Commentary Magazine


Topic: circumcision

Euro Bris-Banner’s Dishonest Argument

American Jews received an odd Christmas message from one of the country’s most prestigious newspapers yesterday. The Washington Post published an article by Swiss parliamentarian Liliane Maury Pasquier titled “Is circumcision a right?” The piece was a disingenuous defense of the resolution passed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development, which she chairs, to endorse children’s right to physical integrity. The purpose of the vote was to give a crucial boost to efforts to ban circumcision throughout Europe, a heretofore-marginal cause that has recently gained ground in Germany and Scandinavia.

Pasquier claims the uproar over the vote is based on misunderstandings. Calling herself a “pioneer” who only wants to promote debate, she says those who charge her group with promoting hate are dishonest or ignorant and mocks the notion that their action can be connected with hatred or violence against religious minorities. But she then goes on to state that her ill-founded beliefs about “integrity” fueled by misleading arguments about harm to children trump the rights of Jews and Muslims while failing to note the context of her efforts at a time of rising anti-Semitism and the dubious origins of the anti-circumcision cause rooted in hate.

But perhaps even more troubling than Pasquier’s weak defense of a spurious cause is the curious decision of the Washington Post to promote it on Christmas Day. The paper may claim that it, like Pasquier, is only trying to promote debate, but by giving a platform to an advocate for a cause that is supported only by marginal cranks and hate groups in this country, it has given the virus of European anti-Semitism a beachhead in America that it doesn’t deserve.

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American Jews received an odd Christmas message from one of the country’s most prestigious newspapers yesterday. The Washington Post published an article by Swiss parliamentarian Liliane Maury Pasquier titled “Is circumcision a right?” The piece was a disingenuous defense of the resolution passed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development, which she chairs, to endorse children’s right to physical integrity. The purpose of the vote was to give a crucial boost to efforts to ban circumcision throughout Europe, a heretofore-marginal cause that has recently gained ground in Germany and Scandinavia.

Pasquier claims the uproar over the vote is based on misunderstandings. Calling herself a “pioneer” who only wants to promote debate, she says those who charge her group with promoting hate are dishonest or ignorant and mocks the notion that their action can be connected with hatred or violence against religious minorities. But she then goes on to state that her ill-founded beliefs about “integrity” fueled by misleading arguments about harm to children trump the rights of Jews and Muslims while failing to note the context of her efforts at a time of rising anti-Semitism and the dubious origins of the anti-circumcision cause rooted in hate.

But perhaps even more troubling than Pasquier’s weak defense of a spurious cause is the curious decision of the Washington Post to promote it on Christmas Day. The paper may claim that it, like Pasquier, is only trying to promote debate, but by giving a platform to an advocate for a cause that is supported only by marginal cranks and hate groups in this country, it has given the virus of European anti-Semitism a beachhead in America that it doesn’t deserve.

Let us dispense with Pasquier’s claim that her committee is acting on the basis of science. There is no evidence that circumcision causes any harm to boys or men and while it is always possible to find outlier cases in which an accident occurred during the ceremony, that is true of any procedure, including those carried out in hospitals. Nor is the notion that infants have a right not to have non-life preserving procedures performed upon them a serious argument when balanced against the right of religious freedom.

Stripped away of the veneer of “children’s rights” or medical concerns, the attack on circumcision is a manifestation of an age-old European malady: religious hatred. While affecting Muslims as well as Jews, at its core the anti-circumcision campaign in Europe stems from a desire to stigmatize Jewish religious rites and to brand them as unwholesome. It takes no leap of imagination to understand the connection between those who promote theories that depict rabbis who perform circumcisions—the bris or rite of circumcision is an integral aspect of Judaism that reaffirms Abraham’s covenant—as harming infants and traditional blood libels. The purpose of such efforts is to slander Judaism and deprive Jews of their rights.

