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. Prophetess

    When is class supposed to let out, anyway? This prof is dull.

    June 27, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Philip

    What? @banasy. Most families were led by nazi sympathizers...men whom sided with the nazis rather than resist going along with them. What a slap in the face this German citizens siding with nazis as members of their own christian religion along with millions of jews were trampled on.
    "Everyone knew about the camps"-Oskar Schindler

    June 27, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  3. banasy©

    Philip:
    I was speaking to Jeff Frank.
    There was absolutely nothing ambiguous about my message to him.
    They deleted one message I had written to Jeff Frank.
    I therefore wrote another one to Jeff Frank.
    When Jeff Frank reads it, he will understand it, unless they delete it again, at which point I will write the same message to Jeff Frank.

    June 27, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  4. banasy©

    And not to put to fine a point on it, Philip, but both Jeff and I had family die in the camps; remember how you were saying how cranky you were about the fire in your beloved Colorado Springs?
    I cannot speak for Jeff, but I feel the same way when you bring up Lnazi sympathisers" in the same post as What@banasy.com
    I have written about this before.
    I highly f-ing doubt that a) there were nazi sympathisers in my family and b) you've forgotten that about my family history.

    I won't speak of this again.

    June 27, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
  5. banasy©

    Your 5:59 comment has been answered.
    I beg you to read it and not use me as one of your lessons again.

    June 27, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Basil Fawlty

    This is exactly how Nazi Germany started.

    June 27, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
  7. BOMBO ©

    I'm a bit confused. Are they saying circ um cisions are OK if they are done for NON-religious reasons, such as cultural or family history?

    June 27, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dawn

      no only medical reasons

      June 28, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  8. banasy©

    And, of course, none of this has to do with circ umscision.
    I am done with it!
    Bah!

    June 27, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
  9. banasy©

    Hi, BOMBO ©!
    Who the hell knows?
    It's Germany...after all...

    June 27, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©™

    @ Philip:
    Of course they all knew what happened in the camps.
    I knew Aryan Germans who fled.
    "We could smell it," a German woman told me.
    I've known Jewish survivors who lived through the camps, and some who got out of the country any way they could.
    @ bobcat (iah):
    I'll remember your mother-in-law joke as HOW JOEY GOT HIS EMPATHY BACK.
    @@mystery guest:
    Of course all of the regulars relate to each other, even those who usually bicker. We keep coming back, don't we? Friends nag sometimes.

    June 27, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
  11. BOMBO ©

    And what does the medical community say at the moment? When my son was born, they were recommending it, as a hygienic measure. They had in previous years however said the rates of infection later in life were not an issue if you just "kept it clean." They may have returned to that thinking, I don't know.

    June 27, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Mary

    @ BOMBO ©, It would seem so. The are article says that the court finds the proceedure harmful. This has been done for hundreds of years and not just to fulfill one of many laws with in the jewish faith; it's for proven medical reasons as well.
    This reasoning they give falls flat. Just some insane reason to tar at the religious practices that most follow. To me? I see it as one of many steps to follow at eliminating all religion.

    June 27, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
  13. LisaKami

    It's important to note that having the procedure done shortly after birth is a very simple, outpatient procedure using just a topical anesthetic. Our son didn't even cry. But if you have it done once they're older it's a major ordeal requiring a surgical specialist and full anesthesia, and the recovery can be quite painful.

    June 27, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
  14. banasy©

    Well, hello, JIF.
    I hope you are well; I haven't seen you here much.

    June 27, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
  15. BOMBO ©

    Is this an assault on religion? Possibly, but as I've said before, I'm pretty sure God can take care of Himself.

    In all seriousness, I would have no problem with them putting severe restrictions on circ- for older kids, never mind particular religious practices.

    June 27, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
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