American Jewish leaders ‘grateful’ for Merkel’s support of circumcision

Zach Gorelick Contributor
Font Size:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to stand up for religious male circumcision was applauded by American Jewish groups after she spoke out against a local ban.

A court in Cologne, Germany’s fourth-largest city, ruled in June that male circumcision caused bodily harm to children and could only be performed on consenting adults. The ruling only applies to the city of Cologne and its suburbs.

“Angela Merkel certainly does not need this headache while she’s dealing with everything else she needs to do on behalf of Germany – and even Europe,” Rabbi Levi Shemtov, executive vice president of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad), told The Daily Caller, “but I believe I speak for many when I say I am grateful that she has the bandwidth to address even this issue at this time and help ensure that it doesn’t become a big problem.”

Shemtov noted that the ban would not deter German Jewish communities from circumcising their newborn boys.

“I do not believe the German leadership will allow the status quo to change in a way that will possibly compromise the ability of Jews to practice their faith in Germany,” he said. “Circumcision is the most widely practiced Jewish precept, and historically has been fulfilled even at the risk of a death sentence.”

This position was supported by Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert, who said in a statement: “Circumcision carried out in a responsible manner must be possible without punishment … For everyone in the government it is absolutely clear that we want to have Jewish and Muslim religious life in Germany.”

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of the Union for Reform Judaism, told TheDC that “it was a misguided decision by one court in the country.” Saperstein said he was “glad” that Merkel “clarified the decision.” He added that male circumcision “happens to have medical benefits as well as religious significance.”

Shemtov noted that attacks on circumcision are often prompted by anti-Semitic tensions.

“Historically,” he said, “one of the first steps toward an attempt to annihilate the Jewish People has been a ban on circumcisions. The Romans, the Greeks, first they go after circumcision, then other customs, then the Torah, then finally after the very lives of Jews themselves.”

Follow Zach on Twitter