Bloomberg News

Rabbis Urge German Jews to Ignore Ruling Against Circumcision

July 12, 2012

Jews in Germany should keep circumcising their boys and ignore a court ruling against the practice, European rabbis said.

Circumcision “is a basic law of the Jewish faith,” Pinchas Goldschmidt, who heads the Conference of European Rabbis, told reporters today in Berlin after a three-day meeting. The gathering was called after a district court in Cologne ruled that circumcising children for religious reasons amounts to bodily harm even if parents agree to it.

Goldschmidt urged Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to draft legislation to ensure that the practice remains legal. If instead the court’s ruling finds its way into law, “then the overwhelming part of the Jewish community won’t have a future in Germany,” he said. “I’m sure that a large part would simply leave.”

The May 7 ruling, which has also been condemned by Muslim and Christian leaders, may spark political tension between Israel and Germany. An Israeli parliamentary committee on July 9 denounced the court’s decision after it met with Andreas Michaelis, the German ambassador to Israel. Six million Jews were murdered under the Nazis during the Holocaust. Germany, home to about 4 million Muslims and 110,000 Jews, is working to resolve the issue, Michaelis told the panel.

Rabbis plan to meet with Muslim imams and Christian bishops next week in Stuttgart for a dialogue on circumcision and religious freedom, Avichai Apel, a rabbi in Dortmund and a board member of the Orthodox Rabbinical Conference of Germany, said at the conference. Those attending the meeting agreed to create an association for recognized Jewish circumcisers, he said.

Ruling Needed

German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said July 11 the best way forward would be a precedent-setting ruling on the issue by the Federal Court of Justice or the Federal Constitutional Court. The Cologne ruling isn’t legally binding beyond this individual case, Holm Putzke, a law professor at Passau University, said in telephone interview.

That’s not the preferred way for the Jewish community, Apel said. “I don’t think anyone can assure us that the constitutional court in Karlsruhe will decide differently,” than the court in Cologne, he said.

The legal controversy began in November 2010, when a Muslim couple living in Cologne asked a doctor to circumcise their 4- year-old son. The doctor circumcised the boy using a local anesthetic and closed the wound with four stitches. Two days after the procedure, the mother rushed her son to the hospital after the wound began bleeding. The hospital contacted the police, who started an investigation that led to bodily harm charges against the doctor.

While the Cologne court acquitted the doctor in its decision because of the legal uncertainty at the time, it ruled male circumcision, even when done properly by a doctor with the permission of the parents, should be considered as bodily harm if carried out on a boy unable to give his consent.

The child’s body would be “permanently and irreparably changed,” the court said in its decision. The procedure goes “against the interests of a child to decide for himself later on to which religion he wishes to belong,” it said.

Editors: Leon Mangasarian, Andrew Blackman.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stefan Nicola in Berlin at snicola2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at landberg@bloomberg.net


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