German Circumcision Ban Effects Muslim and Jewish Communities

German Circumcision Ban Effects Muslim and Jewish Communities

by Sheila Musaji

Jonathan Tobin in Commentary reported on a recent German court ruling that will have profound effects on Muslims and Jews.  He said

In a ruling that will affect Muslims as much as Jews, a district court in Cologne, Germany, has ruled that circumcision is illegal. The case, which stemmed from a botched circumcision of a Muslim child, is just the latest instance in which the religious practice has been attacked. But though the legal implications of the ruling are not yet entirely clear as it may violate the European Union’s Convention on Human Rights, it raises the possibility that a ritual integral to Jewish identity as well as required by Muslim religious law will be banned.

For the growing Jewish community, the court may have created a serious logistical problem, as this may deter doctors or other persons from performing circumcisions because of a fear of prosecution or lawsuits. But just as important is the symbolism of the ban coming from a country where open expressions of anti-Semitism were driven underground by the reaction to the Nazi era. If a judge can attack Judaism as well as Islam head on in this manner without fear of the consequences, then perhaps a tipping point may have been reached in German society that may have serious consequences for the long-term viability of Jewish life in the country and Western Europe.

...  Though it is to be hoped this ruling will soon be overturned by joint legal efforts by Jews and Muslims, no matter what the outcome of the litigation, it must send a chill through a growing German Jewish community that has come to think of itself as immune to the dangers presented by the country’s past. They may be learning that in spite of the country’s advances, anti-Semitism never goes completely out of fashion in Germany.

It would seem that this German ruling would be something that united both the Jewish and Muslim communities on one of many issues that they face mutually. 

However, Lord Jonathan Sacks Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth has just published an article Europe’s New Anti-Semitism in which he discusses the implications for Jews of the German ban on circumcision.  He says

In historical context, however, it is far worse. By ruling that religious Jews performing their most ancient sacred ritual are abusing the rights of the child, a German court has just invented a new form of Blood Libel perfectly designed for the 21st century.

In that article, he only mentions Muslims once in this passage

The case—like the banning of shechitah (ritual animal slaughter) by the Dutch parliament, now thankfully reversed—illustrates the deep difficulty Jews are facing in Europe today. Both cases initially had nothing to do with Jews. They were directed predominantly against Muslims, whose population vastly outnumbers that of Jews in almost every country in Europe. They are part of the backlash against the misguided policy, adopted by most European countries in the 1970s, known as multiculturalism. This was meant to promote tolerance. Its effect was precisely the opposite. It encouraged segregation of ethnic minorities, not integration, and instead of getting people to ignore differences it made an issue of them at every stage.
The Muslim communities of Europe have been in the frontline of both the policy and its discontents. The result has been that in Germany the court, and in Holland the Parliament, have sought to ban a Muslim practice, while the Jewish community has suffered collateral damage in both places.

It is very sad that such an important figure in the Jewish community in Europe could not find it in his heart to denounce this court decision even if it had been directed only at Islam.  He does not state anywhere that seeking “to ban a Muslim practice” would be just as reprehensible as banning a Jewish practice. 

He doesn’t seem to be at all concerned with the effect that these rulings will have on both the Muslim and Jewish communities.  In reading this article it is difficult not to hear him as saying - the problem with these policies is that you meant to target Muslims (and there is no problem with that) but you inadvertently also caused Jews to suffer collateral damage, therefore these rulings should be overturned.

As a Muslim who is strongly committed to interfaith dialogue and to promoting interfaith respect, I found Rabbi Sack’s article very discouraging.  Fortunately, I found several other comments that did acknowledge both communities.

An article in Deutche Welle was much more encouraging.  They report that “Some 30 Orthodox rabbis from more than 10 European nations are in Berlin for a two-day meeting on the Cologne verdict and its possible consequences.”  One of those Rabbis is quoted

Goldschmidt also pointed out a rising tendency toward intolerance of religious minorities in Europe. As example, he cited a recent Swiss ban on building new minarets on mosques, a French ban on women wearing Islamic veils in public and a debate in the Netherlands about kosher meat prepared by Jewish butchers.

The regulations aim at downgrading and confining individual cultures and civilizations, Goldschmidt said, adding that the Cologne verdict conveys the message that the Jewish or Muslim civilizations are “not socially acceptable” in Europe. Should higher courts confirm the ruling, that would amount to “a threat for the present and the future of Jewish communities in Germany.”

Abraham Foxman of the ADL also issued a statement about the German ruling which included recognition of both communities.  He said

Circumcision of newborn male children is a core religious rite of Judaism, practiced by Jews around the world.  The decision by a district court in Cologne, Germany, to deem non-medical circumcision a crime places an intolerable burden on the free exercise of religion by Jews and also by Muslims who practice male circumcision as part of their religious faith.

CNN reported that

A “public relations campaign in cooperation with the Muslim community will do away with misunderstandings and will prevent both intentional and unintentional harm to freedom of religion in Europe,” Rabbi Menachem Margolin of the Brussels, Belgium-based Rabbinical Center of Europe told Haaretz.

These statements, unlike that of Rabbi Sacks, acknowledge that both Jewish and Muslim communities are threatened by “intolerance of religious minorities”, and that we need to work together cooperatively for the sake of all minority communities.

These European rulings are not the only rulings that may have profound effects on minority communities.  In an article Islamic Sharia and Jewish Halakha Arbitration Courts, I wrote about similarities in those systems of religious law.  In the article Anti-Sharia Movements’ Unintended Consquences For Jews, Native Americans, and Others, I discussed many of the the possible unintended consequences of anti-Sharia legislation on other religious minority communities including the Jewish community.  Some of those consequences include a proposed ban on circumcision in San Francisco, proposed bans on Kosher and Halal slaughter, anti-Sharia legislation’s effects on use of Canon Law and Halakha in divorce and other family law cases, etc.  And, in the article Islamophobia & Anti-Semitism:  Everything Old Is New Again, I discussed how these two forms of prejudice are experiencing a resurgence that we must work together to resist.

UPDATE 7/17/2012

Angela Merkel is reported to have said “I do not want Germany to be the only country in the world where Jews cannot practice their rituals. Otherwise we will become a laughing stock,” the Bild daily quoted Merkel as telling a closed meeting of her Christian Democrats (CDU).



Anti-Sharia Movements’ Unintended Consquences For Jews, Native Americans, and Others, Sheila Musaji