Merkel assails circumcision ban, backs Jewish, Muslim rights

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel (Reuters/Thomas Peter)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country risked becoming “a laughing stock” if Jews were banned from practicing their rituals. She lashed out against a district court ruling that infuriated both Jews and Muslims by outlawing circumcision.

­“I do not want Germany to be the only country in the world where Jews cannot practice their rituals,” Merkel was quoted by Bild as saying. “Otherwise we will become a laughing stock.”

Joerg van Essen, the parliamentary floor leader of CDU’s junior coalition partner the Free Democrats, noted that a law protecting the right to circumcise male babies would be introduced in the fall. Last week, Merkel said it was necessary to introduce legislation “to establish legal certainty” on the ancient rite and prevent it from being subject to prosecution.

The circumcision controversy was sparked last month, when a district court in the city of Cologne ruled that the circumcision of a non-consenting child was a violation of Germany’s constitutional protection against bodily harm.

A number of clinics in the city reportedly refused to carry out the procedure in fear of legal ramifications.

The court’s decision caused a flurry of outrage from a number of religious groups, both Jewish and Muslim.

The US-based Wiesenthal Center called the court’s decision an attack on the fundamentals of Judaism and urged Merkel to intervene and revoke the ban. Marvin Hier, the Center’s founder, said legislation prohibiting circumcision would be a “stain on today’s Germany,” noting that since the defeat of Nazism, the country had gone a long way to guarantee religious freedom.

The Coordinating Council of Muslims in Germany also stated that “a ban on circumcision would not be good for Germany or Germany’s image.”

However, some groups actually came to back the court’s ruling.

The US-based Jewish Circumcision Resource Center noted that the ritual could cause pain and trauma to the child. 

The majority of the world does not circumcise because of an instinctive awareness of the harm, analogous to cutting off any other healthy body part,” the group said in a statement, titled “The German Circumcision Ruling: What about the harm to the child?

The British Secular Medical Forum also supported the ruling, and urged Merkel not to let “emotional blackmail” persuade her to change the law, and allow children to grow up first, and make the decision on whether to get circumcised or not later.    

We are shocked that religious groups deny the harm and at the distorted and disingenuous claims made by those opposing the court's decision, wrongly suggesting that it is an indication of anti-Semitism,” Dr. Anthony Lempert, the Forum’s chairman, stated in a letter to the chancellor.

Germany is home to some 120,000 Jews and about four million Muslims, almost five per cent of the population. A number of German doctors have urged politicians to clarify the legality of the practice, noting that a ban could force it underground, jeopardizing the health and safety of infants.

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, urged Jews in Germany to continue their practices despite the ban, and said the ban was an example of growing anti-Christian prejudice in Europe.