After a rabbi in Bavaria, Germany, has been slapped with criminal charges of committing bodily harm, in the first known case to arise from an anti-circumcision ruling in May, Israel’s Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger has arrived in Germany for talks aimed at resolving the controversy over the legality of religious circumcision.
The charge against Rabbi David Goldberg, who is a mohel, or ritual circumciser, means that the May decision in the state of Hesse has been applied in Bavaria, confirming the fears of Jewish leaders here that the local ruling would have a wider impact.
Rabbi Goldberg, 64, a Jerusalem native living in Hof Saale in Bavaria, told JTA he had not yet received a notice from the court. He said he would decide what to do after he had seen it. The criminal charge was reported by the main Jewish newspaper of Germany, the Juedische Allgemeine Zeitung.
The rabbi also said he did not know what act the charges could refer to, since he has not performed any circumcisions recently in Germany. “Only abroad: in Budapest, in the Czech Republic, in Italy,” he said.
Still, Rabbi Goldberg said no secular ruling would stop him from performing brit milah in Germany as well. If a family in Germany came to him with a request to perform a circumcision, Goldberg said he would ask the Central Council of Jews in Germany what to do. “A few weeks ago, they said, ‘You can continue,’” he said.
German lawmakers and Israeli, Jewish and Muslim dignitaries have urged the German government to draft a law this fall explicitly permitting circumcision.
In June, a Cologne court concluded that circumcision amounts to bodily harm — a ruling that doesn’t amount to a ban but worried Jewish and Muslim groups.
Chief Rabbi Metzger said on Tuesday that Jews are commanded by God to circumcise their male children on their 8th day.
He said that after his meetings at the Justice Ministry a compromise is emerging, whereby mohels would receive additional medical training.
Goldberg said regional journalists had informed him of the criminal charges against him, saying it had been filed by a doctor in the state of Hessen who had gathered 600 signatures in an open letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel that supported the anti-circumcision ruling.
Merkel and the German parliament have said that they intend to push for legislation to ensure that Jews and Muslims have the right to carry out the religious ritual.
The original ruling in May related to a Muslim family in Cologne whose son suffered complications after his circumcision. The court found that non-medical circumcision of a minor is a criminal act. Although the ruling was local, it has alarmed traditional Jews and Muslims across the country. Virtually all Jewish denominations have joined in condemning the ruling.
Meanwhile, JTA reported that anecdotal evidence shows that Jewish ritual circumcisions continue to be performed in Germany despite the ruling’s chilling effect. Although several hospitals have declared moratoriums on the practice for now, brit milah is being performed in private homes and in synagogues.
The head of the Conference of European Rabbis, Moscow Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, told JTA: “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.”