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. rodney

    I think they should take off the whole thing, thus reducing the myth believers.

    June 27, 2012 at 10:47 pm | Report abuse |
  2. southernwonder

    the main problem of the world is that the old irrational mideast stuff is allowed to set agenda for all for our modern rational world. some orhtodox jews can be a real pain in the rear. they must be ignored and sent back to their small colony of equally irratioal people with long beards and funny caps in mideast.

    June 27, 2012 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • inewt

      with such great wisdom it is amazing The South lost the war

      June 27, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Sci0n

    Thank you Germany for sticking up for the rights of the child, let hope this spreads.

    June 27, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • DasWasser

      Of course, always was the land of kultur, something to look up to in an otherwise drab world.

      June 27, 2012 at 11:13 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Kyle Michel Sullivan

    What a stupid thing to say. Just stupid.

    June 27, 2012 at 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
  5. jqent

    Oh goodie, the token Obamaphobe is here! Isn't he cute? He thinks so, anyway.

    June 27, 2012 at 10:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      It's good no one ever posted anything about Bush during his presidency.

      June 28, 2012 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
  6. jqent

    Does anybody bother to ask the child if it wants to have its most sensitive organ carved on?

    June 27, 2012 at 10:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • AZ

      4 yrs old boy will tell what is good for him or not ? He is too small to understand what is better for him.

      June 27, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • stacy

      It's to be performed somewhat immedieatly after it's born. The child would never have any recolletion of the procedure, it's looks so much better and it's a lot easiery to keep clean!

      June 27, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, B.A., J.D., S.P.J.

      So Jews and Muslims agree on something! Wow!

      June 27, 2012 at 11:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, B.A., J.D., S.P.J.

      Jews have been doing it for over 5,000 years, Muslims for 1,600 years. It is an amusing ruling from a culture where military officers in the Prussian military academy had to fight each others with real lethal razor sharp sabres (not the dull sabers that you use in fencing) until an officer candidate was cut on the cheek. Then the officer would purposely get the cut infected so that he could make an ugly scar. Take a look at Otto Von Bismark's face. Was that barbaric? Perhaps! The origin of the word Barbarian comes from the Latin word for beard. Most all Semites and Europeans have beards, and so the Chinese who tend to have less facial hair call them both Barbarians. Is rounding up civilians, putting them on cattle cars and then sending them to extermination centers barbaric? I guess it depends who's asking, and who is answering! If you look at the population of China, it is clear that facial hair has nothing to do with verility or fertility. If everyone looked, acted and believed the same, it would be a very boring world. Is acupuncture Barbaric? Given recent German history, perhaps they ought to not try and control everyone's private parts.

      June 27, 2012 at 11:46 pm | Report abuse |
  7. revolting peasant

    From my perspective, this is a clearly a direct shot at Jews and Muslims. That said, I support Obama's inistence that religious organizations offfer healthcare policies that provide for contraception. I'm not sure if this is a double standard. Thoughts?

    June 27, 2012 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • YBP

      It's barbaric, and in the case of children, unjust, no matter who is doing it, or for whatever delusional purpose.

      June 27, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thomas

      The concept of inflicting bodily harm (controlled or not) on a newborn child for any reason yet alone 'religious' is very different from mandating 'religious' groups to offer prescription medication to prevent pregnancy in adults who may or may not be part of their religion. Some forget that religious groups employ people who are NOT part of their religion. As businesses religious groups should follow the legal expectations of that every other worker expects generally under the law.

      June 27, 2012 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Bill

    Gee, who would have thought that the Germans would be promoting Muslim and Jewish unity... 😉

    June 27, 2012 at 11:03 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jeb

    Germans really need to watch Schindler's List again....a few times...and remember why they received the biggest beat down in history.

    June 27, 2012 at 11:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • vinni gambini

      par for the course.........
      pride before the fall......
      here they go again.......
      buh-bye Euro.

      June 27, 2012 at 11:17 pm | Report abuse |
  10. craig

    The first issue is apparently not in doubt: this is not (with rare exceptions) a medically-required operation.

    So...we're left with the question of religion. We traditionally allow parents wide sway in choosing how to raise their children, and that includes what, if any, religious education and training they will receive growing up. However, we also understand that small children and infants are not capable of making that sort of decision for themselves. That also holds true for medical treatment. We let parents decide in most cases.

    So...tradition says the parents can (and do) make this decision, often based upon their own religion. However, in this one case, the choice the parents make is irreversible, and that means the child...when grown...can't exercise his own rights. The "damage" (if you want to call it that) has been done. He could renounce his religious background, but his body will not change.

    Therefor it ultimately becomes a question of "should parents have the right to make a lifetime decision" for their child...while knowing there is no medical reason to do so? How do we balance religious traditions against human rights? Tough questions, no easy answers. However, this is not about antisemitism, even though some want to make it that. This question would be equally valid...and equally vexing...if it was about Baptists or Lutherans or any other church.

    June 27, 2012 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • YBP

      Valid questions, Craig, but the answers is easy, ban religion, embrace science. The latter handily negates the former.

      June 27, 2012 at 11:24 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Kate

    Genital mutilation is just that, whether performed on a male or female. But, alas, religion, irrational and barbaric by nature, continues to force itself on others. Uncut men retain considerably more erotic sensitivity than their mutilated counterparts.

    June 27, 2012 at 11:10 pm | Report abuse |
  12. czar33

    What do they do with the foreskin ????
    Sell to gays as chewing gum! HA HA HA

    June 27, 2012 at 11:13 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Tmans

    If humans were born with wisdom teeth, would it be barbaric to remove them when they are a baby instead of letting them choose for themselves later in life?

    June 27, 2012 at 11:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • YBP

      All things being equal...? Nice try, but very weak analogy.

      June 27, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Dear Kenyan Leader

    Neither group belongs in Western countries. Let them go home where they can snip each others privates to their hearts content.

    June 27, 2012 at 11:15 pm | Report abuse |
  15. czar33

    What do they do with the foreskin ????
    Sell to gays as chewing gum! HA HA HA

    June 27, 2012 at 11:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • YBP

      It's time for you to get out of the joke business, bigot.

      June 27, 2012 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
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