It is no accident that such arguments are coming to the fore now in the midst of what the U.S. State Department rightly termed a “rising tide of anti-Semitism” in Europe. Pasquier’s specious arguments about children’s rights provide a fig leaf of respectability for leftists who might otherwise be ashamed to associate themselves with open religious prejudice. Responsible political leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel have tried to spike such efforts, but they continue to gain ground in a Europe in which the post-Holocaust fear of anti-Semitism has given way to the return of such sinister sentiments. Along with attempts to ban kosher slaughter and the demonization of the State of Israel by both the left and the right in Europe, the anti-circumcision movement must be seen as an unfortunate symptom of the return of Jew-hatred to the European public square.

It is a measure of the importance of American exceptionalism to note that such efforts have virtually no support in the United States. Even in a leftist enclave like San Francisco, the anti-circumcision efforts to promote a ban flopped badly in 2011 after an association with open anti-Semitism discredited it.

While those who advocate for this hateful cause have the right to say what they like, we have to wonder why the WaPo would give Pasquier its bully pulpit on Christmas to promote it. Outside of the fever swamps of the far left and far right, there is no debate in the U.S. about circumcision or the right of the state to ban Jewish religious practices. Dishonest claims of “irreversible harm” to children or of the need to overrule religious freedom in the name of a spurious “right” of children do not deserve the credibility of the Post’s pages any more than those who would promote racism against African-Americans. It is sad to see an important American publication falling prey to the efforts of European intellectuals and activists to grant respectability to a campaign that deserves none.

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Norway Moves Against Circumcision

Almost one year after Chancellor Angela Merkel successfully leaned on the German parliament to pass legislation guaranteeing the rights of parents to have their infant boys circumcised, the practice is now under threat in another European country. This week, Norway’s health minister, Bent Hoie, announced that new legislation is in the pipeline to “regulate ritual circumcision.”

Hoie took his cue from Anne Lindboe, Norway’s children’s ombudsman, who believes that “non-medical circumcision”–in other words, circumcision of boys in accordance with the laws of both Judaism and Islam–is a violation of children’s rights. JTA quoted Lindboe as having told the leading Norwegian newspaper, Aftenposten: “This is not due to any lack of understanding of minorities or religious traditions, but because the procedure is irreversible, painful and risky.”

Lindboe is certainly not a lone voice in this debate. A large number of parliamentarians from the opposition Labor Party have expressed support for a ban, while the Center Party, which controls 10 of the seats in Norway’s 169-member legislature, is officially in favor. Small wonder, then, that Ervin Kohn, the head of Norway’s tiny Jewish community of 700 souls, has described the issue as an “existential matter.” Clearly, the push factors that led nearly 50 percent of Jews in Belgium, Hungary, and France to confess, in a survey on anti-Semitism conducted by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency, that they are considering emigration have manifested in Norway also.

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Almost one year after Chancellor Angela Merkel successfully leaned on the German parliament to pass legislation guaranteeing the rights of parents to have their infant boys circumcised, the practice is now under threat in another European country. This week, Norway’s health minister, Bent Hoie, announced that new legislation is in the pipeline to “regulate ritual circumcision.”

Hoie took his cue from Anne Lindboe, Norway’s children’s ombudsman, who believes that “non-medical circumcision”–in other words, circumcision of boys in accordance with the laws of both Judaism and Islam–is a violation of children’s rights. JTA quoted Lindboe as having told the leading Norwegian newspaper, Aftenposten: “This is not due to any lack of understanding of minorities or religious traditions, but because the procedure is irreversible, painful and risky.”

Lindboe is certainly not a lone voice in this debate. A large number of parliamentarians from the opposition Labor Party have expressed support for a ban, while the Center Party, which controls 10 of the seats in Norway’s 169-member legislature, is officially in favor. Small wonder, then, that Ervin Kohn, the head of Norway’s tiny Jewish community of 700 souls, has described the issue as an “existential matter.” Clearly, the push factors that led nearly 50 percent of Jews in Belgium, Hungary, and France to confess, in a survey on anti-Semitism conducted by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency, that they are considering emigration have manifested in Norway also.

