Iceland Welcomes First Rabbi as Country Considers Circumcision Ban

09 Apr 2018

It’s a strange time for the Icelandic Jewish community.

On the one hand, the community has recently greeted 27-year-old Avi Feldman of New York as the country’s first resident rabbi. On the other hand, Rabbi Feldman, his wife, Mushky, and their two daughters arrive as Iceland’s parliament prepares to vote on a bill banning the non-medical circumcision of boys.

Before his arrival, Feldman told the JTA that he and his wife “hope to bring awareness to local Icelandic people and especially to lawmakers in their decision on rules.” He also called the bill  a “matter of great concern” for those who “value religious freedom,” though he insisted that the proposed legislation was not based in any Iceland hostility towards Jews.

Shechitah – the ritual slaughter of animals, necessary for the preparation of kosher meat – is already illegal in Iceland. Bans on circumcision and ritual slaughter in effect or proposed in various European countries make religious life difficult for both Jews and Muslims. Israeli-born Sigal Har-Meshi, who has lived in Iceland for 14 years, called such laws insulting.  “It’s my country telling me and my husband we are not only barbarians, but criminals just because I’m Jewish,” she said.

In this environment, the rabbi’s arrival is welcome news to the community of several dozen without a synagogue. 100 people gathered at a local hotel for a Passover Seder. Salmon was served, as kosher meat is unavailable in Iceland. In addition to opening a synagogue and a Chabad house, the Feldmans are negotiating the import of kosher meat through local distributors.

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