German Christians join Jews against circumcision ruling

Israeli politicians and European Jewish leaders on July 9 condemned a recent German court decision equating circumcision with causing bodily harm. Germany's ambassador to Israel claims that the ruling has no effect nationally, even while the German justice ministry is looking into the decision. An Israeli parliamentary committee 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 males is a fundamental part of Jewish identity.

Israeli politician Danny Danon noted that Germany once banned circumcision during the years of Nazi domination and persecution of Jews. Media 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 was made after committee members met with Ambassador Andreas Michaelis, who represents Germany in Israel. Ambassador Michaelis said Germany is working to resolve the issue and that the ruling does not apply at the national level. It was a court in Cologne that made the ruling in June 2012.

European rabbis have called for a two-day conference beginning on July 10 in Berlin to discuss how to deal with the ruling. A leading rabbi, Pinchas Goldschmidt, said the Cologne court "utterly failed to consider how fundamental" circumcision is to the Jewish community. Muslims, Catholics and Protestants have also criticized 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 by the eighth day after their birth.

 Germany's two main Christian denominations severely criticized court ruling. The conference of Catholic bishops said the ruling is "extremely disconcerting". Catholic Bishop Heinrich Mussinghoff said "To ban circumcision is a serious attack on religious freedom." Hans Ulrich Anke of the Evangelical Lutheran Church said, "Religious freedom and parents' right to choose how to educate their children have not been weighed against the fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity".  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. For example, in the United States, around 70 percent of all men are circumcised.

The Cologne court ruled that circumcision represents minor "bodily harm" to children. In Germany, such terminology is important because 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. However, German Justice Ministry spokeswoman, speaking on condition of anonymity, 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.

Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.


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