The recent decision to file criminal charges against a German rabbi for presiding over a Jewish circumcision (brit) continues to reverberate across the world and Israel.
A day after Israel's Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger met with German lawmakers to lobby against the criminalization of the custom, Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) wrote a letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel urging her to protect Jews' freedom of worship. Yishai sent a copy of the letter to the German justice minister as well.
"As deputy prime minister, as the interior minister and as the head of the largest religious party [in Israel], and — above all — as a Jew, I call on you to end the abuse of the [German] justice system; please make sure that Jews are once again allowed to lead a rich and proud life according to Jewish traditions in your country," Yishai wrote.
Yishai stressed that "Jews consider circumcision to be one of the most important precepts."
"Jews should not have to chose between the rule of law and divine commandments, which have been followed by our people all through the ages; do not partake in the efforts to restrict Jewish traditions," Yishai said.
A Cologne federal court ruled in June that circumcising young boys on religious grounds amounts is a form of mutilation and compromises the child's ability to freely choose his or her religion once they grow up.
Circumcision of baby boys is a fundamental Jewish religious ritual. The decision sparked a public outcry in Israel and in Jewish communities abroad and prompted one Israeli lawmaker to say that "the last time circumcision was restricted was during Germany's darkest period." German Ambassador to Israel Andreas Michaelis said his government would like to see the ruling overturned. "Fostering Jewish life in Germany is not only a goal. Freedom of religion is protected under the constitution of the federal republic," Michaelis wrote to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud).
Rabbi David Goldberg, a mohel in Hof in northern Bavaria, was recently accused by a German doctor of engaging in the outlawed practice (the ruling is binding only in Bavaria). Goldberg dismissed the allegations against him, telling Israel Hayom this week that the person who filed the complaint was an "anti-Semitic physician who filed criminal charges against me for allegedly committing bodily harm to children and maiming them. In Germany, once a complaint is filed, the chief prosecutor in the city has to decide whether to move to the trial phase; I hope he drops this case."
Director-General of the Rabbinical Centre of Europe Rabbi Menachem Margolin,whose organization serves as an umbrella body of Jewish rabbis in Europe, said Wednesday that the criminal complaint against Goldberg represented a "troubling phenomenon.”
“Treatment of Jews in Europe has changed for the worse in a most dramatic way, and anyone who can do anything about it should act," he said.
The Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry criticized Yishai for not coordinating his move with ministry officials or the Israeli Embassy in Germany, the online news portal Walla! reported Wednesday. Diplomats are worried Yishai's actions might do more harm than good by creating the impression that Israel is exerting undue foreign influence on German politics, Walla! reported.
According to a Foreign Ministry official quoted by Walla!, members of the Jewish community in Germany "have asked us [Israelis] to tread cautiously on this matter because the solution to this problem could ultimately be reached by appealing [the original lower-court ruling that criminalized circumcision] or through legislation. Either course of action involves sensitive matters."
The official warned that "if Germans get the sense that another country is meddling in what is considered a law-enforcement matter, the ensuing backlash would be severe, and it will have undone our tremendous efforts."
"Eli Yishai has once again tried to create the illusion that he runs foreign policy; we think the way he conducted himself speaks for itself," the official told Walla!. "If he envies the Foreign Ministry portfolio, why doesn't he formally ask for it? [But] so long as he is the interior minister, the Israeli people expect him to perform his duties under that capacity rather than disgrace Israel overseas."