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. grainman

    The disfigurement is barbaric.
    Those days are over. It's meaningless now.

    June 28, 2012 at 9:29 am | Report abuse |
  2. Robert Postuma

    German court is right!

    June 28, 2012 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
  3. disgustedvet

    Gee, y'all being liberals,i would have thought this would be a popular idea among you. I mean the trying to force Religious people to do what's "good "for them,seemingly right down your alley. Maybe there's hope for you yet.

    June 28, 2012 at 9:31 am | Report abuse |
    • Koji

      disgustedvet: Haha what? You do realize it's the republicans that are trying to decide what you can and do in your own home and ESPECIALLY in your own bedroom.

      June 28, 2012 at 9:49 am | Report abuse |
  4. shagpal

    JEWS are foreskin obsesses

    June 28, 2012 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
  5. shagpal

    JEWS are foreskin obsessed

    June 28, 2012 at 9:33 am | Report abuse |
  6. Mr Grumpy

    Finally something that unites Jews and Muslims! And it's a dick! Too funny. Best laugh I had all week.

    June 28, 2012 at 9:34 am | Report abuse |
  7. Aezel

    So their argument is: "our religion allows us to mutilate people's genitals." Go **ck yourselves barbarians.

    June 28, 2012 at 9:35 am | Report abuse |
  8. mark

    Religious freedom is a joke. Why should parents be able to mutilate their children because of some rediculous religous belief. Time to get with the program. The decision is that of the child...not the parent. If this was surgery for medical neccessity it would make sense. But, mutilation for some religious reason is unethical.

    June 28, 2012 at 9:35 am | Report abuse |
  9. Doug

    For the defenders of this practice: You're essentially saying that, if it were my in my (non-existent) religious code that I beat my children until they have a permanent and deforming mark which causes them to lose a great deal of sensation in that area, that it'd be okay to do so.

    Or perhaps, it is my religious rite and tradition to remove the thumbs of my children. That is okay, because it's my religion.

    That is what you are defending, in essence.

    June 28, 2012 at 9:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Mendozian

      Did you read the next to last paragraph in particular? This is a logical, rational and intelligent thing to do.

      June 28, 2012 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |

      Doug how about you find a religion where you Shut up and hold your breath until you turn blue and leave others to follow their religious beliefs

      June 28, 2012 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Avanzini


      June 28, 2012 at 9:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      Well said

      June 28, 2012 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      Doug is right

      June 28, 2012 at 9:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Sailor101

      Do you live in Waco, TX? Becasue there is not other place for a Wacko like you!

      June 28, 2012 at 9:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Hindu

      Short and sweet and also right on target. 🙂

      June 28, 2012 at 10:08 am | Report abuse |
    • chefdugan

      Any country that would embrace Adolph Hitler would stoop to anything to increase the power of the "fatherland". If they had done anything different they wouldn't be German. That's the same number of letter as in

      June 28, 2012 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
    • yeahalright

      I know. You don't get to just say "well it's my religion" and get a blank card to do any kind of disgusting horrible violating mutilation that you want.

      June 28, 2012 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      It should be banned on children. If they want to do it for religious or any other reason, let them make the choice on their own when they're old enough to do so.

      So you do this to a kid who grows up to reject the religion which ordered this done. Too bad the person is permanently mutilated because of a decision that was forced on them at a young age. It's barbaric. And it is mutilation, don't kid yourself.

      June 28, 2012 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
  10. OldAsDirt

    Did anyone ever find the part of the Torah where God said "I goofed up, can you please remove that layer"

    June 28, 2012 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
  11. FlushlimpBalls

    Just a little off the top Doc.

    June 28, 2012 at 9:38 am | Report abuse |
  12. Mendozian

    "A German court has sparked a furor..." Nice choice of words, CNN. Really?

    June 28, 2012 at 9:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Me

      Makes sense to me since the word you're looking for is "Fuhrer."

      June 28, 2012 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
  13. Ray

    Don't touch my junk! If you're really so religious then leave me the way God made me. I'll decide for myself when I'm old enough what to do with my own parts. Who's the pervert who thought this procedure up to begin with?

    June 28, 2012 at 9:54 am | Report abuse |
  14. notstink

    Germans bathe about once a week and love to stink - this will double the stench.

    June 28, 2012 at 10:00 am | Report abuse |
  15. S.Israel

    what time does the train leave for Auschwitz? Do i need a ticket?

    June 28, 2012 at 10:09 am | Report abuse |
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