Outraged German Jews slam court for prohibiting circumcision

Community president says ruling marks ‘unprecedented and dramatic interference,’ calls on Bundestag to ensure religious freedom

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

Illustrative photo of an 8-day-old baby boy being prepared for his circumcision. (Serge Attal/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of an 8-day-old baby boy being prepared for his circumcision. (Serge Attal/Flash90)

The Central Council of Jews in Germany on Tuesday slammed the “outrageous and insensitive” decision of a regional court to prohibit circumcisions, calling upon the German parliament to pass a law that safeguards freedom of religion.

The District Court of Cologne court ruled earlier this week that parents having their sons circumcised can be brought before a judge for causing bodily injury, even if they did so for religious reasons. The ruling means that neither the rights of parents nor the constitutional freedom of religion can justify acts such as circumcision, according to Financial Times Deutschland, which first reported the story.

In a statement released Tuesday, the German Jewish community’s Central Council called the court’s ruling an “unprecedented and dramatic interference in the right of self-determination of religious communities.”

“This judgement is outrageous and insensitive,” said the Council’s president, Dieter Graumann. “The circumcision of newborn boys is an inherent part of the Jewish religion and has been performed for millennia across the world. In every country in the world this religious right is being respected.”

The Council further called upon the German Bundestag to “create legal protection and thus safeguard freedom of religion from such attacks.”

Opponents of circumcision, meanwhile, welcomed the court’s ruling.

“As opposed to many politicians, the court was not deterred by fears of being criticized for anti-Semitism or hostility toward religion,” University of Passau jurist Holm Putzke told the FTD. “This decision could not only influence future jurisdiction, it could also lead the relevant religions to change their attitude with respect to the fundamental nature of children’s rights.”

The case that prompted the ruling took place in Cologne, when a four-year-old boy, circumcised by a Muslim doctor, began bleeding two days after the surgery and needed to be brought into the emergency room. The state prosecutor’s office learned of the case and sued, leading the district court to rule that circumcision was a “severe and irreversible interference into physical integrity.”

Legal experts told the German newspaper they assume that other courts in Germany could rule along similar lines in further cases and that the question of religiously motivated circumcisions will end up in the country’s Supreme Court.

Today, there are about 200,000 Jews in Germany, about 5,000 of them in the western city of Cologne. “We understand the disquiet and we noticed the numerous phone calls and emails of our community members. We will stay involved and keep you updated,” Jewish community officials in Cologne said in a written statement.

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