Israeli cabinet minister pleads with Merkel to prevent prosecutions for circumcision

Day after criminal charges filed against rabbi, Eli Yishai urges chancellor: ‘Don’t force the Jews living in your country to choose between the law and a divine command’

Eli Yishai (photo credit: Noam Moskowitz/Flash90)
Eli Yishai (photo credit: Noam Moskowitz/Flash90)

Interior Minister Eli Yishai on Wednesday appealed to Chancellor Angela Merkel to intervene to prevent the prosecution of Jews for carrying out the ritual of circumcision — brit milah — in Germany.

Yishai wrote to Merkel a day after criminal charges were filed against Rabbi David Goldberg, a mohel — ritual circumciser — who serves in the community of Hof, in Upper Franconia (northern Bavaria). The criminal charge was based on a controversial ruling by a Cologne district court,  in June, that circumcisions for religious reasons constitute illegal bodily harm to newborn babies.

“Don’t force the Jews living in your country to choose between following the law and obeying a divine command that we have observed over the years according to our tradition,” said Yishai’s letter, quoting verses from the Book of Genesis.

Yishai said there is a growing current of anti-Semitism in European countries, including Germany, and related the attempts to ban circumcision to that trend.

“As the Deputy Prime Minister of Israel, chairman of its largest religious party and, above all as a Jew, I appeal to you to put a stop to the trend of exploiting the legal system to promote vested interests, and to enable Jews to uphold the Jewish way of life in your country fully and proudly,” read the letter, written in German.

“Circumcision is one of the most important commandments for the Jewish people and the first bequeathed to the patriarch Abraham,” added Yishai.

Jewish organizations have chorused their protest at the charges against Goldberg. The Jerusalem-born rabbi himself said in an interview on Army Radio Wednesday that he will continue to perform the religious rite. “If they call me to do a circumcision,” Goldberg said, “I will go to do it.”

Although not a ban on circumcision, the June court ruling did pave the way for prosecution of those performing the operation for “non-medical” reasons as well as the parents of children put under the knife.

Israel’s Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger noted Tuesday that Jews are religiously required to circumcise baby boys on the 8th day after birth. Metzger, who represents Israel’s European-descended Jews, said he believed the Cologne judge’s decision was made in innocence and not born out of anti-Semitic sentiment.

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