The Norwegian developments follow the October vote by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, a 47-member body that is not institutionally linked to the EU, recommending restrictions on ritual circumcision. The ensuing outcry among European Jewish leaders and Israeli politicians led a nervous Thorbjorn Jaglund, the council’s secretary-general, to assure the Conference of European Rabbis “that in no way does the Council of Europe want to ban the circumcision of boys.” But given that the Council of Europe has no control over national legislatures, that statement is essentially toothless.

The abiding question here is why hostility to ritual circumcision has become such a hot topic in European states. When it comes to circumcision, the kinds of survivors groups that push for tougher legislation on, say, child sexual abuse or violence against women simply don’t exist. Hence, if the vast majority of men who have undergone ritual circumcision aren’t clamoring for a ban, why the insistence on portraying them as victims?

According to Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the head of the Conference of European Rabbis, the anti-circumcision campaign is an integral component of a continent-wide “offensive” against Muslim communities, in which Jews represent “collateral damage.” There is some merit to this view, yet it ignores the fact that legal measures against Jewish ritual have a long and dishonorable pedigree in Europe. It’s widely known that the Nazis banned shechita, or Jewish ritual slaughter, three months after coming to power in 1933, but they were beaten to the punch by Switzerland in 1893 and Norway in 1930–and you don’t need to be an expert on European history to know that there were no Muslim communities of any meaningful size in these countries when these legislative bills were passed. 

Moreover, it can be argued that by grouping male circumcision with the horrific practice of female genital mutilation, which in Europe mainly afflicts women from Muslim countries, the Council of Europe was going out of its way not to target Muslim communities specifically. In a classic example of the cultural relativism that plagues European institutions, its resolution on the “physical integrity of children” listed as matters of concern, “…female genital mutilation, the circumcision of young boys for religious reasons, early childhood medical interventions in the case of intersex children, and the submission to or coercion of children into piercings, tattoos or plastic surgery.”

As this week’s edition of the Economist argues, this categorization is nonsensical:

Our intuition tells us that the circumcision of baby boys is probably okay, at worst harmless and culturally very important to some religions, while the excision practised on baby girls in some cultures certainly is not okay.

The same piece observes that, in any case, the determination of European leaders to prevent a ban on circumcision will likely foil any parliamentary legislation to that end. A similar point was made in a recent Haaretz piece by Anshel Pfeffer, who derided fears among Israeli legislators of a ban on circumcision as just so much hyperbole.

However, what’s missing here is the understanding that a practice doesn’t have to be proscribed for it to be frowned upon. Large numbers of Europeans already regard circumcision as a backward ritual, and the current Norwegian debate is likely to persuade many more that circumcision should be opposed in the name of human rights. Over the last decade, European Jews have watched helplessly as their identification with Israel has been stigmatized: with a similar pattern now emerging over Jewish ritual, an adversarial political climate that falls short of actual legislation may yet be enough to persuade them that their future on the continent remains bleak.

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The Muhammad Cartoons and the Jews

The latest proof of what the U.S. State Department has rightly termed a “rising tide of anti-Semitism” in Europe comes from Norway where a major daily newspaper printed a blatantly anti-Semitic cartoon about circumcision. The cartoon, which depicts Orthodox Jews torturing and mutilating an infant while blood spatters everywhere in the panel, has provoked outrage around the world. But the editors of the Dagbladet are unrepentant.

The image not only seeks to delegitimize a traditional and safe Jewish religious ritual, but also adds to the troubling demonization of Jews at a time when Islamists and European Jew-haters have stepped up their attack. But rather than apologizing, the Dagbladet is doubling down on its slander. They are now claiming protests against a cartoon that was highly reminiscent of the Nazis’ anti-Semitic propaganda are no different than Muslim protests against the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. This false analogy tells us all we need to know about European elites that are clueless about the difference between the haters and their victims.

