After German ban, UK Jews pledge to ‘vigorously defend’ the right to circumcision

After German ban, UK Jews pledge to ‘vigorously defend’ the right to circumcision

Cologne court's decision to criminalize the procedure unjustified, Board of Deputies of British Jews says

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Tools for a circumcision procedure (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)
Tools for a circumcision procedure (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

The UK Jewish community on Thursday condemned this week’s decision of a German court to prohibit circumcisions, saying it was likely to be overturned by a higher court and expressing confidence that no such legislation would ever pass in Britain.

“The court’s comments were ill-informed and unjustified,” the Board of Deputies of British Jews said in a statement released Thursday. “They failed to attach proper weight to the freedom of religion enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights and the right of parents to decide what is in their child’s best interests, including taking into account deeply held religious and cultural values.”

The District Court of Cologne court ruled earlier this week that parents having their sons circumcised could be prosecuted for causing bodily injury, even if they did so for religious reasons. In their decision, the judges stated that neither the rights of parents nor the constitutional freedom of religion can justify the procedure’s “severe and irreversible interference into physical integrity.”

Parents have to wait for their children to grow up and be able to decide whether they want to be circumcised , a spokesman for the Cologne court said. Other courts are not bound by the Cologne decision, legal experts said.

“The German Judges’ claim that circumcision causes bodily harm is patently false,” the Board of Deputies stated. The group said it was confident that the ruling will be overturned in a higher court and that the status-quo in Britain, which allows circumcisions for religious reasons, is not going to change.

“In this country detailed guidance given by the General Medical Council and British Medical Association makes it clear that circumcision is lawful when it is competently conducted and in the parents’ view is in the best interests of the child,” the Board stated. “The Board will vigorously defend any attack on Brit Milah and will continue to protect and defend our community against all attempts that threaten its rights to practice Jewish religious tradition and customs.”

In Germany, the court’s decision has been heavily debated. While opponents of circumcision celebrated their victory, numerous newspaper columnists and representatives from all major religions slammed the judgment, saying it was unconstitutional and would alienate immigrants and minority groups.

“This judgment is outrageous and insensitive,” said the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumann. “The circumcision of newborn boys is an inherent part of the Jewish religion and has been performed for millennia across the world.”

Abraham Lehrer, the head of Cologne’s Jewish community, called upon the German parliament to grant legal protection for religious groups performing circumcisions. “It’s now the turn of the politicians who always talk about this state’s Jewish-Christian foundations.”

The director of the New York-based Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, supported Graumann’s call for legislation that would protect parents’ rights to perform circumcisions on their young sons.

“Germany’s commitment to religious freedom requires nothing less,” Foxman said in a statement. “Germany has dedicated itself to re-building Jewish life, and the consequences of a ban on circumcision would be a devastating blow to the future of the Jewish community. While the ruling by the court in Cologne does not appear to have anti-Semitic intent, its effect is to say, ‘Jews are not welcome.’”

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