The Jewish “Circumcision Scandal” in Edwardian Britain

In February 1895, the British medical periodical, The Lancet, reported “some interesting letters” in a recent edition of the New York Medical RecordThe correspondence related to an increase in the number of deaths of baby boys in New York after Jewish circumcision. Letter writers attributed this increase to the growth of the city’s Jewish population and to the practices of unhy gienic and incompetent mohelim, Jewish ritual circumcisers. The Lancet observed “that in this country we seldom hear of such accidents.” This state of affairs was not to continue and within a few years the London Jewish Chronicle was carrying readers’ correspondence on the activities of mohelim in Britain under the caption “The Circumcision Scandal”.

During 1902-5, a spate of news reports on inquests into deaths after cir cumcision created concern and embarrassment among British Jews. The reports provoked the British Jewish establishment, led by Dr Hermann Adler, the Chief

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