Complaint Filed Against Israeli Rabbi in Germany for Carrying Out Circumcision

Amid circumcision debate, Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi warns Germany against acting like ‘communists,’ and proposes opening a professional school for mohels.

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

A doctor in Germany has filed a police complaint against the chief rabbi of the city of Hof, in Bavaria, for carrying out a ritual circumcision. The doctor claimed that Rabbi David Goldberg inflicted physical harm on a boy when Goldberg performed a brit milah on him. It is now up to the prosecution whether to press charges.

The case comes just as the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, Yona Metzger, is visiting Berlin, to garner support for the continuation of Jewish circumcisions, after a court in Cologne ruled in May that circumcisions are illegal because they cause physical harm. In that case, a doctor was sued for circumcising a Muslim boy. He was acquitted on technical terms, but the case prompted the German government to commit to creating legislation to resolve the issue.

The current case is the first one in which a Jewish circumcision would be the focus in a possible legal proceeding in Germany. The doctor submitted the complaint in the German state of Hesse, on the basis of the Cologne ruling, according to an interview with Hof's public prosecutor Gerhard Schmit that was published in the Jewish-German newspaper Judische Allgemeine.

Goldberg, who was born in Israel, is a certified mohel who has performed more than 3,000 circumcisions since 1997. In a conversation with Haaretz, Goldberg said he had no personal knowledge of the potential case against him at this point. "I have only heard about this ... from journalists. I have not yet received anything. The moment I do receive something, I will pass it on to the Central Council of Jews in Germany."

Metzger, yesterday, proposed opening a professional school for mohels in Germany, and warned during a press conference in Berlin that Germany musn't behave "like a Communist state." He rejected the possibility that circumcisions would be carried out by doctors only. He said Jews have been carrying out circumcisions for 4,000 years, and in Germany for 1,800 years. "Whoever insists we change this ritual is asking us to change our religion," Metzger said, adding that it is an impossible demand "just like it is impossible to demand from a Catholic priest to stop celebrating Christmas."

According to Metzger's plan, Jewish mohels would undergo medical training with German doctors, who will teach them how to cope with possible complications. Simultaneously, they would receive theological training from rabbis. After completing their training, they would receive official mohel certification from the German or Israeli rabbinate. Metzger's proposal is considered innovative, since Europe does not have any official institutions for training mohels. There are only 10 practicing mohels in the country; all trained in Israel.

Metzger responded to criticism against circumcision, saying "there is not one Jewish boy in Israel who suffers trauma from being circumcised and there are no known cases of death resulting from it."

Despite his harsh criticism for Germany, the rabbi also said, "I am sure we will come to an agreement." He is promoting legislation that would ensure the ritual.

"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.

Metzger also referred to a previous battle in which he was involved, when certain countries in Europe forbade kosher slaughter. "I pray that this time, too, I will succeed in assisting the Jews of the Diaspora, so that they will not have to worry about carrying out the brit milah, God forbid."

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. The Bundestag has published a declaration saying it supports brit milah and called upon the German government to resolve the matter quickly, through legislation.

A Jewish baby at his circumcision. Credit: AP
Rabbi David Goldberg
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger in Berlin, Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012.Credit: AP



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