Let’s first understand the differences between the Muhammad cartoons and the Dagbladet attack on circumcision.

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The latest proof of what the U.S. State Department has rightly termed a “rising tide of anti-Semitism” in Europe comes from Norway where a major daily newspaper printed a blatantly anti-Semitic cartoon about circumcision. The cartoon, which depicts Orthodox Jews torturing and mutilating an infant while blood spatters everywhere in the panel, has provoked outrage around the world. But the editors of the Dagbladet are unrepentant.

The image not only seeks to delegitimize a traditional and safe Jewish religious ritual, but also adds to the troubling demonization of Jews at a time when Islamists and European Jew-haters have stepped up their attack. But rather than apologizing, the Dagbladet is doubling down on its slander. They are now claiming protests against a cartoon that was highly reminiscent of the Nazis’ anti-Semitic propaganda are no different than Muslim protests against the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. This false analogy tells us all we need to know about European elites that are clueless about the difference between the haters and their victims.

Let’s first understand the differences between the Muhammad cartoons and the Dagbladet attack on circumcision.

The Muhammad cartoons were not part of a general campaign against Islam but rather a specific pushback by one publication against the efforts by Muslims to prohibit any reporting or discussion about terrorism motivated by Islam. Islamists around the globe have sought not merely to silence those who pointed out that the actions of Muslim terrorists stem from their religious beliefs but to brand any discussion of their faith or culture that is not laudatory as blasphemy that must be banned by law. The Muhammad cartoons were an attempt to answer a campaign against free speech with humor.

By contrast, the Dagbladet circumcision cartoon was part of a specific campaign aimed at banning a religious practice of both Jews and Muslims. The goal there was not, as with Jyllands-Posten, to defend free speech but to demonize Judaism and Jews in a manner highly reminiscent of the Nazis.

The reactions to the two cartoons are also very different.

The response to the Jyllands-Posten cartoons was a wave of riots and murders of non-Muslims across the Middle East and an intensified campaign of intimidation in Europe aimed at silencing those who criticize Islamist terror and its religious inspiration. Some of the cartoonists and editors involved are still in hiding in fear for their lives.

By contrast, the protests about the Norwegian cartoon, or, indeed any of those against the wave of anti-Semitism around the globe have resulted in nothing more than a few stern letters to the editor. The Dagbladet’s cartoonist isn’t in hiding and if no other newspaper will run it—except as an example of anti-Semitism—it isn’t because they fear Jews will kill them for doing so. While Muslims claim that the world is suffering from Islamophobia, what has really happened in the last few years is a process by which those who wish to criticize Islamists have been intimidated and which has also given anti-Semites impunity to demonize Jews.

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Germans Move to Lift Bris Ban

Four months after a Cologne court rattled European Jews with a ruling that banned circumcision, the German government took the first step toward granting the ritual the formal protection of the law. Acting at the behest of Chancellor Angela Merkel, the 16-member cabinet voted in favor of a draft bill that will overturn the Cologne court and make circumcision legal throughout Germany if done by a trained professional, such as a Jewish mohel or ritual circumciser. If the bill is passed by the federal parliament, it will become law and remove the threat of prosecution that now hangs over mohels in Germany.

The odds are, that is exactly what the Bundestag will do in the coming weeks, though some Jews are worried that public sentiment is still against them no matter Merkel wants. As the Forward notes, German Jewish leaders fear that the ambivalence of all the major parties, as well as what may turn out to be spirited resistance from major medical associations, will derail the legislation. But even if Merkel succeeds, the question hanging over European Jewry is whether the bill can start to undo the damage that the court ruling created.

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Four months after a Cologne court rattled European Jews with a ruling that banned circumcision, the German government took the first step toward granting the ritual the formal protection of the law. Acting at the behest of Chancellor Angela Merkel, the 16-member cabinet voted in favor of a draft bill that will overturn the Cologne court and make circumcision legal throughout Germany if done by a trained professional, such as a Jewish mohel or ritual circumciser. If the bill is passed by the federal parliament, it will become law and remove the threat of prosecution that now hangs over mohels in Germany.

The odds are, that is exactly what the Bundestag will do in the coming weeks, though some Jews are worried that public sentiment is still against them no matter Merkel wants. As the Forward notes, German Jewish leaders fear that the ambivalence of all the major parties, as well as what may turn out to be spirited resistance from major medical associations, will derail the legislation. But even if Merkel succeeds, the question hanging over European Jewry is whether the bill can start to undo the damage that the court ruling created.

The prosecutions of rabbis for performing circumcisions, the decisions by hospitals to cease conducting the procedure, and incidents of anti-Semitic violence have all helped to create a hostile atmosphere for European Jews. While some put down the opposition to circumcision to a general lack of tolerance for faith and organized religion in Europe, the fact remains that Jews remain the leading targets for ostracism and hatred.

In contemporary Europe, hostility to Zionism and Israel has given a façade of faux legitimacy to traditional anti-Semitism. Combine that with a culture that views all religious observance as either primitive or foreign and it’s easy to see how the anti-circumcision movement has gained so much traction.

That means that Merkel is going to have put the whip out on her coalition members to ensure that the bill is passed without any changes that would make it impossible for mohels to do their job and thus render the whole exercise pointless.

Nevertheless, Chancellor Merkel deserves great credit for pushing the bill through this far. A failure to legalize circumcision will expose Germany to ridicule and anger. But even if it passes, there is no denying that this lamentable chapter has exposed a raw nerve of modern Jew-hatred.

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A Victory for Anti-Semites in Berlin

The controversy over efforts by some Germans to ban circumcision has gone from bad to worse in the months since a Cologne court deemed the procedure illegal. Prosecutors have charged two rabbis for carrying out the procedure, though the one who was being investigated for merely saying he would on television is now to be left alone. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has vowed that the country’s parliament will act this fall to ensure that it is legalized, but the discussion this vow has engendered has only complicated matters. That was made plain today when Berlin, one of the country’s 16 states in a federal system as well as Germany’s capital, issued a ruling declaring circumcision legal but only if a doctor performs it. This means that the brit milah ceremony — an integral part of Jewish identity — is still illegal and therefore constitutes a severe abridgement of religious freedom.

As the Associated Press reports, State Justice Minister Thomas Heilman said the measure was meant to allay fears in this “difficult transitional period.” But the refusal to allow circumcisions to go on as they always have under the supervision of Jewish religious leaders and according to traditional ritual is a defeat for those seeking to end this controversy. Though the use of mohels may be protected by national legislation, the Berlin decision may serve as a precedent by which the country as a whole may limit circumcisions and stop their performance under traditional Jewish auspices by mohels. These limits are a victory for those disingenuously arguing that the practice is unsafe, and means future debate in Germany on the issue will be conducted on an uneven playing field for the Jewish community.

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The controversy over efforts by some Germans to ban circumcision has gone from bad to worse in the months since a Cologne court deemed the procedure illegal. Prosecutors have charged two rabbis for carrying out the procedure, though the one who was being investigated for merely saying he would on television is now to be left alone. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has vowed that the country’s parliament will act this fall to ensure that it is legalized, but the discussion this vow has engendered has only complicated matters. That was made plain today when Berlin, one of the country’s 16 states in a federal system as well as Germany’s capital, issued a ruling declaring circumcision legal but only if a doctor performs it. This means that the brit milah ceremony — an integral part of Jewish identity — is still illegal and therefore constitutes a severe abridgement of religious freedom.

As the Associated Press reports, State Justice Minister Thomas Heilman said the measure was meant to allay fears in this “difficult transitional period.” But the refusal to allow circumcisions to go on as they always have under the supervision of Jewish religious leaders and according to traditional ritual is a defeat for those seeking to end this controversy. Though the use of mohels may be protected by national legislation, the Berlin decision may serve as a precedent by which the country as a whole may limit circumcisions and stop their performance under traditional Jewish auspices by mohels. These limits are a victory for those disingenuously arguing that the practice is unsafe, and means future debate in Germany on the issue will be conducted on an uneven playing field for the Jewish community.

