A ban on circumcision by the courts in Germany has suprised and shocked the nation’s Jews and Muslims. Also brought into question is the right of parents to make decisions for their children.
A court ruling in Germany has effectively banned circumcision and has Jews and Muslims united in anger – and they are backed by the country’s main medical association and many members of the German parliament.
Muslims have warned that the devout will take their sons abroad to be circumcised.
Jews have reminded the world that attacks on Jewish religious rituals have have continued in Europe since the time of the Romans and have been outraged by the latest ban. A Russian rabbi in Berlin called it “perhaps the most serious attack on Jewish life in Europe since the Holocaust”, although that comparison may be a little extreme.
The German government spokesman said that circumcision must be possible in Germany – though he didn’t say whether the District court decision would be referred to a higher court.
The district court of Cologne in handing down its decision stated circumcision “for the purpose of religious upbringing constitutes a violation of physical integrity”. They further added, “The child’s body is permanently and irreparably changed by the circumcision. This change conflicts with the child’s interest of later being able to make his own decision on his religious affiliation.”
The decision arose as a result of a circumcision on a four-year-old Muslim boy who later was taken to hospital when complications developed. The case entered the German legal system and the doctor carrying out the circumcision was prosecuted. It was alleged that the doctor “physically mistreated another person and injured that person’s health by means of a dangerous instrument”.
The doctor was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing, however the court decided that circumcision was illegal but that the doctor couldn’t have known that. It had been done for so long that what seemed legal, wasn’t. As the doctor was cleared, there can be no appeal to a higher court, which means the soundness of the rest of the judgement cannot be tested, at least in the near future.
The decision of the court leaves doctors with a dilemma. Doctors are convinced that circumcision is best performed under medical conditions by physicians in a hospital. As this is no longer legally possible, doctors will be advised not to perform these operations because they run the legal risk of being taken to court.
Without entering into any religious debate on this matter, I note that circumcision is one of the oldest rituals in Judaism dating back 4000 years to the times of Abraham. The procedure is often carried out by a “mohel” who is trained to carry out circumcisions, but many Jewish parents prefer the added safety of having the procedure done in a hospital or clinic. According to the Jewish faith, the procedure (normally) must be carried out on the baby’s eighth day of life. Thus this ruling would have a profound effect on the parents of Jewish boys who wish to conform with the beliefs and teachings of their faith.
For Muslims the decision is not quite so dire as a Muslim boy can wait until puberty before having the procedure carried out. Muslim parents have stated that they will take their sons abroad to have the procedure carried out if it cannot be legally done in Germany.
A senior rabbi in the UK believes the decision of the German court was primarily directed at Muslims, with Jews being “collateral” damage. There are many more Muslims in Germany than Jews.
After many rabbis travelled to Berlin to protest the decision, a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel reassured Germany’s Jewish and Muslim communities that they would be free to carry out circumcision on young boys in spite of the court ban which has challenged religious freedom in Germany.
Ms Merkel’s spokesman stated that is should be “absolutely clear” that Jewish and Muslim religious life will be accepted and welcome in Germany, and that “Circumcision carried out in a responsible manner must be possible in this country without punishment.”
Chancellor Angela Merkel stated today (17th) that Germany could become a laughing stock if it failed to overturn a district court ban on circumcision that has enraged both Jews and Muslims alike. The Merkel government has already criticised the court ruling and promised a new law to protect the right to circumcise male infants.
“I do not want Germany to be the only country in the world where Jews cannot practise their rituals. Otherwise we will become a laughing stock,” Merkel was quoting as saying today. The new law could be introduced as early as autumn.