The law court for Germany’s Cologne province on June 26 made it a criminal offense for parents to circumcise a child on religious grounds. Hospitals throughout Germany are refusing to perform the procedure in the expectation that other courts will follow the Cologne example, while physicians’ associations have recommended that their members stop circumcisions to avoid legal consequences. Although the case under review involved a Muslim family, the decision opened a sluice gate for an outpouring of anti-Semitic sentiment.
UPDATE: Numerous comments on this post assert that the German court was merely defending the “rights” of newborns. What perverse argument that is! The world first heard of the “rights” of individuals, particularly newborns, at Mt. Sinai; before the Maker of Heaven declared that the same law must apply to stranger and homeborn, foreigner and Jew, and that we should be holy as the Holy One of Israel is holy, no-one knew of such a thing as “rights.” Every ancient civilization, including the supposedly enlightened Greeks (and emphatically including Aristotle) considered it normal to kill newborns by exposure (not to mention offering them as sacrifices). The concept of “rights” upon which all Western law is founded derives from the Covenant at Mt. Sinai — and now, in the name of “rights,” a provincial German court has criminalized the fulfillment of this Covenant by the people to whom it was given, and who have transmitted it faithfully for three and a half thousand years! What hypocrisy!
Once again, the German court decision demonstrates why people of faith must make common cause against all infringements of religious freedom. In the United States, the most egregious assault on religious liberty is the Obama administration’s attempt to force Catholic institutions to pay for contraception and abortion through Obamacare. I wrote in this space last February that they will come for us after they come for the Catholic Church. The matter of circumcision also requires Jews to make common cause with Muslims on the matter of religions freedom. We have our differences with Muslims, but we should remember Ben Gurion’s advice to fight the war as if there is no White Paper and fight the White Paper as if there is no war. Let me repeat this: Jews must defend the religious freedom of Muslims on matters such as circumcision without conceding (for example) the application of Sharia in family law.
UPDATE: Prof. Robert George, the distinguished Catholic legal theorist at Princeton University, posted an eloquent call for Christians to support Jews in this matter at the Mirror of Justice blog:
In view of a recent development in Germany, I here wish to say that Christians, especially those of us who are Catholics, should be particularly outspoken in defending the rights of Jews and the Jewish people. It is not simply the memory of past crimes committed by Christians, including leaders of the Church, against Jews—crimes sometimes committed in the very name of Christian faith. It is the fact that we are taught by our Church, and so we believe, that the Jews are the chosen people of God, bound to him in an unbroken and unbreakable covenant. Moreover, for Christians, Jews are, in the words of Blessed Pope John Paul II, our “elder brothers in faith.” From a Christian point of view, the Jewish witness in the world has profound and indispensable spiritual meaning.
The recent development in Germany against which we Christians should loudly raise our voices is described by David Goldman (“Spengler”) in an article published today: “On June 26, the District Court of the Federal State of Cologne ruled that circumcision of children for religious reasons at the instruction of parents constituted the infliction of bodily harm and therefore was a punishable offense.” Of course, for observant Jews, circumcision of male children is not optional. It is required as a matter of Jewish law. To prohibit it is, in effect, to forbid Jews from being Jews.
Not even the Nazis thought of banning circumcision as a means of extirpating Jewish life in Germany. The country’s Jewish community numbers slightly over 100,000, mostly Russian immigrants, and supports active synagogues in Berlin, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, and a few other towns. Dieter Graumann, the head of the country’s Central Council of Jews, warned that the ruling would “cold-bloodedly force Judaism into illegality.”
By a 56 to 35 margin, Germans told a Focus magazine poll that they supported a ban on circumcision. The country’s Child Protection Agency hailed the decision as a landmark for children’s rights. Media commentary for the most part supported the Cologne court. Typical was a June 28 op-ed by Matthias Ruch in the German edition of the Financial Times, ominously titled “The Limits of Religious Freedom:”
The Central Council of Jews asserts that”circumcision of newborns is a fundamental component of the Jewish religion…This religious right is respected in every country in the world.” That is not quite true. Even in the USA, where religious freedom is comprehensively protected, and the majority of all boys are circumcised after birth independent of religion, a considerable degree of resistance has formed. In San Francisco there was even a referendum over a ban on circumcision. That was stopped by judicial order; now the State of California must decide whether it will proceed.
Germany’s political class is disconcerted. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle warned, rather lamely, that a court decision should not impact Germany’s image as a country that promotes religious tolerance. An effort is underway in the Cologne provincial legislature to suppress the court ban by explicitly legalizing religious circumcision. But the popular undercurrent of anti-Semitism may be too powerful for Germany’s benign CDU government to control. The Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz, as the joke goes, and the emotional energy which the Cologne case has brought forth betrays a deeper and darker rage in the German public.