The effort to ban circumcisions, which has spooked hospitals throughout the region to ban the procedure, is being represented as a health issue. However, this is a thin veil for the prejudice against minority religions and non-German natives. The rulings affect Muslims as well as Jews, but there’s no escaping the conclusion that a willingness to both limit the practice of Judaism and offend Jewish sensibilities in this manner demonstrate that the rules about anti-Semitism are changing in Germany. Such a decision would have been impossible in the past, because any German judge or official would have feared to be associated with a campaign that reeks of anti-Semitism in the country where the Holocaust was perpetrated. But 67 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, Germans, and especially German intellectuals who have bought into the demonization of Israel, have no such compunctions.

It needs to be understood that if the Berlin ruling becomes the national standard for circumcision for all of Germany it will be more than a blow to that country’s post-war tradition of religious tolerance. It will be the end of the revival of Jewish life in Germany. Chancellor Merkel must act quickly to spike this trend and ensure that traditional Jewish practices are protected if she wishes to avoid seeing her nation being labeled as a beachhead for the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe.

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Pediatrics Academy Debunks Bris Foes

European opponents of circumcision have been able to frame the debate over banning a ritual integral to Jewish identity as one where medical and humanitarian concerns should override the right of religious believers. Their recent successes in getting a court in Cologne, Germany to rule that circumcision is illegal, the potential prosecution of a rabbi in Bavaria for performing a brit milah, and the fact that several European hospitals have now banned the procedure are all based on the idea that “enlightened” Europeans must halt a practice they have branded as unhealthy, if not primitive. But a stinging rejoinder to that claim has just been issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

As the New York Times reported today, the Academy announced in an article in Pediatrics, “new research, including studies in Africa suggesting that the procedure may protect heterosexual men against H.I.V., indicated that the health benefits outweighed the risks.” This gives the lie to those opponents who have tried to depict circumcision as a danger to male infants who must be protected from the desire of their parents to practice their faith. The ruling is a switch from a 1999 ruling that had taken a neutral stance on the issue. This helps clarify the debate being promoted by opponents of circumcision. Once the medical argument is taken away from them they are left with only two possible motivations: The dubious assertion that no parent ought to have the right to make the decision to carry out such a procedure on an infant, and anti-Semitism.

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European opponents of circumcision have been able to frame the debate over banning a ritual integral to Jewish identity as one where medical and humanitarian concerns should override the right of religious believers. Their recent successes in getting a court in Cologne, Germany to rule that circumcision is illegal, the potential prosecution of a rabbi in Bavaria for performing a brit milah, and the fact that several European hospitals have now banned the procedure are all based on the idea that “enlightened” Europeans must halt a practice they have branded as unhealthy, if not primitive. But a stinging rejoinder to that claim has just been issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

As the New York Times reported today, the Academy announced in an article in Pediatrics, “new research, including studies in Africa suggesting that the procedure may protect heterosexual men against H.I.V., indicated that the health benefits outweighed the risks.” This gives the lie to those opponents who have tried to depict circumcision as a danger to male infants who must be protected from the desire of their parents to practice their faith. The ruling is a switch from a 1999 ruling that had taken a neutral stance on the issue. This helps clarify the debate being promoted by opponents of circumcision. Once the medical argument is taken away from them they are left with only two possible motivations: The dubious assertion that no parent ought to have the right to make the decision to carry out such a procedure on an infant, and anti-Semitism.

It should be specified that neither Jews nor Muslims, who also practice circumcision, do so for health reasons. Both treat the circumcision of males as a positive religious commandment and not one of either health or hygiene. But where opponents have been able to brand the procedure as either dangerous or without medical benefits has undermined support for the procedure even though the question is one of religious freedom.

