JERUSALEM (EJP)---Germany’s envoy to Israel Andreas Michaelis pledged to "consider possible consequences" of last week’s controversial ruling against circumcision in Cologne’s district court, as he was invited to speak on the issue before the Knesset’s Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee on Monday.
The ruling in Cologne set a precedent, after a doctor was accused of circumcising a 4 year-old boy, with his Muslim parents’ approval, that led to medical complications. The judges in the case found that religious-motivated circumcisions constitute "sever and irreversible interference into physical integrity."
German legal analysts have been keen to point out that German’s federal judicial system is founded on a "principle of prohibitions," meaning that whilst there is no universally binding law for other regional courts in Germany, the ruling in this case does set a precedent that would need to be ruled on by other courts in the event of other cases.
Expressing uncertainty over the German parliament’s powers to overrule the decision, despite a number of German political parties claiming to be considering introducing legislation to preserve circumcision for religious purposes, Michaelis insisted "the German government will study this judgement very thoroughly and carefully consider possible consequences of this decision."
However, he continued to support the regional sovereignty of the Cologne court, reiterating that "the federal government – I represent Germany’s federal government here in Israel – respects the independence of the German judiciary," adding that "therefore, my abilities to comment on this judgement are limited."
Despite the ruling being a local one, it has already had implications for the national practice of circumcision in Germany, as the case prosecuted the medical professional for having performed a medically-unwarranted circumcision for religious purposes.
This precedent has led many medical institutions unwilling to continue the practice, with the Jewish Hospital of Berlin, which performs some 300 circumcisions per year, already announcing it was abandoning the operations "until further notice" and the implications of the ruling become apparent.
The Germany envoy clarified the wording of the decision ruled that circumcision constitutes a "minor bodily injury, " a lesser charge than a severe bodily injury, which means anyone performing the procedure could only be penalised at local level in Cologne, rather than elsewhere in the country.
Whilst Michaelis stressed medical circumcisions are "accepted legally and societally in Germany," Knesset committee chair Danny Danon expressed his concern, calling for an "unambiguous" national ruling as part of "a legislation process in the German parliament, and if this issue comes up in other parts of Europe, also there."
A meeting of Jewish and Muslim representatives in Brussels on Monday, organised by the European Jewish Association, similarly called on the German parliament to rule on the issue "as a matter of urgency."
Speaking at the meeting, which was attended by representatives from German Muslim and Jewish communities, Rabbi Yitzchak Shochet from the Rabbinical Centre of Europe expressed "shock" at the ruling, insisting circumcision wad the "oldest and most fundamental practice in Judaism" and "the reason why Jewish life has continued despite persecution."
Further expanding on the issue, he said: "Circumcision flies in the face of persecution of Jews, such as the Holocaust – which is why it makes it even more shocking that it is a German court inflicting the ban."
This charge of German complicity was addressed by the German ambassador in his address to the Knesset. "I understand the sensitivities felt by you and by Jews outside Israel. In the case of Germany, especially because of the special guilt for the Holocaust, I understand all the more that you are justifiably sensitive," he said.
He was keen however to assert that whilst "awful past events" such as the Holocaust had drastically changed Jewish life in Germany, "it’s important to stress that the Jewish community in Germany is growing."
Meanwhile the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) announced it would convene an emergency meeting in Berlin this week to formulate an action plan to secure the future of the religious practice.
"The ruling in Cologne is perhaps one of the gravest attacks on Jewish life in Europe in the post-Holocaust world," said CER president Pinchas Goldschmidt.
There are approximately 4 million Muslims and 150,000 Jews living in Germany. Whilst Jews usually circumcise male infants eight days after birth, the timeline for Muslim circumcision varies according to family, religion and country
"The court utterly failed to consider how fundamental brit milah (Jewish circumcision ritual) is to the Jewish faith and identity – as the original and eternal symbol of commitment to God."