Interior Minister Eli Yishai wrote a letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel
on Wednesday asking her to intervene against any measures that might criminalize
circumcision in her country.
Yishai’s letter follows a criminal complaint
filed this week by a physician in Germany against Rabbi David Goldberg, a mohel
based in Hof Saale, Bavaria, for performing brit mila.
Dr. Sebastian Guevara Kamm from Giessen in the German state of Hesse, seemingly
filed the complaint on the basis of a court ruling in Cologne, in North Rhine-
Westphalia state, in June that non-medical circumcision is a “serious and
irreversible interference in the integrity of the human body.”
to the DPA news service, the authorities in Bavaria are examining the complaint
for “criminal relevancy.”
However, following the Cologne ruling Bavarian
authorities said that they would not enforce the decision in their
In his letter, Yishai pointed out that several European countries
have acted against circumcision carried out according to Jewish
“As deputy prime minister, interior minister and leader of the
largest religious party [in Israel], but mostly as a Jew, I turn to you to ask
you to prevent this phenomenon from continuing,” the Shas chairman
The interior minister asked Merkel to ensure that Jews can
continue to proudly live fully Jewish lives in Germany.
one of the most important commandments for the Jewish people, and the first
given to one of the fathers of our nation, Abraham, as a sign of his eternal
treaty [with God],” Yishai said. “Even in times of slavery and exile, Jews made
sure to fulfill this commandment, and did so happily,” he added, quoting from
the Book of Genesis.
Jews in Germany should not have to choose between
the local law and God’s commandments, which protected Jews over the years, the
Shas chairman wrote. They should not have to pick Judaism or their
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, Goldberg said
the complaint was anti-Semitic and that he would continue to perform brit mila
The judicial authorities have not responded to
queries about the complaint and Goldberg has not received notification from the
prosecutor’s office about it.
The rabbi was informed about the complaint
by the press. He believes that Kamm filed the complaint and then informed the
Asked whether the reaction to the complaint was overblown, Rabbi
Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told the Post
that the “outrageous decision by one judge in Cologne has already led to major
hospitals in three countries to at least temporarily suspend brit mila. A major
political party in Norway is considering bringing forward legislation to ban
“The Jewish world had better wake up to growing trends in Europe
that denigrate our core religious rites of mila and shechita [ritual slaughter].
And frankly, the very notion that German authorities are even mulling over
whether they would bring charges against a rabbi for performing the mitzva of
mila should send a shiver down the spine of every Jew.”
In July, the
Bundestag, the lower house of the German parliament, passed a resolution by a
solid majority of deputies to anchor religious circumcision in law. The German
Justice Ministry is expected to issue a new regulation regarding the issue in
the coming months.
Cooper and Dr. Shimon Samuels, also from the
Wiesenthal Center, will meet with Justice Minister Sabine
Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger in Berlin on August 29 to press German leaders to
advance legislation to guarantee full legal protection of religious rights for
Jews and other minorities.
Goldberg, who says he has carried out 4,000
circumcisions over 40 years without ever experiencing a problem, denied the
possibility that the complaint could be construed as a human rights
“Of course it’s anti-Semitism,” Goldberg, 64, told the
“What does this doctor care about our children or what we do, or do
not practice?” Goldberg added that he has received emails and telephone calls
calling the practice of brit mila “primitive” and saying that if Jews do not
like the law of the land “they can go back to where they came from.”
said, according to German press reports, that the charge of anti-Semitism was a
“typical reflex” reaction and that he was not anti-Semitic.
As to the
possibility of using local anesthetic during brit milas, Goldberg said that was
possible but not a good idea since it could do more harm than good to
He added, however, that he did use anaesthetizing
creams to numb the area before carrying out circumcisions.
he hoped he would not be formally charged but that he was willing to stand trial
for carrying out brit milas.
He added that the complaint reflected a more
general problem in Europe with brit mila.
Jewish organizations around the
world have reacted angrily to the criminal complaint against
Officials at the Simon Wiesenthal Center expressed “shock and
anger” over the incident.
“Historically, attempts to stop the Jewish
people from performing this core Jewish rite, dating back to our patriarch
Abraham, were associated with ancient Greek and Roman rulers and modern-day
tyrants like Stalin and Hitler, not democracies,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier,
founder and dean of the center.
“This criminal complaint is an attack not
only on one rabbi but against the entire Jewish people.
Wiesenthal Center will marshal all necessary political and legal expertise to
thwart this outrage,” he added.
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger
returned on Wednesday from a “public diplomacy visit” to Germany, having been
asked by the German Jewish community, before Kamm lodged his complaint, to
address the issue of Jewish circumcision with German
“Throughout the centuries Jews gave up their lives for
this commandment, and when they were forbidden to perform it they did it in
secret anyway,” he said. “We do not want, God forbid, to return to these dark
Metzger said during a press conference in Germany that he was
concerned that the Cologne ruling could not only affect the legal situation
there but also in other European countries such as Switzerland, Austria and
Germany’s Minister for Family Affairs Kristina Schröder told the
main German Jewish newspaper Jüdische Allgemeine on Wednesday that “an
appropriate anesthetic during circumcision is for me an important
A spokesman from the ministry said that the German Ethics Council
would meet on Thursday in Berlin to address the controversy.
experts, including theologians, lawyers and physicians, will be present, Said
Schröder, “I recognize in Jewish religious practice there are ways to bring
pain-free and medical standards in harmony with religious law.”
minister met with Metzger and other rabbis to discuss the dispute. Metzger
stressed the possibility of medical training for Jewish circumcision
practitioners but rejected the use of local anesthetic.
Minister Guido Westerwelle said during a visit to Liechtenstein that “Jewish and
Muslim traditions must be allowed in Germany without legal hindrance. We should
not play with the reputation of Germany in the world as a land of religious
European Jewish Congress president Moshe Kantor expressed
“outrage” at the criminal complaint.
“It has been many decades since a
Jew was charged for practicing Judaism openly and [this] is reminiscent of far
darker times,” Kantor said in a statement to the press. “We hope that in
Germany, of all places, the authorities would remain far more sensitive to this
“The charges laid against a Jewish religious leader for performing
a fully legal action is outrageous and a very troubling escalation sending a
deeply problematic message to the Jewish community,” Kantor said.
Rabbinical Center of Europe, an organization representing more than 700 Orthodox
rabbis from across the continent, issued a statement saying it had mobilized
Europeans to support Goldberg, and that the number of responses from business
executives, Jewish and non-Jewish, who said they would help fund all necessary
legal costs had been “overwhelming.”
Rabbi Aryeh Goldberg, deputy
director of the RCE, explained that “Jews in Europe feel that this is an
struggle against Judaism. On the one hand it makes them angry, and on the other
it creates a great deal of sympathy and solidarity in the non-Jewish