Doc. Files Criminal Complaint Against German Rabbi for Performing Circumcisions; Rabbi and German Officials Seek Accord

For the first time, criminal charges have been pressed against a German rabbi for performing circumcisions, a Jewish weekly reported on Tuesday.

A doctor from Hesse filed a criminal complaint against Rabbi David Goldberg, who serves in the community of Hof, in Upper Franconia (northern Bavaria), according to the Juedische Allgemeine weekly newspaper. The chief prosecutor of Hof confirmed that charges had been filed against the rabbi. The charges are based on the controversial decision of a Cologne district court, which ruled in June that circumcisions for religious reasons constitute illegal bodily harm to newborn babies.

“I am shocked,” said Cologne Rabbi Yaron Engelmayer, co-chairman of the national umbrella group of Orthodox rabbis in Germany, in a first reaction to the report. This marks the first time that a court in the Federal Republic of Germany is investigating a rabbi for performing a religious ritual, Engelmayer told the paper.

Goldberg, a qualified mohel (ritual circumciser) who says he has performed more than 3,000 circumcisions, was informed about the criminal charges against him by journalists, the paper said.

Born in Jerusalem, the 64-year-old has been the rabbi of Hof since 1997. Before World War II, about 3,000 Jews lived in Hof. Today, the community counts about 400 members.

Meanwhile German officials have been meeting with Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi over the past two days as they seek a way to enshrine some sort of legal protection for Jews and Muslims who circumcise infant boys as a religious rite, officials said Tuesday.

The June 26 ruling by a Cologne court brought a wave of international criticism as an infringement on religious freedom, and it created legal confusion. Although the court’s ruling was not enforceable outside its jurisdiction, it was disruptive enough that many hospitals in the country, and even in neighboring Austria and Switzerland, recommended that doctors refrain from carrying out circumcisions until legal clarity could be created.

German lawmakers passed a resolution weeks after the court ruling, asking Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to draft legislation by the fall to ensure the practice could be carried out safely. “Jewish and Muslim religious life must continue to be possible in Germany,” read the resolution, supported by the leading opposition and governing parties.

The visiting rabbi, Yona Metzger, told reporters on Tuesday he was confident that a compromise could be found on the issue, but he insisted that mohels, or those who carry out ritual circumcisions according to the Jewish rite, must be allowed to continue with the practice. He said that proposed compromises that would allow doctors to perform the rite in the presence of mohel, or the use of anesthesia during the practice, were seen as unacceptable because of the sacred significance of the rite, passed down as a decree from God, for Jews.

“This is our belief, and this is the root of the Jewish soul,” Mr. Metzger said. “It is a stamp, a seal on the body of a Jew.”

Anders Mertzlufft, a spokesman for the justice ministry, confirmed that Mr. Metzger had met with members of the group working on the draft legislation, but declined to give further details regarding when they might be finished.

Opponents argue that circumcision is a violation of a child’s bodily integrity and should not be carried out on boys until they are 14 and able to have a say in their religious beliefs and whether they want the practice to be carried out.


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