German court declares circumcisions a crime

Jewish group calls decision "unprecedented, dramatic interference in self-determination right of religious communities."

circumcision brit mila 311 R (photo credit: Gil Cohen Magen / Reuters)
circumcision brit mila 311 R
(photo credit: Gil Cohen Magen / Reuters)
BERLIN – A regional court in the west German city of Cologne issued a decision terming circumcisions to be a form of bodily harm and subject to criminal penalties, according to the German language edition of the Financial Times (FTD) on Monday, triggering an angry reaction from the Central Council of Jews on Tuesday.
According to the head of the Central Council, Dr. Dieter Graumann, the court issued an “unprecedented and dramatic interference in the right of religious communities to self-determination.” He added that the decision is an “inappropriate and insensitive act.”
Graumann said that circumcision of male babies is a Jewish ritual that has been practiced for thousands of years worldwide.
The Central Council called on the “Bundestag as a lawmaker to create legal security so that religious freedom is protected.”
The FTD, which obtained a copy of the court ruling, wrote that it was the first time in Germany that a religious practice has been criminalized. The Cologne case revolves around the circumcision of a four-year-old child. The parents brought the child to a Muslim physician who performed the circumcision. It is unclear from the report if the child is Muslim. After two days, the child suffered from bleeding and was taken to an emergency center for children. The local prosecutor filed charges against the person who performed the circumcision.
According to the court’s ruling, the case represents a “severe and irreversible damage of physical integrity.”
The FTD reported that the Muslim and Jewish communities are reviewing the ruling and have not commented.
A University of Passau legal scholar, Holm Putzke told the paper in contrast to many politicians in Germany, “the court did not allow itself to be concerned about being criticized for anti- Semitism or hostility toward religion.”
Putzke said the court ruling would fundamentally alter the concept of children’s rights in the Federal Republic. He said the decision could lead to a change of consciousness of the affected religions to respect the rights of children.
The court ruling, according to the FTD, may be challenged and may compel a decision from Germany’s highest legal body – the Federal Constitutional Court.
The online edition of the Jewish Press website quoted Rabbi Aryeh Goldberg, vice president of the Rabbinical Center of Europe, saying “the Court’s decision is unacceptable and gravely violates religious freedom.”
He added that “the decision is contrary to human rights charter of the European Union, to which the German legal system is committed, and undermines the basic right to worship in the German Constitution.”
It is not the first time that Cologne’s prosecutorial and legal system has triggered national controversy in Germany.
In 2010, the public prosecutor ruled that a cartoon exhibit, widely believed to be anti-Semitic, did not meet the criteria of incitement to hate because it did not constitute hatred of Jews and the petitioner, who objected to the exhibit, was not Jewish. One cartoon shows a man sporting a Star of David on his bib as he devours a young Palestinian boy with a fork draped in an American flag and a knife with the word “Gaza.” A glass filled with blood stands next to to his dinner plate. Gerd Buurmann, the non- Jewish resident, who termed the exhibit anti-Semitic, has waged a two-year campaign to prevent the permanent cartoon and photo exhibit to be displayed on the central square in Cologne.
He filed a criminal complaint against Walter Herrmann, the organizer of the anti-Israel exhibit, for violating Paragraph 130, an anti-hate-crime law that bars incitement against minority groups. Cologne’s prosecutor rejected the complaint.