Jews, Muslims slam German circumcision ruling as assault on religion
A German court has sparked a furor by ruling that religious-based circumcisions are not in a child's best interests.
June 27th, 2012
02:15 PM ET

Jews, Muslims slam German circumcision ruling as assault on religion

Jews and Muslims are joining forces in outrage over a German court's decision that could prohibit parents from having their children circumcised for religious reasons. The court deemed the oft-religious procedure an act of "bodily harm" to children, according to German media reports.

The Tuesday ruling says doctors who perform the procedure for religious reasons could be charged with committing bodily injury, sparking a debate that pits parents' religious freedom against a child's right to self-determination. The court essentially ruled that circumcision is not in a child's best interests, according to the German newspaper Der Spiegel.

"The body of the child is irreparably and permanently changed by a circumcision," the court said. "This change contravenes the interests of the child to decide later on his religious beliefs."

While the ruling is expected to influence other courts, it is not legally binding, Der Spiegel noted.

The procedure, which is relatively common in the United States (roughly six in 10 newborn boys are circumcised), is not so prevalent in Europe. In Germany, only 11% of boys are circumcised, according to 2007 figures. However, many of Germany's 4 million Muslims and its 100,000 Jews consider circumcision a religious rite.

The case began in Cologne in 2010 after a doctor performed a circumcision on a 4-year-old Muslim boy. His parents took him to a hospital two days later because he was bleeding heavily, the Medical Daily website reported. When prosecutors learned of the emergency room visit, they brought criminal charges against the doctor.

A court initially tossed out the charges, saying the parents had consented to the procedure, which constituted a "traditional ritual belonging to the Muslim community," according to Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper. One reason the court cited for defending the procedure was that a child who wasn't circumcised risked being ostracized by his peers, Der Spiegel said.

Prosecutors appealed, and a higher court ruled that circumcisions should be performed only for medical reasons. The court said its decision was for the "good of the child, who would be able to decide for himself which religious community he or she would belong to," Haaretz reported.

While denouncing the procedure, the higher court gave the doctor a pass, acquitting him because he acted in good faith and could reasonably argue he didn't realize he was committing a crime because of Germany's imprecise laws on circumcision, the paper said.

While German doctors "have been operating in a legal gray area," according to Der Spiegel, they have until now been able to cite the law's vagueness in asserting the legality of circumcision. Tuesday's court ruling would deny doctors that out, the newspaper reported.

Within hours of the decision, Jews and Muslims - not just in Germany but from all over the world - banded together to protest what they saw as an assault on their religious freedom.

The New York-based Anti-Defamation League said circumcising newborn males was a "core religious rite of Judaism" and echoed a call by Germany's Central Council of Jews demanding the Bundestag pass legislation protecting the religious practice.

"The decision by a district court in Cologne, Germany, to deem non-medical circumcision a crime places an intolerable burden on the free exercise of religion by Jews and also by Muslims who practice male circumcision as part of their religious faith," Abraham Foxman, the ADL's national director, said in a statement.

While the law did not appear anti-Semitic in its intent, Foxman continued, the ultimate message was clear: "Jews are not welcome."

"Germany has dedicated itself to re-building Jewish life, and the consequences of a ban on circumcision would be a devastating blow to the future of the Jewish community," Foxman wrote.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin told Israel Radio that he also felt Germany's parliament should handle the issue legislatively, The Jerusalem Post reported.

“The parliament in Berlin understands the ramifications of the ruling,” Rivlin said. “Not allowing a person to follow his religion opposes every constitution.”

Ali Demir, chairman of the Islamic Religious Community, called circumcision a harmless and "highly symbolic" procedure that had spanned thousands of years. Banning it could have an adverse on Muslims integrating into German society, he told Der Spiegel.

Added Aiman Mayzek of the Central Council of Muslims: "Religious freedom is very important in our constitution and cannot become the pawn of a one-dimensional ruling that also further strengthens existing prejudices and clichés about this issue."

At least one rabbi concurred that education was key to helping people understand the importance of circumcision to Jewish and Islamic cultures.

A "public relations campaign in cooperation with the Muslim community will do away with misunderstandings and will prevent both intentional and unintentional harm to freedom of religion in Europe," Rabbi Menachem Margolin of the Brussels, Belgium-based Rabbinical Center of Europe told Haaretz.

Circumcision entails removing some or all of the foreskin covering the penis. It's most commonly performed on newborn males for religious, personal hygiene or, in some case, preventative health care reasons, according to Medical Daily. The procedure becomes markedly more complicated when performed on older children or adults.

Der Spiegel reported that medical experts advising the Cologne court declared there is no "need in Central Europe to perform circumcisions as part of preventative health care," but the World Health organization begs to differ.

While there are short-term risks to circumcision - bleeding, hematoma and sepsis, among them - there is "substantial evidence" the procedure can help protect against urinary tract infections, syphilis, HIV and chancroid and invasive penile cancer. Male circumcision also increases sexual pleasure for men and women, WHO reports. (report PDF)

Roughly 30% of men in the world have undergone the procedure, and about two in three of those are Muslim. The procedure is routinely performed in Israel, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. and much of the Middle East, Central Asia and West Africa, according to the organization.

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Filed under: Courts • Crime • Germany • Health • Islam • Israel • Lawsuit • New York • Religion • World
soundoff (566 Responses)
  1. david holmes

    It is not hurting him and will avoid lot deceases

    June 28, 2012 at 12:50 am | Report abuse |
  2. waldo8

    david holmes

    It is not hurting him and will avoid lot deceases

    say what? you did not just say that? oh my gawd?

    and people, there you have it! What more can be said? I don't want to call names so I'll leave it at that.

