Chancellor Merkel furious over German circumcision row

By Toby Axelrod, July 19, 2012

Jewish leaders are greeting signs that Germany will ensure the right of Jews and Muslims to circumcise their sons, following a court ruling in Cologne that puts that right in jeopardy.

A spokesperson for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Steffen Seibert, told Reuters on Friday that for “everyone in the government it is absolutely clear that we want to have Jewish and Muslim religious life in Germany. Circumcision carried out in a responsible manner must be possible in this country without punishment.”

Mrs Merkel herself was even more robust, telling a closed meeting of her Christian Democrat Party: “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.”

In May, the Cologne district court cleared a Muslim doctor of wilful wrongdoing in the circumcision of a four-year-old boy. However, the court ruled that the right of the child to be protected from bodily harm took precedence over the interests of the parents or religious freedom. Accordingly, the court said, the circumcision of a minor for non-medical reasons could be considered a criminal act.

Though the ruling applies only locally, and does not ban circumcision outright, it has had a ripple effect, with hospitals in Berlin closing their doors to Jewish and Muslim parents until legal clarity can be achieved.
Chancellor Merkel’s exasperated comments came on the heels of an emergency conference in Berlin organised by the Conference of European Rabbis.

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, head of the group and chief rabbi of Moscow, urged Jews in Germany to uphold the commandment to circumcise newborn sons, and not to fear the law.

He declared: “I don’t think that 70 years after the Holocaust a German court would put a parent or a mohel in jail for performing a Jewish religious commandment.”

Last updated: 12:14pm, July 19 2012