Rabbis condemn Cologne circumcision ruling


A COLOGNE court ruling that the circumcision of young boys constitutes grievous bodily harm “calls into question the future existence of Jewish life in Germany”, according to leading European rabbis.

At a meeting in Berlin, they joined a growing chorus of condemnation of a Cologne regional court ruling in the case of a four- year-old Muslim boy who died of complications following a circumcision.

The court ruling applies only in the immediate Cologne area and is likely to go to a higher court for a final decision but has already sparked a heated debate.

In its verdict, the Cologne court acquitted a doctor on charges of “physically mistreating another person and injuring that person’s health by means of a dangerous instrument”. However, it ruled that the physical integrity of the child had precedence over freedom of religious expression. Even when parents give their consent, a circumcision could, it said, be considered a criminal act.

German Muslim and Jewish groups have vowed to fight the ruling and have urged their respective communities, four million and 120,000 respectively, to ignore the ban.

But many doctors around Germany who perform religious circumcisions have announced they are suspending the practice until the legal situation is clarified.

Chancellor Angela Merkel promised just that yesterday, intervening in a heated debate weighed down in Germany with historical sensitivity.

“It is absolutely clear that we want to have Jewish and Muslim religious life in Germany,” said Steffen Seibert, Dr Merkel’s spokesman, yesterday. “Circumcision carried out in a responsible manner must be possible in this country without punishment. Freedom of religious expression is very important to us.”

European rabbis meeting in Berlin said overturning the ruling of the Muslim boy was of greater urgency for its community given the practice of circumcising Jewish boys eight days after birth.

“A ban is a fundamental problem for the continued existence of Jewish communities . . . if it is upheld I see no future for Jewish life here,” said Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmit, chief rabbi of Moscow and president of Europe’s main Orthodox rabbinical body, after a meeting in Berlin. “Circumcision is the basis of entrance to Jewish people. We will not change a 4,000-year-old practice.”

Muslim leaders have expressed concern the ruling would cause a precedent in other German jurisdictions. The German medical association has warned it could increase the risk to boys by driving circumcision underground.