Monday, June 25, 2012

Freedom for Jewish religious practices upheld in Netherlands, threatened in Norway and (possibly) Germany

As reported by Ynet News, June 20, 2012:

The Dutch upper house, the Senate, on Tuesday rejected a bill that would have banned the ritual slaughter of animals and had been criticized by both Muslim and Jewish groups.

The bill, proposed by the small Party for the Animals, stipulates that livestock must be stunned before being slaughtered, contrary to Muslim halal and Jewish kosher laws, which require animals to be conscious.

The lower house of parliament passed the bill a year ago, leaving a loophole saying religious groups could continue ritual slaughter if they proved it was no more painful than other methods of slaughter.

Earlier this month, the Dutch government and the Jewish and Muslim communities in the Netherlands reached an agreement that asserted that animals could continue to be ritually slaughtered as long as they lost consciousness within 40 seconds of their throats being cut. After that period they would have to be stunned.

But the Senate rejected the bill on Tuesday by 51 votes to 21, meaning it cannot become law.

Dutch Muslims, mostly of Turkish and Moroccan origin, had complained they felt stigmatized by the measure.

European Union regulations require animals to be stunned before slaughter but allow exceptions for ritual slaughter, which the European Court of Human Rights has ruled is a religious right.

The Rabbinical Center of Europe (RCE) lauded the decision by the Upper House of the Dutch Parliament.

Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs, a prominent member of RCE and chief rabbi of the Inter-Provincial Rabbinate in Holland, expressed satisfaction after the vote. “The vote in the Dutch Senate is a victory for tolerance and common sense,” said the rabbi, who played a prominent role in the agreement.

“I would like to thank our government and all the politicians, especially Deputy Agriculture Minister Henk Bleker, who were involved to prevent the attempts to ban shechitah (ritual slaughter). The rejection of this law, is not only good for the Jewish community, whose future was threatened by it, it is good for Dutch society as protects freedom of religion as enshrined by the European Charter of Fundamental Rights,” he argued.

The RCE was highly involved in the campaign to protect shechitah since it first came under attack over a year ago by animal welfare groups in Holland.

“Holland has a long history of tolerance and as a welcome place for Jews so it is important that Jewish traditions are protected in the Netherlands,” deputy director of the RCE, Rabbi Aryeh Goldberg said.

“The vote against the law sends an important message to other parts of Europe that Jewish life is an important facet on our continent," he added. "Unfortunately, there are other groups who are trying to attack Jewish traditions in Europe, so this is an important victory, not just for the Dutch Jewish community, but for wider European Jewry.”
Rabbi Goldberg might have had Norway in mind. As reported by Jewish Telegraphic Agency, June 25, 2012:

A Norwegian political party said it will seek to outlaw circumcision in Norway.

“Circumcision on religious grounds should be a criminal offense,” Jenny Klinge, a spokesperson for Norway’s Centre Party, said in an interview earlier this month with the newspaper Dagbladet.

Klinge added that “Fortunately, circumcision is already illegal in females. The time has come for boys to receive the same legal protection."

The Centre Party, a member of the Norwegian coalition, occupies 11 seats out of the 169 in parliament.

Ervin Kohn, president of the Jewish Community in Oslo, told JTA that he considers the issue “an existential matter” for the community.

“Banning circumcision would send a loud message that the Jewish minority is not wanted here,” he said. Norway has a Jewish community of about 700.

Last year, the government offered the Jewish community a compromise to regulate circumcision that requires the presence of medical personnel during the procedure. Kohn said the community found the requirement acceptable. The government's preoccupation with the issue started last year, after Norway’s Children’s Ombudsman proposed setting 15 as the minimum age for ritual male circumcision.

“In the aftermath of discussions, several parties have come to oppose circumcision altogether," Kohn said. "Now we are seeing an escalation in the debate over the issue.”

A spokesman for the ruling Labor Party told Dagbladet that his party has yet to formulate a stand on the issue. The Centre Party has four government portfolios.

Norway is among a handful of European countries where the kosher slaughter of animals is prohibited.
Of course, opposition to circumcision of boys and ritual slaughter of animals is always motivated by concern for the welfare of boys and animals; Europeans are so liberal and tolerant that it's inconceivable that their opposition to these practices could be motivated by hatred of Jews. ;)

June 27, 2012 update:
And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations.
This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.
And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.
And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed.
He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.
Genesis 17:9-13

The District Court of Cologne has ruled that a child's right to "bodily integrity" outweighs the right of parents to have boys circumsised for religious reasons. As reported by Jewish Telegraphic Agency, June 27, 2012:

BERLIN (JTA) -- Germany’s top Jewish leader called on the federal Parliament “to ensure religious freedom” following a Cologne court ruling that said circumcising young boys on religious grounds amounts to grievous bodily harm.

Though Monday's decision by the District Court of Cologne does not outlaw circumcision, it is still “outrageous and insensitive,” Dieter Graumann, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Ritual circumcision by a medical doctor or a mohel with “medical competency" is “an integral part of the Jewish faith that has been practiced around the world for millennium,” he added. “This right is respected in every country of the world.”

