Anyone skimming through the comments to my posts on the German court ruling outlawing the circumcision of (male) children, and therefore the practice of Judaism as it has been understood by Jewish parents for thousands of years as well as the practice of Islam, can see what passions this subject stirs up.
But Germany is a sensible country and this particular ruling from a Cologne court, with its ruthless contempt for traditional religious practice in the name of “modern” morality, will almost certainly not stand. Antagonizing millions of Muslims who live in Germany and in increasing numbers vote in its election is bad politics to say the least, and Germany’s horrific past makes the country’s leaders eager — and rightly so — to demonstrate its tolerance and respect for Judaism.
The fightback from sane Germans appears to have begun. Guido Westerwelle, the Foreign Minister, has already come out with a clear statement that the protection of religious freedom is an important German value. Others will follow; if the court decision isn’t reversed we should expect the German parliament to create a religious exemption that safeguards the right of people living in Germany to practice this essential and time honored religious right.
As a Christian I am glad to report that prominent Christian leaders in Germany have also gone on record in supporting the religious freedom of Muslims and Jews. Christians, Muslims and Jews all over the world will be watching how Germany manages this issue, and I am personally confident that Germany will get this right.
But in the meantime, the Jewish Hospital in Berlin has suspended circumcisions until the legal position is clarified. As of this moment in Berlin, it is against German law to live as a Jew.
Andrew Sullivan, who attacked my stand on this serious threat to basic Jewish practice as “self parody” and “bloviation“, will no doubt be interested to learn that the first openly gay Foreign Minister of Germany agrees that this is an important issue of religious freedom, and that it is morally necessary to allow child (male, not female) circumcision in a country that respect basic human freedom. Sullivan’s original post on the subject led with the overwrought and ugly headline calling the central rite of Jewish identity and the foundation of what Jews see as their covenant with God “infant male genital mutilation.”
Sullivan clearly has no idea what a nasty and hateful thing this is to say about a primary obligation of someone else’s faith and he would react strongly and justifiably against comparable slurs made either against his faith or his sexual orientation. I expect this has to do with ignorance about where circumcision stands in Jewish life as traditionally understood even by non-religious Jews rather than from any genuine contempt for Jewish faith or the Jewish people.
To ban or insult infant circumcision isn’t an attack on a minor feature of Jewish life. In a Catholic context, it is like saying children cannot be baptized or receive Holy Communion until they are adults. To call it child abuse and genital mutilation is to become like the Protestant radicals who attacked the Catholic Mass as idolatry and cannibalism — and on those grounds forbade the Mass to be celebrated and fined those who attended.
Just as there is a German better nature that will soon find a way to make it legally possible for both Muslims and Jews to comply with this important requirement of faith, there is a better nature in Andrew Sullivan that will, I think, ultimately understand how seriously he misjudged this issue.
Tolerance of difference is the value that makes all freedom possible. To fight for the rights of minorities to do unpopular things and to live by their values is not to bloviate or to engage in self parody. It is to stand up for the right of people to have and to express different ideas and different lifestyles.
If the parents of Jewish babies and Muslim boys can’t carry out circumcisions in Germany, the freedoms of all minorities everywhere in the world have become less secure. And if people concerned about freedom and diversity don’t speak up in cases like this, vital human freedoms will slowly disappear.