'Thanks Dad...' A Personal Reflection On Germany's New Circumcision Ban

Essay: With a recent ban on religious circumcisions, Germany finds itself caught up in a debate on parental freedom v. protecting children. Die Welt's Alan Posener quips that Jews and Muslim show rare "commonality when it comes to hurtin

Don't hold back, baby.
Babies don't have the freedom to say yes or no (jondejong)
Pedro Klien
Alan Posener

BERLIN - For weeks, the talk in Germany has been about foreskins. It's easier to talk about foreskins than the euro crisis because with circumcision any opinion goes even if you don't know what you're talking about. Here's my excuse for writing about the topic: it nearly happened to me.

In 1961, my father, a Jew who fled Nazi Germany and ended up in London, was offered a professorship in Israel. He recounts what happened then in his memoirs – how shortly before we were scheduled to move, we went to the Zionist Office in London where a friendly staffer asked my parents about us, their sons.

Were we circumcised? No? Then that should be a first priority once we reached Israel, otherwise other kids at school might make fun of them – in the gym shower, that sort of thing. And something else: the eldest, Alan, was just the right age for the youth movement. Another priority on arrival should be signing him up for that.

We thanked the friendly man. On the same day, my father decided to accept another job offer he'd received in Berlin.

The discussion about the recent Cologne court ruling that circumcision on purely religious grounds constitutes bodily harm and is punishable by law, usually centers on the legal aspects – if the parents' fundamentally guaranteed right to religious freedom should take precedence over a child's fundamental right of physical integrity.

It is of course an extremely interesting question. For example: if I were to found a religion whose gods required that children be tattooed all over with a message that the tattoo was a sign of eternal unity with Alan and his descendants, would I have a right to do that? And if not, why not?

Rarely does anybody deal with the psychological question at hand: whether parents put under pressure by an imam or rabbi to conform for reasons of family, neighbors, tradition – or for that matter, supposed suffering of uncircumcised boys in public showers – are really exercising their religious freedom when they allow their child to be genitally mutilated.

If you weren't pressured into it, would you have your son circumcised? If you could really decide freely? My father in any case decided against it, and for that I am very thankful. Not because of the foreskin -- I haven't got a clue what it would be like to be without one -- but because of the example of courage he gave me. Needless to say, his decision to turn down the Israeli job offer was not greeted warmly there, and he himself had very mixed feelings about returning to Germany. But he was not about to bow to group pressure -- especially not at his kids' expense.

Some people who argue for the right to circumcise take a stand against headscarves and burqas. Wearers of such apparel are not covering themselves up voluntarily, these people argue; rather, the women are under pressure from a patriarchal society to do so. And that may be. However, a woman can decide not to wear a headscarf or a burqa: it just requires courage. There's nothing for a circumcised male to decide about a foreskin, however -- he no longer has one.

Monotheistic religions, which are otherwise antagonistic to each other, find such notable commonality when it comes to hurting little boys' penises. But it actually points to a fundamental problem: these religions have ways to ensure their continuity by indoctrinating children at a very young age. "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains," said 18th century writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau. And the worst chains are the psychological ones forged during childhood.

Religions may have their merits -- but freedom is more important. And for as long as children are turned into Jews, Muslims, Christians, and so on, with or without foreskins and headscarves, the religious freedom that enemies of the foreskin and friends of the burqa use to back up their positions is being trampled on.

Read the original article in German.

Photo - jondejong

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!