The court ruled that the "fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents."

The decision involved the circumcision of a Muslim boy in Cologne. The parents took their 4-year-old to a hospital several days after his ritual circumcision in 2010 after they became concerned about bleeding from the incision.

According to reports, the bleeding was normal and quickly brought under control. However, local prosecutors filed suit against the doctor. A lower court ruled on behalf of religious freedom and the right of parents to decide.

On appeal, however, a higher court gave precedence to the right of the child to be protected from bodily harm and that the "fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents."

The doctor was acquitted on all charges, but the ruling suggests that those performing circumcisions in the future could be committing a criminal offense, since the court holds the right of the child sacrosanct.

Berlin attorney Nathan Gelbart worries about the notion that "the parents have to accept that only the child can decide about his religion when he grows up, and that circumcision is a pre-decision" being forced on the child.

Other courts are not restricted by the decision of the Cologne court, one of 55 district courts. The ruling could be appealed to a higher court, and is not binding unless there is a decision by the High Court of Justice or High Constitutional Court.

Meanwhile, Holm Putzke, a professor of criminal law at the University of Passau who has argued for several years for a ban on involuntary circumcision, told JTA that he hoped the ruling would spark discussion in Germany about "what should be given more weight, religious freedom or the right of children not to have their genitals mutilated."

In late 1999, Germany’s top court ruled in favor of religious freedom, protecting the right to Islamic ritual slaughter and, by association, kosher slaughter. The ruling came after an Islamic butcher challenged a 1995 German law banning the slaughter of animals without stunning them first, which is against the laws of kosher and halal.
This seems to be yet another example of coercion masquerading as compassion. I suspect that this ruling has a lot more to do with hatred of Jews and a backlash against an increasing Islamic presence than it does with the welfare of children. Beware of individuals and societies claiming to care about children while supporting abortion. As some have commented, the "fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity" doesn't seem to apply when the child is still in the womb.

July 13, 2012 update:
Despite the German court's ruling, the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel will not be prosecuting circumcisions if done in a "responsible manner." As reported by Stephen Brown of Reuters, July 13, 2012:

BERLIN - Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman promised Germany's Jewish and Muslim communities on Friday they would be free to carry out circumcision on young boys despite a court ban which has provoked concerns about religious freedom.

In a country that is especially sensitive to allegations of intolerance because of the Nazis' slaughter of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust, the government said it would find a way around the Cologne court ban in June as a matter of urgency.

"For everyone in the government it is absolutely clear that we want to have Jewish and Muslim religious life in Germany," said Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert. "Circumcision carried out in a responsible manner must be possible in this country without punishment."

European rabbis descended on Berlin this week to lobby against what they see as an affront to religious freedom - with the backing of Muslim and Christian leaders in an unusual show of unity, as well as the support of many German politicians.

Ruling in the case of a Muslim boy taken to a doctor with bleeding after circumcision, the Cologne court said the practice inflicts bodily harm and should not be carried out on young boys, but could be practiced on older males who give consent.

This is not acceptable under Jewish religious practice which requires boys to be circumcised from eight days old, nor for many Muslims, for whom the age of circumcision varies according to family, country and branch of Islam.

"It is well know that in the Jewish religion early circumcision carries great meaning, so it is a matter of urgency that this right be restored," said Seibert, adding that Merkel's own office would be involved in efforts to resolve the problem.

"We know a quick decision is needed and that this cannot be put off. Freedom of religious practice is a very important legal right for us," he said.


Germany is a close ally of Israel and its ambassador there has promised parliament's Diaspora Affairs Committee to defend the rights of Germany's growing Jewish community.

European rabbis ended their meeting in Berlin on Thursday in a defiant mood. They plan talks with German Muslim and Christian leaders in Stuttgart next week to see how they can fight the ban together.

The ruling by the Cologne Regional Court applies to the city and surrounding districts with a total population of just over 2 million people. The total population of Germany is about 82 million. Cologne is home to about 120,000 Muslims, whose plans for a new central mosque has stirred anti-immigrant sentiment.

The head of the Conference of European Rabbis urged Jews in Germany to continue carrying out circumcision despite the ban.

But the German Medical Association, while opposing the ban because it could drive circumcision underground with greater risk of infection through poor hygiene, advised doctors not to carry out the operation until the legal situation is cleared up as they could risk prosecution.

Pinchas Goldschmidt, the Swiss-born chief rabbi of Moscow who organized the meeting, said the ban was a fresh example of creeping prejudice in European law against non-Christians, after a Swiss ban on minarets, French and Belgian bans on Islamic veils in public and an attempted Dutch ban on halal meat.

"Circumcision represents the basis for belonging to the Jewish community. It has been practiced for 4,000 years and cannot be changed," said Goldschmidt.

Germany is home to about 120,000 Jews and 4 million Muslims. Many of the latter originating from Turkey, which has also condemned last month's court ruling.

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