circumcision
A mohel performing a circumcision. Photo by Daniel Bar On
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AP
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger in Berlin, Aug. 21, 2012. Photo by AP

Jewish groups are increasing pressure on the German government to speed up the passage of legislation that would protect the practice of ritual circumcision, after a German doctor filed a complaint with prosecutors accusing a mohel of causing a child bodily harm. Meanwhile, the mohel named in the complaint said he would not be deterred by it.

Sebastian Guevara Kamm filed the complaint against Rabbi David Goldberg, an Israeli native who serves as chief rabbi of the Bavarian city of Hof. It is up to prosecutors to decide whether to press charges in response to the legal action. Hof head prosecutor Gerhard Schmitt said it could take weeks to evaluate whether there is "legal relevance" to the complaint.

Regardless of what prosecutors decide, the Conference of European Rabbis said the Kamm's move showed the need for "immediate action" from lawmakers in Berlin. The German government has pledged to draft new legislation protecting ritual circumcisions after a court in Cologne ruled in June that they could be considered criminal acts because they cause physical harm. The ruling stemmed from a case against a doctor who circumcised a 4-year-old Muslim boy. Schmitt said the complaint against Goldberg cited the Cologne decision in asking for charges to be brought against the rabbi. He would not confirm German media reports that Kamm was one of a group of 600 doctors and lawyers who wrote an open letter to the government in July in support of the decision.

Goldberg, 64, is one of the few mohels in Germany. He said he has been performing circumcisions in Germany for 40 years, and has no intention of stopping the practice despite the legal uncertainty. "Up to now, there is no law that prohibits circumcision," Goldberg noted, adding that legal scholars have said the Cologne verdict only sets a precedent for that city, not all of Germany.

He said he could only assume the complaint against him had an anti-Semitic motivation. "I can't see any other reason for it."

Kamm responded that he felt "duty bound to protect children" and called the allegation of anti-Semitism "the usual reflex."

"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," said Pinchas Goldschmidt, head of the European Orthodox group and chief rabbi of Moscow.

The Muslim community has also decried the possibility that the right to perform a ritual circumcision would not be protected by law.

The German Bundestag passed a non-binding resolution last month asking Chancellor Angela Merkel to introduce a bill that "ensures that the medically competent circumcision of boys without unnecessary pain remains basically permissible." Yesterday, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, said it was necessary to establish "clear rules" as soon as possible.

"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," Westerwelle said.

A Justice Ministry spokesman said a draft bill would be published soon, after all aspects are examined with due diligence. 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.

Goldberg, who performs an average of 30 circumcisions each year, said he refused to use an anaesthetic, and that a painkiller was more likely to harm a baby than the circumcision itself. "The children always go to sleep peacefully a few moments after the operation," he said.

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.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles pledged "all necessary and legal backing" to defend the practice of performing brits on young boys, which is central to the Jewish faith.

The center said two of its top officials would meet next week in Berlin with the German justice minister to press her "to move rapidly to create legislation guaranteeing full legal protection of religious rights for Jews and other minorities."

Meanwhile, Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai wrote a letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday in regard to the circumcision crisis in the country. "Don't let Jews living in your country choose between observing the local law and the divine commandments of God, which according to our tradition protected us through the years,” wrote Yishai.

Yishai  continued his letter, "For some time we have been witnessing a trend of anti-Jewish action across Europe and in Germany, a trend that is co-opting the local law to ban the mitzvah of circumcision according to the Jewish faith. As deputy prime minister of Israel, as interior minister and as head of the largest religious party in Israel, but mostly as a Jew, I am contacting you to ask that you put a stop to this phenomenon that is abusing the judicial system to promote a non-issue and thwart any attempt to fulfill a full Jewish life with pride in your country."