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Criminal charges filed against German rabbi for performing circumcision

Published time: August 21, 2012 21:40
Edited time: August 23, 2012 07:59
Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

A German Rabbi has become the first person to face criminal charges after performing a circumcision. The charges come less than two months after a Cologne court ruled that the religious act causes bodily harm to children.

Rabbi David Goldberg was sued by a German doctor on Tuesday, for inflicting “physical harm” by circumcising an infant.

Chief prosecutor Gerhard Schmitt confirmed that the complaint was filed, although it has not yet been decided whether legal action will be carried out against the rabbi.

The new law bans religious circumcisions in Cologne, although medical circumcisions remain legal.

The June court ruling sparked outcry from Muslim and Jewish communities across the world.

The issue originally came about after a Muslim doctor performed a circumcision on a four-year-old boy at his parents’ request.

Two days later, the boy was taken to the hospital after complications arose.

German authorities launched a criminal investigation against the doctor. Although the initial court trial ruled that there was no violation of the law, the prosecutor’s office took the case to the Cologne district court, where religious circumcision was banned.

The ruling says circumcision "for the purpose of religious upbringing constitutes a violation of physical integrity.”

The court decision has sparked a rare show of unity between Jews and Muslims, who see the decision as a threat to religious freedom.

Immediately after the district court ruling, Chancellor Angela Merkel lashed out against it, saying her country risked becoming “a laughing stock” if Jews and Muslims were banned from practicing their rituals.

The issue was taken to the European Parliament where Jewish and Muslim religious leaders met with the European officials in Brussels to complain about what they called “an affront to their basic religious and human rights.”

Muslims circumcise young boys before the age of 7, while Jews perform circumcision rituals on the eighth day after birth.

"Circumcision represents the basis for belonging to the Jewish community. It has been practiced for 4,000 years and cannot be changed," Chief Rabbi of Moscow Pinchas Goldschmidt said in a statement.

But those who support the ban say it is entirely necessary, in order to protect children from unnecessary pain and potential harm.

Communities in Switzerland and Austria have followed suit by temporarily banned circumcisions after Cologne’s ruling.

The Norwegian ombudsman for children’s rights, Anne Lindboe, told Vart Land newspaper that circumcising boys was a violation of their right to make decisions regarding their own bodies.

“Muslim and Jewish children are entitled to the same protection as all other children,” Lindboe said.

A medical adviser to the Norwegian government has proposed that Jewish and Muslim circumcisions are replaced with a non-surgical procedure.

‘Like a Communist state’

The case coincides with the Chief Rabbi of Israel’s visit to Germany. Yona Metzger is in Berlin for talks aimed at garnering support for the continuation of Jewish circumcisions in the country.

Metzger, who was invited to Berlin by Jewish community leaders, will speak before senior German ministers, members of the Bundestag, and members of the German Parliament’s ethics committee.

Metzger has previously warned Germany against behaving “like a Communist state” by banning circumcisions.

“For generations, Jews have sacrificed their lives to carry out this commandment and when they were forbidden from carrying it out, they even did so secretly. We do not want, God forbid, to return to those dark days,” he said.

The Chief Rabbi has proposed opening a professional school for mohels in Germany so that Jewish circumcisers can learn specialized circumcision skills. This would allow circumcisions to serve religious purposes while still being legal in the eyes of the law.

According to the plan, rabbis will undergo training with German doctors who will teach them how to cope with possible complications during the surgery and how to administer first aid when needed.

Despite the ongoing controversy, some within Germany’s Jewish community remain optimistic.

“I think that Germany will refrain [from permanently outlawing circumcisions], in light of the chorus of outrage, the criticism and the damage it could do to Germany’s image in the world,” Cologne Rabbi Yaron Engelmayer told the Times of Israel.