Criminal charges filed against German rabbi for performing circumcisions

David Goldberg, who oversees a 400-member strong community in northern Bavaria, is the first mohel to be charged since Cologne court banned the ritual

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

Illustrative photo of Jews performing a religious circumcision. (Serge Attal/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of Jews performing a religious circumcision. (Serge Attal/Flash90)

For the first time, criminal charges have been pressed against a German rabbi for performing circumcisions, a Jewish weekly reported on Tuesday.

A doctor from Hesse filed a criminal complaint against Rabbi David Goldberg, who serves in the community of Hof, in Upper Franconia (northern Bavaria), according to the Juedische Allgemeine weekly newspaper. The chief prosecutor of Hof confirmed that charges had been filed against the rabbi. The charges are based on the controversial decision of a Cologne district court, which ruled in June that circumcisions for religious reasons constitute illegal bodily harm to newborn babies.

“I am shocked,” said Cologne Rabbi Yaron Engelmayer, co-chairman of the national umbrella group of Orthodox rabbis in Germany, in a first reaction to the report. This marks the first time that a court in the Federal Republic of Germany is investigating a rabbi for performing a religious ritual, Engelmayer told the paper.

Goldberg, a qualified mohel (ritual circumciser) who says he has performed more than 3,000 circumcisions, was informed about the criminal charges against him by journalists, the paper said.

Born in Jerusalem, the 64-year-old has been the rabbi of Hof since 1997. Before World War II, about 3,000 Jews lived in Hof. Today, the community counts about 400 members.

“This latest development in Hof is yet another grave affront to religious freedom and underlines the urgent need for the German government to expedite the process of ensuring that the fundamental rights of minority communities are protected. We call upon the Minister of the Interior to take immediate action to secure those rights in the short term,” Conference of European Rabbis, Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt said.

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The Cologne court decision caused a major uproar in Germany’s Jewish and Muslim communities, leading the Bundestag to pass a joint resolution calling on the government to ensure legal certainty for ritual circumcisers. “A medically professional circumcision of boys, which does not cause unnecessary pain” should be “generally permissible,” the resolution read.

While the Jews in Germany feared the implications of the Cologne ruling, they expressed confidence last month that they would be able to continue performing the rite.

“At the moment — in our view — the verdict formally does not severely affect the ability to perform circumcision since the decision of the court is formally not binding for other cases,” the secretary-general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Stephan Kramer, said.

Rabbi Engelmayer, from Cologne, told The Times of Israel in July that the court decision had “enormously” impacted Jewish life in his community. “De facto it looks as if doctors across the country are afraid [to perform circumcisions],” he said.

“The mohels are inquiring, and we tell them: without circumcision, there is no Judaism,” he said at the time. “Therefore it is hard to imagine how the courts could criminalize a correctly performed Jewish circumcision ceremony. It would be too harsh a sign, especially from Germany.”

Engelmayer added: “I think that Germany will refrain [from permanently outlawing circumcisions], also in light of the chorus of outrage, the criticism and the damage it could do to Germany’s image in the world.”


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