“A child has the right not to be mutilated, and this right supersedes the religious aspect.” he said.
“Religion can change over thousands of years. Can Jews and Muslims not consider a symbolic circumcision for children?” Stehr said.
In fact, he hopes the debate moves beyond Germany and into the United States.
Coincidentally, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued new guidelines last month on male circumcision and concluded that its health benefits outweigh the risks.
In Germany, where only one in 10 males are circumcised – and a smaller percentage of the population than in the U.S. attends religious services of any kind – the ruling also has sparked a public discussion about the “primitive” nature of faith.
Online sites have even detoured into lively debates over whether the American and British predilection for circumcision was based entirely on Victorian anti-masturbation efforts.
Eroglu said the court ruling was nothing less than an attack on Islam, and religious freedom in general.
Germany has long had an uneasy relationship between a secular population and its new wave of Muslims. They came in large numbers after 1961, when Germany invited Turks as “guest workers.” But their continued presence has sparked controversy in everything from the ethnic makeup of schools to the construction of mosques.
For Jews, however, the debate has echoes of one of the most nightmarish periods in history. Indeed, newspaper columnists have wondered how Germany dares even speak of human rights abuses to Jews.
Calling circumcision one of the most important acts of being a Jew, Rabbi Goldberg said, “I do not say this lightly, but this ban is anti-Semitic.”
In ancient Erfurt, Rabbi Konstantin Pal, 33, serves a community of about 800 Jews. His office is a few cobbled streets away from his town’s first synagogue, which was built in the 12th century. The original Jewish families are all gone long ago, he said, having either fled or been murdered by the Nazis.
Still, in the debate over circumcision, the rabbi said the charge of anti-Semitism was unfair.
Christian pastors have expressed concerns to him that baptism and religious education could be next, and Pal sees a ban as an attack on faith itself.
“The trend here is to say religion is bad, old, ancient, that we don’t need it,” he said. “Banning circumcision is making a new law of man against thousands of years of old laws of God. This is not the right of the state.”