Last week in Germany, an ethics committee sought to overrule the Cologne court but the country’s Professional Association of Pediatricians called the reversal “a scandal.” Given the evidence of the benefits of circumcision, it’s difficult to understand the willingness of German doctors to join the chorus of those seeking to ban the practice without thinking about the history of anti-Semitism in the country.

One of the authors of the American Pediatricians study, Dr. Douglas S. Diekema, told the Times that he wasn’t in favor of pushing anyone to circumcise their child but thought they ought to be given a “choice.” That’s exactly what the Germans pushing to ban circumcision want to deny parents. Such a position is only explicable in the context of what the U.S. State Department has rightly called “a rising tide of anti-Semitism” throughout Europe.

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German Circumcision Ban Bags First Victim

After a Cologne court ruled that circumcision was illegal, there were those who argued that the decision would not impact Jewish life in Germany. We were cautioned not to jump to conclusions since it was just one court, whose jurisdiction was limited. The reaction of Germany’s political leadership, particularly Chancellor Angela Merkel, was exemplary as the parliament voted to take up a bill legalizing the ritual in the fall. But, as today’s news reveals, the optimists did not count on the willingness of many Germans to support the court.

As the Times of Israel reports, criminal charges have been filed against a rabbi in Northern Bavaria for performing circumcisions. According to the Juedische Allgemeine, a Jewish weekly, the state prosecutor of Hof confirmed that charges had been filed against Rabbi David Goldberg, who serves the community of Upper Franconia for “harming” infants by performing the rite of brit milah, the covenantal ritual at the heart of Judaism. A Hessian doctor that cited the Cologne court’s ruling brought the charges against the rabbi. While the rabbi has not yet been tried, let alone convicted, the spectacle of German courts prosecuting a Jew for practicing Judaism doesn’t just awaken echoes of the Holocaust. It also sounds a warning that the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Western Europe is not a passing phase.

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After a Cologne court ruled that circumcision was illegal, there were those who argued that the decision would not impact Jewish life in Germany. We were cautioned not to jump to conclusions since it was just one court, whose jurisdiction was limited. The reaction of Germany’s political leadership, particularly Chancellor Angela Merkel, was exemplary as the parliament voted to take up a bill legalizing the ritual in the fall. But, as today’s news reveals, the optimists did not count on the willingness of many Germans to support the court.

As the Times of Israel reports, criminal charges have been filed against a rabbi in Northern Bavaria for performing circumcisions. According to the Juedische Allgemeine, a Jewish weekly, the state prosecutor of Hof confirmed that charges had been filed against Rabbi David Goldberg, who serves the community of Upper Franconia for “harming” infants by performing the rite of brit milah, the covenantal ritual at the heart of Judaism. A Hessian doctor that cited the Cologne court’s ruling brought the charges against the rabbi. While the rabbi has not yet been tried, let alone convicted, the spectacle of German courts prosecuting a Jew for practicing Judaism doesn’t just awaken echoes of the Holocaust. It also sounds a warning that the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Western Europe is not a passing phase.

In recent decades, Jewish life in Germany has thrived as immigrants in the prosperous nation have revived communities that were long dormant. But this episode unfolding in the one country where awareness of the consequences of anti-Semitism are so well known should send chills down the spine of Jews around the world.

Circumcision opponents may claim they are not anti-Semitic, especially since their campaign also targets Muslims. But there is little doubt that the driving force behind this movement is resentment toward Jews and a willingness to go public with sentiments that long simmered beneath the surface in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

Just last week, French scholar Michel Gurfinkiel wrote on his blog that anti-Semitism has increased in France since the Toulouse massacre in March. Since then violence has grown, fed by what he calls a rejection of Jews and Judaism. In France, these sentiments are fed by the Jew hatred openly expressed by the expanding Muslim population. Throughout Europe, the demonization of Israel hasn’t just increased hostility to the Jewish state; it has served as an excuse for anti-Semitism to go mainstream for the first time since World War Two. Just as some claim circumcision critics aren’t intrinsically anti-Semitic, there are those who blame anti-Semitism on Israeli policies. But when you add all these factors together what you get is an undeniable upsurge in Jew-hatred.

