German circumcision debate flares up after probe on rabbi
Berlin’s Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal (L), Hamburg’s Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky (C) and Israeli Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger talk during the federal press conference on the current German debate about religious circumcision in Berlin, Germany. ‘Doctors should also study the teaching material and decide whether a circumciser is competent,’ Metzger says, adding controversy to the issue. AFP photo
The circumcision debate in Germany has flared up again, as a rabbi has faced a criminal charge by a doctor after performing a circumcision on a baby. Another rabbi claims that doctors should test the medical competence of people who perform circumcisions.
In a ruling published in June, a court in Cologne said the removal of the foreskin for religious reasons amounted to grievous bodily harm and was therefore illegal, in a judgment that sparked an outcry at home and abroad. The court ruled, on the basis of one infant who did not receive proper care, that non-medical circumcision, practiced for religious reasons by most Muslims and Jews, causes bodily harm and is therefore a crime.
Legal proceedings have since been launched against David Goldberg the rabbi of the city of Hof in Bavaria, according to Jüdische Allgemeine magazine, a Jewish-German newspaper. The lawsuit claims that circumcision inflicts “physical harm” on an infant. Chief prosecutor Gerhard Schmitt confirmed that legal proceedings against Rabbi Goldberg are going ahead.
The doctor filing the suit against Rabbi Goldberg based his claims on the Cologne court’s ruling. The current case is the first one in which a Jewish circumcision would be the focus of a possible legal proceeding in Germany.
Goldberg said he had no personal knowledge of the potential case against him, in a conversation with Israeli daily Haaretz. “I have only heard about this ... from journalists. I have not yet received anything. The moment I do receive something, I will pass it on to the Central Council of Jews in Germany.”
Unity among religions
In a rare show of unity, Muslims, Jews and Christians in Europe have united against the ruling restricting circumcision. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also warned that Germany could become a laughing stock if it fails to turn over a district court ban on circumcision.
The ruling has also sparked debate in other countries. In neighboring Austria a state governor advised doctors against performing the procedure, even on religious grounds. In Norway, the ombudsman for children’s rights has suggested that circumcision should be replaced with a symbolic ritual instead.
After heavy criticism, German lawmakers passed a cross-party motion to protect religious circumcision. The resolution urges the government to draw up legislation in the fall that “ensures that the circumcision of boys is carried out to medically professional standards and without undue pain,” and finding that this would be “fundamentally permissible.”
The development came as another rabbi said doctors should test the medical competence of those who perform circumcisions. “Doctors should also study the teaching material and decide whether a circumciser is competent,” Yona Metzger told reporters in Berlin, according to Agence France-Presse.
The final decision as to whether a person can practice the rite must be made by the chief Rabbi’s office in Israel, added Metzger, one of two chief rabbis of Israel.