German rabbi faces charges for carrying out religious circumcisions

By Toby Axelrod, August 23, 2012

An attempt this week to prosecute a German rabbi for carrying out religious circumcisions is the latest assault in a Europe-wide attack on Judaism, say Jewish leaders.

The criminal charges being filed against a rabbi in Hof, in Bavaria, come in the wake of a ruling by a Cologne court in May that religious circumcision is a criminal act, and follows moves to block the practice in Austria and Switzerland.

The head of the public prosecutor’s office in Hof has also confirmed that the charges being filed by a doctor against Rabbi David Goldberg are the result of a legal ripple effect taking place across Germany. He said it was normal for a case in one state to serve as a precedent in another.

But Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles, declared: “The truth is, when Germany has a hiccup it has a knock-on effect, and we are in a rather strange convergence of anti-Muslim and antisemitic views, occasionally wrapped in pseudo-scientific concerns.

"The audacity that some lawyer is mulling over prosecuting a mohel who has done 3,000 brit milahs is outrageous.

“If democracies decide that they are going to ban brit milah and shechitah, this is an engraved invitation to European Jews to leave. They are saying ‘We don’t respect your religious freedoms’, and you can’t get more explicit than that.”

Dieter Graumann, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said: “This suit is discriminatory, insensitive and outrageously defamatory against the entire Jewish and Muslim societies in our country.”

The Conference of European Rabbis, Europe’s mainstream Orthodox umbrella organisation headed by Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt of Moscow, called the suit “a grave affront to religious freedom”, and called on Germany’s Minister of the Interior to take action to secure those rights.

The court in Hof has yet to decide whether to press charges against Rabbi Goldberg. If the suit is approved, he will be charged with causing bodily harm.

In reaction to the ruling by the Cologne court, Germany’s parliament passed a resolution stating its determination to protect the right of Jews and Muslims to carry out their traditions of ritual circumcision.

Still, Jews fear the effect of these cases elsewhere. Last month, hospitals in Switzerland temporarily stopped performing ritual circumcisions and the governor of Vorarlberg, an Austrian province, told state-run hospitals to suspend the practice until the legal situation in the country was clarified.

Scandinavia has seen a robust debate on circumcision, often fuelled by anti-Muslim, populist parties. The Norwegian Health Ministry has proposed that it is performed only in hospitals and, in Denmark, MP Jorgen Arbo-Baehr proposed a ban on circumcision of minors.

Human rights barrister Adam Wagner, who is speaking on the circumcision issue at this week’s Limmudfest in the UK, commented: “A UK court would be very reluctant to take action against circumcision, if, for example, it were faced with an attempt effectively to outlaw it by defining it as an assault against a child.

"This is a matter for Parliament, not judges. I’d be amazed if the European Court of Human Rights went anywhere close to effecting a ban. The court is not in the business of banning religious practices.”

Last updated: 11:02am, August 23 2012