While we trust that Chancellor Merkel and the Berlin government will find a way to quash this latest disgraceful attack on Judaism, we need to realize that this won’t be the last such episode. The strength of Europe’s traditional pastime of Jew-hatred should never be underestimated.

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Bris Ban Raises Specter of German Hate

In a ruling that will affect Muslims as much as Jews, a district court in Cologne, Germany, has ruled that circumcision is illegal. The case, which stemmed from a botched circumcision of a Muslim child, is just the latest instance in which the religious practice has been attacked. But though the legal implications of the ruling are not yet entirely clear as it may violate the European Union’s Convention on Human Rights, it raises the possibility that a ritual integral to Jewish identity as well as required by Muslim religious law will be banned.

For the growing Jewish community, the court may have created a serious logistical problem, as this may deter doctors or other persons from performing circumcisions because of a fear of prosecution or lawsuits. But just as important is the symbolism of the ban coming from a country where open expressions of anti-Semitism were driven underground by the reaction to the Nazi era. If a judge can attack Judaism as well as Islam head on in this manner without fear of the consequences, then perhaps a tipping point may have been reached in German society that may have serious consequences for the long-term viability of Jewish life in the country and Western Europe.

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In a ruling that will affect Muslims as much as Jews, a district court in Cologne, Germany, has ruled that circumcision is illegal. The case, which stemmed from a botched circumcision of a Muslim child, is just the latest instance in which the religious practice has been attacked. But though the legal implications of the ruling are not yet entirely clear as it may violate the European Union’s Convention on Human Rights, it raises the possibility that a ritual integral to Jewish identity as well as required by Muslim religious law will be banned.

For the growing Jewish community, the court may have created a serious logistical problem, as this may deter doctors or other persons from performing circumcisions because of a fear of prosecution or lawsuits. But just as important is the symbolism of the ban coming from a country where open expressions of anti-Semitism were driven underground by the reaction to the Nazi era. If a judge can attack Judaism as well as Islam head on in this manner without fear of the consequences, then perhaps a tipping point may have been reached in German society that may have serious consequences for the long-term viability of Jewish life in the country and Western Europe.

The ruling baldly claimed circumcision inflicted “damage” on children and could not be protected by freedom of religion, though there is no rational reason for anyone to believe this is the case. Mistakes in circumcisions are rare and probably less likely to occur than errors in routine medical procedures. But the court went even further in asserting the assumption that parents don’t have the right to choose a faith for their child. That might be interpreted as an attack on all religions. But it must be considered particularly threatening to members of minority faiths, particularly Jews who remember well that in past centuries the majority sometimes tried to take Jewish children away from their parents by claiming it was in their interests not to be inculcated in Judaism.

While some on the left, including one German professor quoted in Ha’aretz, may think this is a blow struck for the freedom of children, it is really an attempt to further marginalize both Judaism and Islam.

An attempt was made last year to place a referendum banning circumcision on the ballot in San Francisco. But the sponsors’ use of an openly anti-Semitic Web comic book drew so much attention that critics were able to quash the effort. Though support for such measures may exist on the margins in the United States, the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe may have allowed this cause to drift into the mainstream. Along with other attempts to ban kosher slaughter elsewhere in Europe, the German bris ban calls into question the safety of Jews in a Western Europe where Jew-hatred often mixed with anti-Zionism has emerged from the shadows.

Though it is to be hoped this ruling will soon be overturned by joint legal efforts by Jews and Muslims, no matter what the outcome of the litigation, it must send a chill through a growing German Jewish community that has come to think of itself as immune to the dangers presented by the country’s past. They may be learning that in spite of the country’s advances, anti-Semitism never goes completely out of fashion in Germany.

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