A German pastor who defended Jews’ rights to ritual circumcision will receive the highest award of the Central Council of Jews in Germany in ceremonies in Berlin.
The awarding of the Leo Baeck Prize on Thursday evening will honor Nikolaus Schneider, 66, president of the council of the Evangelical Church in Germany – the country’s main Protestant body – for his support for Jewish life in Germany, his dedication to Israel and his “unconditional solidarity in the circumcision debate” that embroiled the country in 2012.
Thursday’s ceremony kicks off a weekend-long “Community Day” event where some 600 Jewish leaders and community members will mark the Sabbath and network, brainstorm and discuss challenges facing Jewry in Germany and Europe.
One of the biggest recent challenges to German Jewry was last year’s attempt by activists to bar ritual circumcision. Many months of debate - sparked by a May 2012 ruling that criminalized non-medical circumcision in Cologne – closed with the passage of a law in December 2012 affirming the right to religious circumcision of boys and setting medical standards to be met by mohels.
During the debates, Schneider decried the Cologne ruling as criminalization of an age-old religious practice and said that this “attack on Jewish identity” upset him “greatly, given history, and our German history with Jewry.” Bucking popular opinion, Schneider also said he did not find this ritual to be “associated with trauma and physical injury” to a child, as the Cologne ruling stated.
The Central Council has given its Leo Baeck Prize, which comes wth a $14,000 prize, since 1957.