A German court has sparked outrage among both Jewish and Muslim communities in the country after it ruled that circumcision was illegal.
The controversy began after a district court in Cologne deemed the practice illegal, constitutes physical harm against newborn babies and is defined as "irreversible damage against the body." The court further stated that freedom of religion and the rights of the parents of the circumcised cannot justify the practice itself.
The ruling was passed after a botched circumcision by a Muslim doctor on a four-year-old boy in Cologne. The boy was rushed to the emergency room after he bled for two straight days. Upon hearing of the incident, German authorities decided to sue the doctor.
After lower court rejected suit on the grounds that the circumcision took place with parental consent and was based on a "traditional ritual belonging to the Muslim community," the authorities appealed the ruling to the district court. The latter ruled that doctors could only perform circumcisions for health-related reasons. The district court justified the ruling by stating that it was for the "good of the child who would be able to decide for himself which religious community he or she would belong to."
The doctor was acquitted, as he acted out of innocence and due to the fact that the legality of the act was unclear.
The Hamburg-based Financial Times Deutschland, which revealed the controversial ruling, stated that thousands of children are circumcised in Germany, and until now, the concept of circumcision was somewhat of a legal "gray area", as no court had ever convicted anyone for carrying it out.
"This ruling has enormous significance for doctors," said Professor Holm Putzke, an expert on law from Passau University in Germany. "For years there has been a call to ban circumcision for religious reasons. The court, as opposed to many politicians, was not afraid of criticism that its ruling was anti-Semitic or harmful to religion."
Putzke further stated that the decision "may not only influence future rulings, but also brings about a change in the worldview of religious people regarding basic rights of children."
On the other hand, Rabbi Aryeh Goldberg of the Brussels-based Rabbinical Center of Europe harshly criticized the ruling, saying that it "is fatal to freedom of religion, contravenes the EU's Convention on Human Rights, to which Germany is subservient and harms the basic freedom of religion enshrined in the German constitution."
Menachem Margolin, Director of the Rabbinical Center of Europe called the ruling a "brutal attack on freedom of religion," adding that a "public relations campaign in cooperation with the Muslim community will do away with misunderstandings and will prevent both conscious and unconscious harm to freedom of religion in Europe."
The practical and legal significance of the ruling is unclear at this point, and no details were revealed about the future of the legal battle.
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