Germany today finds itself embroiled in a religious controversy that touches the very core of its post-war identity, while at the same time addressing the strains of adapting to an increasingly multi-ethnic, multi-racial and multi-religious makeup.
In June, after a Muslim boy suffered health complications from a ritual circumcision, a court in Cologne declared nonmedical circumcision to be criminal because it causes children bodily harm. Amid outrage from Jewish and Muslim leaders who said it threatened their religious freedom, lawmakers quickly passed a resolution promising legislation guaranteeing legal protection for circumcision.
Germany is home to about 120,000 Jews and 4 million Muslims.
Israel’s chief rabbi of Ashkenazi Jews, Yona Metzger, has sought to assist German political leaders in crafting legislation to protect the right of ritual circumcision.
The issue was further enflamed after a doctor in the southern German city of Hof, in Bavaria, reportedly filed charges with local prosecutors against a rabbi there to stop the practice. Prosecutors must still decide whether to act on the charges, which the Council of European Rabbis described as a “grave affront to religious freedom.”
Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that banning circumcisions would make Germany a “laughing stock.”
So far the ban only applies to the western city of Cologne. But the decision immediately called into question the legality of circumcision nationwide. The German Medical Association told doctors not to perform circumcisions. Even some doctors in neighboring Austria and Switzerland were advised to stop performing the procedure until legal questions were answered.
Addressing the issue, ICRF president Dan Fefferman said “the infringement of the right of Jewish and Muslim parents to circumcise their sons is a serious violation of religious freedom. It is especially ominous when it happens in Germany, whose historical record of the ‘Jewish question’ must never be forgotten.”