    June 28, 2012 at 12:54 am | Report abuse |
  3. snowbird50

    This is a stupid practice that is traumatic and unneeded. Religion should do no harm. I've never understood why parents disfigure their sons in this way.

    June 28, 2012 at 12:57 am | Report abuse |
  4. inewt

    The only reason that could be religious for this terrible mutilation would be that God made a terrible mistake in creating man, and this fix corrects that. God's creation is grossly imperfect and requires modification. Or maybe just that priests can't keep their hands off of kid's junk, so they cooked up this excuse.

    June 28, 2012 at 12:58 am | Report abuse |
    • BRL

      actually – according to Jewish learning, we are partners in creation with God. The man provides the sperm, the mother the egg, and God the soul. God purposefully created man incomplete, so that by completing the job, we become partners in creation with him.

      June 28, 2012 at 2:19 am | Report abuse |
    • guest

      inewt: your argument stinks. First, many religious practices are based in best health practices. Like restrictions on eating certain foods, this is an example of a health practice that has become a religious practice. After all, most religious requirements are really basic laws (e.g., thou shall not kill). Second, humans are very imperfect. Take for example people who are crippled, blind, deaf, or even just have bad eye sight. Should we ban laser eye surgery because glasses work just fine?

      June 28, 2012 at 2:22 am | Report abuse |
  5. T

    before i even read this article: the photo at the top of the article is kinda disturbing. I think the kid might appreciate a little privacy in this situation.

    June 28, 2012 at 1:19 am | Report abuse |
  6. Bob

    Religious nut cases claim all kinds of "rights" that are just plain nutty. Why would you want to mutilate a little boy just for the sake of religion? The German court got this right, let the religious whackos nash their teeth all they want, but leave my body parts alone!

    June 28, 2012 at 1:34 am | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      Agreed bob, a babies right not to be mutilated supersedes a parents right to religious insanity. Hurt your self, not an innocent baby. If when they are of age let them choose to have there pen is mutilated

      June 28, 2012 at 1:42 am | Report abuse |
  7. Bribarian

    deport them if they dont like it

    June 28, 2012 at 1:42 am | Report abuse |
  8. Tarcil

    Yeah, Germans, great idea to deny Jews the right to practice a very important part of their religion... We know the Germans have such a great track record of respecting the Jews...

    June 28, 2012 at 1:50 am | Report abuse |
    • nottolate


      Those so-called Jews practice their religion in ignorance anyway. Nor are they authentic Jew as the scriptures point out.

      June 28, 2012 at 8:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Committing genocide is also a major aspect of Judaism. Should we let Jews massacre a group of gentiles whenever they want to?

      June 28, 2012 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
  9. anonymous

    For real. I have no sensitivity in certain parts of my willie due to this butchering procedure. It is barbaric. I would really like reconstructive surgery if they could reconnect all the nervous that where hacked away. Its like they took away part of my life.

    June 28, 2012 at 2:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Don't Touch My Junk

      Totally agree with anonymous. This is a barbaric, butchering and mutilation of the human body. The religious cultures that support this practice need to advance from the dark ages. Male children should be allowed to make this decision for themselves when they are adults and not have this archaic procedure thrust upon them.

      June 28, 2012 at 9:47 am | Report abuse |
  10. anonymous

    Tarcil- Yes, genital mutilation is a great tradition to be defended- not.

    June 28, 2012 at 2:13 am | Report abuse |
  11. deeper

    FINALY... something Jews and Muslims can agree upon... as for the "their is no God" comments... get a life, for real, anything to put your agenda out there huh?

    June 28, 2012 at 2:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Truth isn't an agenda.

      June 28, 2012 at 8:18 am | Report abuse |
  12. Ahkmed the Terror Guy

    Yes. Why you think I leave Afghanistan and disguise self as illegal Mexican and come to America?
    Muslim religion so watered down, even mere infidels are accepted as members! I see your Christian religion have same problem.
    Maybe go back to good old days when a Jew was a Jew even without gentile F-22s and Caterpillar bulldozers. When a Muslim was a Muslim defending homeland from invading infidels rather than being an invading infidel. When a Christian followed Jesus instead of some other man proclaiming to be a follower of Christ.
    Watering down the words of a holy book in order for you yourself to fit-in is worse than burning it. A charred remains of truth is far more valuable than a dust covered book of lies.

    June 28, 2012 at 6:33 am | Report abuse |
  13. Aundrea

    It is a disgusting practice. I would not harm my child for any man or any god.

    June 28, 2012 at 7:35 am | Report abuse |
    • RodRoderick

      ...Then you "are" already hurting your children if you are raising them away from God's love.

      June 28, 2012 at 7:58 am | Report abuse |
    • HPNIII

      It is performed in US routinely however we had to wait on our first child till he was two years old (long story) and let me tell you I never felt so bad when he was crying for 2 or 3 days after. It really hurts if not done at birth, it make me stop and think if this is the best thing to do or not.

      June 28, 2012 at 8:04 am | Report abuse |
    • JohhnyZ

      ....until, at 45 years of age, you medically require it. Close friend was un-c'd and developed an infection that required it. He said it was extremely difficult to tolerate the healing process and associated pain. Mine? I don't remember any pain or healing as I was a baby and so thankful that my parents made that simple decision.

      June 28, 2012 at 8:27 am | Report abuse |
  14. Sagebrush Shorty

    Ban Islam.

    June 28, 2012 at 7:40 am | Report abuse |
  15. Paul

    Baby boys have freedom of religion too, and that means a parent's religion cannot be forced onto them. A child can make his own decision when he's old enough to.

    June 28, 2012 at 7:44 am | Report abuse |
    • RodRoderick

      sure – they can also vote and pay taxes. not.

      June 28, 2012 at 7:59 am | Report abuse |
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