Criticism of German Court's Circumcision Decision: Jews Denounce Ruling, Seek Ways to Proceed

Israeli politicians and European Jewish leaders on Monday condemned a recent German court decision equating circumcision with causing bodily harm. Germany's top diplomat to Israel said the ruling does not apply at the national level, and officials at the Justice Ministry are reviewing the development.

The surgical instruments for a Jewish circumcision are laid out. Zoom
DPA

The surgical instruments for a Jewish circumcision are laid out.

An Israeli parliamentary committee Monday denounced a recent German regional court decision making circumcision a crime while the ruling also provoked the Conference of European Rabbis to call for an emergency meeting in Berlin to discuss the issue.

Both groups agree that ritual circumcision of Jewish boys when they are eight days old is a fundamental part of being Jewish.

Israeli politician and committee member Danny Danon noted that Germany last banned circumcision in the country's "darkest hour," referring to the Nazi years and the persecution of the Jews. The Associated Press reported that Danon said Israel would not tolerate restrictions on the practice of Judaism anywhere in the world, "and certainly not in Germany."

The Israeli committee's denouncement of the decision, announced last month by a court in Cologne, was made after committee members met with Andreas Michaelis, Germany's ambassador to Israel. He said Germany is working to resolve the issue and that the ruling does not apply at the national level.

Meanwhile, European rabbis, outraged at the ruling, have called for a two-day conference beginning Tuesday in Berlin to discuss how to deal with the ruling.

In a statement issued on Monday, Conference President Pinchas Goldschmidt, said the Cologne court "utterly failed to consider how fundamental" circumcision is to the Jewish community.

German Green Party leaders Renate KŁnast and Volker Beck wrote in the Berliner Zeitung newspaper on Monday that circumcision should not automatically be considered a criminal offense, and the Cologne ruling needs to be reviewed in light of religious freedom. They called for a "differentiated view" of the practice.

Ruling Unlikely to Lead to Prosecutions

Muslims, Jews, Catholics and Protestants alike have cricitized the ruling. The Coordinating Council of Muslims in Germany called the ruling a "massive intrusion on religious freedom and on parents' rights." Meanwhile, the Central Council of Jews in Germany warned the ruling "would make Jewish life in Germany practically impossible." The Torah explicitly states that all Jewish boys should be circumcised on the eighth day after their birth.

It is estimated that at least 15 percent of German men are circumcised, with around 50,000 circumcisions performed each year. Among Jews and Muslims, an uncircumcised penis is considered to be a blemish, but the procedure is also undertaken in other countries for non-religious reasons. In the United States, around 70 percent of all men are circumcised.

In its ruling late last month, the court held that circumcision represents minor "bodily harm" to children. Here, that terminology is legally important, because public prosecutors are not required to pursue cases of minor bodily harm. A case would only be opened if an injured person or that injured person's parent files charges. It is not expected that many cases will ensure as a result of the court ruling.

But a German Justice Ministry spokeswoman, speaking on condition of anonymity according to government regulations, told the AP that legislative action might be needed to protect religious traditions in Germany. "It's being examined whether there needs to be a change to the laws and if so, in which form," she said.

mew -- with wire reports

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