Sunday 30 September 2012

Circumcision and the Power of Tradition

On 5 May 2012, a German regional court in Cologne held that the circumcision of male children for religious reasons constitutes a criminal act under German law. According to the judgment, parents cannot validly consent to an irreversible bodily injury to their children. The child's right to physical integrity and self-determination prevails over the parents' right to religious freedom. If the court's interpretation is upheld in later cases, Germany may be one of the few countries in the world in which circumcision of children for non-medical reasons is banned.

Fiddler on the Roof. Dir. Norman Jewison. United Artists, 1971. 
The judgment, which was discovered by the press in late June 2012, provoked ferocious debate in Germany and received much international attention. Under-standably, Jewish and Muslim communities, which traditionally exercise the practice, became quite nervous. One Russian rabbi in Berlin to discuss the judgment called it "perhaps the most serious attack on Jewish life in Europe since the Holocaust". Supporters of the ban, however, argue that the decision on this serious question should be reserved for the child upon reaching legal age. 

One of the disturbing facts I encountered while following the debate was the complete ignorance of what circumcision means to the Jewish community. While many Muslims follow the custom of circumcision as a tradition, the practice is not prescribed in the Qur'an and Muslim religious scholars do not agree on whether it is obligatory or only recommended. In the Jewish community, by contrast, circumcision is not a mere custom but a clear command of God. More than a command: It is the sign of the everlasting Covenant between God and the Jewish people, on which the whole Jewish life with all its commandments is based.