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Forbidding no foreskin, anti-Semitism rears its ugly head
As Jews across the globe gather ed yesterday to celebrate Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, the Jewish faith still faced enormous prejudice and persecution. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly threatened to remove Israel from the face of the Earth, and many Islamic radicals, including Hamas co-founder Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, continue to deny the Holocaust. But threats against Judaism do not exclusively emanate from the Middle East; the West is proving increasingly adversarial.
On June 26, 2012, a German regional appellate court in Cologne ruled in response to a botched circumcision of a four-year-old Muslim boy that all German children have a “fundamental right to bodily integrity” and that circumcision violates that right, effectively disallowing the practice of circumcision on minors.
The court’s ruling immediately incited vociferous backlash from Jewish and Muslim groups, which claim that the judge’s logic is an affront to religious minorities and makes it impossible for them to practice their faiths in Germany.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government in Berlin quickly responded to the ruling with assurances that the Bundestag would explicitly legislate circumcision for minors in a signal of state support for the religious freedoms for Jews and Muslims.
But confusion remains over how the ruling will be enforced. While the German Medical Association condemned the ruling, the German Association for Pediatric Surgery agreed that circumcisions should not be performed on children for religious purposes. Such inconsistencies from medical professionals have left many doctors throughout Germany and even in neighboring Austria and Switzerland unwilling to perform circumcisions on children. Even the judiciary seems unsure of how to proceed–on Aug. 21, despite Merkel’s affirmations to ignore the law, Rabbi David Goldberg was criminally charged for performing a circumcision in Bavaria. To date, the matter has yet to be definitively settled.
The decision in Cologne, though restrictive for all people seeking to circumcise their own children, is especially burdensome for practicing Jews, who believe in circumcising boys on the eighth day of life. Put bluntly, German courts have outlawed the practice of Judaism in its current form. The judge’s decision abstracted religious considerations altogether, reasoning that if children are being circumcised without their consent, and if those circumcisions have the potential to harm children, parents should not be able to circumcise children. Any rebuttal will thus also have to ignore the obvious religious rationale for circumcision.
While the specifics of the case certainly involve bodily harm and the doctor involved ought to be tried for malpractice, circumcision is a by-and-large safe procedure that has been practiced for thousands of years around the world.
With regards to lost sexual pleasure, the harms of “male genital mutilation” are vastly overstated. Wordplay links circumcision with the East African practice of female genital mutilation, in which the clitoris is severed to eliminate sexual pleasure for women. But this is more on par with castration than circumcision, which reduces some sensitivity but does little to hinder sexual enjoyment on the whole.
Of course, circumcision can cause harm. But so can driving a car, giving a child candy, or allowing your kid to skateboard. A U.S. study found that one out of every 77 neonatal deaths (defined as the first 28 days of life) can be at least tangentially linked to circumcision; eight times as many neonatal deaths are due to automobile accidents. Parents make thousands of decisions that affect the well-being of their children, so unless the potential for harm is deemed significant and direct by a medical body (such as smoking around children or not putting a child in a car seat), the liberty of parental choice should be upheld.
Some believe the medical nature of the circumcision ritual differentiates it from other “dangerous” choices like, say, buying your child a pet rottweiler. But parents make life-altering medical decisions for children which may be considered harmful all the time. For children born deaf, parents can choose to give their children cochlear implants, “curing” what some deaf advocates believe to be a genetic blessing. In cases of hermaphroditism, parents are given the responsibility of choosing their child’s gender, which can result in psychosexual depression if they make the wrong choice. And a shocking number of parents still refuse to vaccinate their children against deadly diseases, citing religious requirements or unproven statistics linking vaccination to autism as reasons for abstaining.
If the German court system is attempting to bolster the rights of children vis-à-vis their parents, then circumcision seems like an odd and arbitrary place to start. The sad implication is that xenophobia and religious bigotry still cloud German mindsets more than 70 years after the Holocaust.
While secular state attacks on religious freedoms in Western Europe have thus far focused on public expressions of faith (the removal of yamulkes from public schools in France or the minaret ban on Swiss skylines) Germany’s current rule of law impedes on the most private of religious decisions. Until laws permitting child circumcision are pushed through at the national level, the ruling in Cologne can only be interpreted as another violent invasion into Jewish households by an overbearing and historically bigoted German state.