Berlin, Germany – A brewing controversy about the ability of religious groups to perform circumcisions in Germany took another turn Wednesday, with a rabbi arguing that he will continue to perform the procedure even as he faces charges for doing so.
The controversy started with a June ruling by a Cologne judge stated that a religious circumcision by a Muslim doctor was illegal under German law.
If other courts were to agree, that would make all ritual circumcision illegal in Germany. Muslim and Jewish communities – both of which employ circumcision in rituals – have decried the stance.
David Goldberg, 64, a rabbi from the city of Hof, has rejected the ruling, saying he is continuing to perform about 30 circumcisions a year. But he denied in an interview Wednesday that he had broken any law.
This week, a German doctor from the city of Giessen complained to police that Goldberg’s website still offers circumcisions and demanded that prosecutors investigate if he is breaking the law.
No action or decision has been taken on the complaint.
“Up to now, there is no law that prohibits circumcision,” Goldberg told dpa, pointing to legal scholars who say the Cologne verdict only sets a precedent for that city, not all Germany.
The Cologne court ruled that the doctor had inflicted bodily harm on a 4-year-old Muslim boy by circumcising him at the parents’ request. Though the court let him off without conviction, doctors all over Germany ceased the operations, fearing punishment.
A prosecutor’s spokesman in Hof said the authorities were still assessing the “legal relevance” of the complaint against Goldberg.
Asked what he thought about the complaint, Goldberg said he could only assume that it had an anti-Semitic motivation. “I can’t see any other reason for it,” he said.
The doctor who filed the complaint, Sebastian Guevara Kamm, responded to dpa, “I am duty bound to protect children.” He called the allegation of anti-Semitism “the usual reflex.”
The rabbi told dpa he had been performing circumcisions in Germany for 40 years and would continue to do so.
Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt of the London-based Conference of European Rabbis criticized the complaint against Goldberg.
“This latest development in Hof, Germany, is yet another grave affront to religious freedom and underlines the urgent need for the German government to expedite the process of ensuring that the fundamental rights of minority communities are protected,” he said.
A non-binding resolution passed last month by the Bundestag, or parliament, asked Chancellor Angela Merkel to introduce a bill that “ensures that the medically competent circumcision of boys without unnecessary pain remains basically permissible.”
Still, the ongoing concerns prompted German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who was visiting Liechtenstein Wednesday, to speak out in support of religious tolerance.
“It must be possible to live by Jewish and Muslim traditions in Germany. We cannot allow Germany’s global image as a religiously tolerant country to be jeopardized. In my view, it is now necessary to come up with clear rules,” he said.
It remains unclear whether Berlin’s planned legislation will protect rabbis such as Goldberg retroactively, or if it will impose requirements rejected by the Jewish community, such as the use of a painkiller while the boy is circumcised.
A Justice Ministry spokesman said the draft would be published soon.
Goldberg told dpa a painkiller was more likely to harm a baby than circumcision itself.
“The children always go to sleep peacefully a few moments after the operation,” he said, saying he refused to use an anaesthetic.
Media reports say the Muslim community in Germany generally accepts the use of painkillers during circumcision of boys and would not object to such a requirement.