Europe’s main Orthodox rabbinical body is urging Jews in Germany to uphold the commandment to circumcise newborn sons, despite a court ruling in Germany that said circumcising young boys could be considered a criminal act.
Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, said his organization is ready to back Jews in challenging the May ruling by a Cologne district court, which Jewish groups see as symptomatic of a trend across Europe against some Jewish rituals. The group held an emergency meeting this week in Berlin.
Goldschmidt said some lawmakers intending to curb Muslim practices unwittingly outlaw Jewish traditions as well.
“But I don’t think that 70 years after the Holocaust a German court would put a parent or a mohel in jail for performing a Jewish religious commandment,” Goldschmidt, the chief rabbi of Moscow, told JTA.
In the May court case that led to the ruling, the Cologne court acquitted a Muslim doctor of willful wrongdoing in the ritual circumcision of a 4-year-old Muslim boy. However, the court ruled that the right of the child to be protected from bodily harm took precedence over the interests of the parents or religious freedom. Accordingly, the court said, the circumcision of a minor for non-medical reasons could be considered a criminal act.
Two Berlin hospitals that routinely perform the surgery, mostly for Muslim families but also for Jewish ones, have temporarily stopped the practice.
The Central Council of Jews in Germany condemned the court’s decision and promised to work with German lawmakers to reverse the ruling. Muslim groups also have proposed bringing a test case to challenge the ruling.
Goldschmidt said his rabbinical group applauded the Central Council’s action and wanted to back it with moral and religious encouragement on a European level. He also said that the rabbinical conference had received assurances from Germany’s ambassador to Israel, Andreas Michaelis, that the German government will work on legislation to rectify the legal situation.
Virtually all Jewish denominations have roundly condemned the Cologne ruling, though they may differ on other religious practices. Events and petitions have been organized to draw attention to the issue.
Circumcision is one tradition that unites secular and religious Jews, Goldschmidt noted. He added that current challenges to the practice of circumcision and kosher slaughter in Europe stem from the notion that Muslims have similar practices but with less rigorous training than Jews. Lawmakers are reacting, for example, to botched circumcisions performed by poorly trained practitioners, he suggested, adding that such problems are extremely rare among mohels, or Jewish ritual circumcisers.
Meanwhile, the rabbinical conference is joining with the ORD, Germany’s Orthodox rabbinical body, to create an association of mohels to be supervised by the Association of Jewish Doctors and Psychologists. The association is headed by Berlin physician and philanthropist Roman Skoblo.