BERLIN — A German court decision to criminalize religious circumcisions has turned into an international spat, as Israeli leaders urge Germany to protect the ancient rite and local Jewish and Muslim groups vow to continue the practice.
“Banning circumcision is tantamount to saying no Jewish life is possible in Germany,” said Mimi Levy Lipis, a mother, a Jewish resident of Berlin and a professor of cultural studies. “I don’t think Germany can afford to take that position.”
In May, the Cologne Regional Court ruled against a doctor who had performed the procedure on a Muslim boy, resulting in serious complications. Judges said the practice constitutes an irreversible physical change on a child who is not capable of giving his consent to the operation.
The procedure, which removes the foreskin of the penis, is widely practiced in Jewish and Muslim societies and in many parts of the United States. However, it is rare in Europe.
“Germans have no long history of circumcision. It’s just something that’s totally alien and foreign to them,” said Mrs. Lipis.
“But the only reason that Cologne verdict came to pass in the first place was that it involved a Muslim boy, and sprung out of Islamophobia.
“If the case had revolved around a Jewish child, the verdict would have been different. It just so happens that the Muslim question was also a Jewish question.”
Abraham Cooper from the Simon Wiesenthal Center complained about the court decision in a meeting Wednesday with German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger.
“We are very concerned that Europe becomes a place where circumcision is made illegal or denigrated,” he told reporters after his meeting. “That would be extraordinary dangerous and injurious for the Jewish community.”
Israeli President Shimon Peres told German President Joachim Gauck in a letter last week that circumcision is “at the core of Jewish identity.”
While the medical community in Germany aligned itself with the court ruling, German religious groups expressed resentment about what they think is a threat to their fiercely guarded tradition.
Some say that the Jewish community in particular has been able to appeal to Germany’s sense of guilt about its Nazi past.
“Historically, attempts to stop the Jewish people from performing this core Jewish rite, dating back to our patriarch Abraham, were associated with ancient Greek and Roman rulers and modern day tyrants like Stalin and Hitler — not democracies,” Mr. Cooper said in a statement issued last week from the Wiesenthal Center’s headquarters in Los Angeles.
Muslim organizations also have been quick to condemn the court decision and put pressure on the German government to protect the custom widely practiced in Islamic societies.
“If all religious communities and secular organizations act together, then the resistance will be too strong to go through with the decision,” said Serdar Yazar, secretary general of the Berlin-based Turkish Union, which represents Turks, who make up more than half of the 4 million Muslim people in Germany.