one in Helsinki and one in the western city of Turku, where around 200 Jews live. Helsinki Synagogue has recently celebrated its centenary.

Despite fighting alongside the Nazis in World War Two, the Finnish government never actively persecuted Jews after pressure by Lutheran ministers, Finnish bishops and the Social Democratic Party.

Last updated: 4:57pm, February 25 2010