Deep Divide in Germany After Court Rules Circumcising Babies Is ‘Criminal’
Berlin. A German
court decision branding the Muslim and Jewish rite of circumcising baby
boys a criminal act has left disbelief, outrage and serious legal
questions in its wake.
A cartoon in Sunday’s edition of Berlin
daily Tagesspiegel cast the dispute over the ruling published last month
as a high-stakes struggle between religious beliefs and European
Sitting on a cloud, God reads about the Cologne
court’s judgement then telephones Allah and Jehovah, saying: “We’ve got
to talk — the atheists are getting more and more full of themselves.”
The ruling said circumcision of male infants on religious grounds was tantamount to grievous bodily harm, a criminal act.It concerned a case brought against a doctor who had circumcised a 4-year-old Muslim boy in line with his parents’ wishes.
When, a few days after the operation, the boy suffered heavy bleeding, prosecutors charged the doctor. The
court later acquitted the doctor himself of causing harm but judged
that “the right of a child to keep his physical integrity trumps the
rights of parents” to observe their religion, potentially setting a
European Muslim and Jewish groups have banded together
to criticize the ruling, with the support of top Christian clerics, and
called on German MPs to pass legislation protecting the practice.
recent poll on the issue shows that 56 percent of Germans agree with
the court — among them Georg Ehrmann, president of German children’s
charity Deutsche Kinderhilfe.
“Religious communities should share in the consensus that a minor should have the right to an undamaged childhood,” he said.
But 35 percent of people believe the ruling is wrong.
This clash of cultures, known as “Kulturkampf” in German, has filled column inches in recent days.
German diplomats admit the decision has been “disastrous” for the image
of the country abroad, amid international outcry over the ruling.”
Cologne ruling is very troubling to us since circumcision is one of the
rites Jews died for over generations,” Israeli Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi
Yona Metzger said. “I am very concerned we will revert back to
500-600 years ago and conduct circumcisions in secret. I hope the issue
will be resolved in Germany through legislation.”
Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein told AFP that “from the Jewish
perspective, a circumcision ban is the most severe prohibition
possible,” compared to other bans such as on ritual slaughter. “If we let this pass (in Germany), there will be no way to stop it from spreading to other European states.”
Edelstein, however, noted the “positive potential” to the ruling as it applies to Muslims and Jews alike. “It
could happen that joint action on this could do something to bring the
two communities closer, and possibly prevent anti-Semitism from extreme
Edelstein mentioned two debates held in
Israel’s parliament over the issue, one joined by the German envoy to
Israel, and recent meetings Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin held in
Germany with members of the Bundestag lower house.
“I have the impression the German side understands it is not appropriate for Germany to prohibit circumcisions,” Edelstein said.
on German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle tried to calm the storm,
writing on his Twitter account: “We have to be clear: religious
traditions are protected in Germany.”
Germany is home to around
four million Muslims — many of whom are of Turkish origin — and more
than 200,000 Jews, as the country has seen a flourishing of Jewish life
more than six decades after the Holocaust.
Both Muslims and Jews
practice circumcision though the Koran does not impose it, unlike the
Torah which says the procedure must be done before the eighth day of a
Neither wants to have to wait until a child turns 14, the age of religious majority, when he can decide for himself.
of its legal standing, Germany’s chief medical association has advised
doctors who routinely perform circumcisions on baby boys on behalf of
parents citing religious grounds to refrain.
“We are trying to
explain the court’s decision but parents are completely confused, they
don’t get it at all,” Gerhard Nerlich, spokesman at Berlin’s Jewish
Hospital, told AFP.
The facility performs 70-80 circumcisions a
year for religious reasons, a third of which are on Jewish boys and the
rest on Muslim children.
“It’s very surprising and bewildering. We
tell people we’re really sorry, we have been performing circumcisions
for years but now we can’t do it any more,” said Nerlich.
Religious groups say they they feel excluded from German society. “Every
country in the world” respects the right to circumcision, said Dieter
Graumann, president of the Central Council of Jews, calling the ruling
For Muslims, the judgement is another example of
Germany overstepping the mark after rows over animal slaughter and the
“Germany must recognize the diversity that
exists in this country, that Muslims, Islam are part of the country, of
society,” said Ramazan Kuruyuz, who took part in a conference of Muslim
groups on the issue in Cologne this month.