Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Matter Of Circumcision And Religious Freedom

A state court in Germany recently banned ritual circumcision after a botched Muslim circumcision of a teenaged boy who suffered medical complications after being circumcised.

Now things have revved up, with criminal charges being filed for the first time against a Jewish rabbi for performing circumcisions, the Jewish religious rite of brit millah:

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. {...}

“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.

“This latest development in Hof is yet another grave affront to religious freedom and underlines the urgent need for the German government to expedite the process of ensuring that the fundamental rights of minority communities are protected. We call upon the Minister of the Interior to take immediate action to secure those rights in the short term,” Conference of European Rabbis, Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt said.

In view of the uproar this is causing, it's worth addressing in some detail.

Since this is a state court in Germany, allusions and references to the Holocaust have been evoked, and frankly I think unjustly. As opposed to certain other perpetrators and defenders of genocide and ethnic cleansing, particularly in the Muslim world, the Germans have the virtue, if it can be called that, of being forthcoming about their role in the Holocaust. As a matter of fact, they are one of the few countries in Europe to do so. Hitler and the Nazis had many willing accomplices.

Nor are today's Germans, with the exception of some aged Nazi sympathizers running out the clock the same people who perpetrated that horrific stain on human history.

That said, let's look at the actual arguments for banning and criminalizing ritual Jewish circumcision.

I can't speak for Germany, but here in the United States the anti-circumcision lobby is largely populated by homosexual activists and garden variety anti-Semites. It's no accident that legislation to put in place city ordinances banning circumcision got on the ballot in San Francisco and in Santa Monica, both 'progressive' cities with active and powerful gay populations and lobbies. By the way, both proposed ordinances were removed from the ballot when the 'progressive' politicians in these cities realized that they were in clear violation of the First Amendment and would have subjected them to costly litigation and a hefty financial judgment.

The argument, as in Germany, was that male circumcision constitutes an 'assault' and 'bodily harm' to infants and thus interferes with their later sexual pleasure.

Actually there is significant scientific evidence that male circumcision does in fact act as a preventive in penile cancer, venereal disease and the transmission of AIDS.

This makes common sense, because the foreskin by design is a repository for germs and disease if not kept rigorously clean..and sometimes even if it is. And it's why 80% of American males, Jewish and gentile have had this procedure done as infants.

However, there are those whom deride the scientific evidence and come with studies of their own showing that it has no effect, but even these studies ( a number of them funded by fairly murky groups) admit that at worse it does no physical harm.

Is that a reason to not only ignore a possible health benefit and ban a religiously sanctified ritual that goes back to the days of Abraham and discriminate against people who take their religion seriously? One wonders how the activists pushing for the ban would react if similar tolerance was practiced against them and their lifestyles.

A second argument, and a potent one in Germany because of its Muslim population has to do with the limits of religious tolerance. After all, if male circumcision is allowed for Jews and Muslims, shouldn't the female circumcision practiced in the Muslim world be allowed too?

Female circumcision, or to be more correct, clitorectomies and enfibrillation is also known quite rightly as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). It has none of the health benefits associated with male circumcision.

It is designed to help 'control' women's sexual urges and pleasure in the sexual act by removing all or part of the clitoris or even 'stitching' up a young girl's vagina as a form of domination.The process is also not done on infants, but on prepubescent girls, frequently without anesthesia.

This is quite in line with Islam's philosophy towards women and has been endorsed by a number of Muslim clerics and religious leaders, including Sheikh Qaradiwi, spiritual head of the Muslim Brotherhood and one of the most popular Muslim clerics in the world, thanks to his widely watched show on al-Jazeera.

This would certainly seem give weight to the argument that FGM is part of Muslim religious practice and should thus be protected.There are estimates that over 80% of Egypt's women have undergone this procedure, particularly in rural areas.

However, things like what amounts to felony animal torture,ritual prostitution and wife beating are also religiously sanctioned practices in some beliefs, with the last one also sanctioned by is religiously sanctioned prostitution through the institution of 'temporary marriages' which allows wealthy Persian Gulf Arabs to go and and purchase adolescents girls in poorer countries like Egypt and India as temporary sex toys.

Germany, at least at this point, is a civilized western nation. Are the proponents of a ban on the Jewish practice of ritual circumcision of male infants saying that Germany and other countries should make no differentiation between that and practices like FGM, 'temporary marriages' and wife beating?

Perhaps they are, since the proponents of a ban on circumcision normally are distinguished by a raging hostility towards all religion for reasons I'm sure you can come up with on your own.

However, their arguments are noticeably flaccid when looked at clearly. And I'm sure the German government will see it the same way.


(h/t, Greg)

No comments: