The old saws are being trotted out about a cultural assault, anti-semitism and islamophobia. And yet, if we detach ourselves from the noise, sentiment and, quite frankly, illogicality of the procedure, it is easy to see how the court came to its conclusion.
Babies – and young children – are incapable of informed consent. This is a central tenet of law throughout the world. The tolerance of the infliction of pain and irreversible body change is accepted only in relation to the treatment of male children. We have, thankfully, more or less universally turned against female circumcision.
Angela Merkel, inevitably sensitive to the furious response from world Jewry, states that there is a right to perform this rite. But on what basis? There is no logical foundation for this thought, even if the realpolitik is persuasive. It is clear that circumcision is an assault. The fact that its moving force is religious conviction and identity does not actually alter that. Perhaps one sign of the inherent weakness of the ‘pro’ position (similar to the ‘humane slaughter’ justification of kashruth and halal ritual killing of animals) is the health argument. Instances of cervical cancer and HIV/Aids are lower in areas of mass circumcision than elsewhere. But this argument is likely to be increasingly undermined by increased screening and immunological breakthroughs like the HPV vaccine.
For me, the Jewish argument in favour of circumcision is wreathed in sentiment and out-dated notions of identity. If Grosse Fugue is about anything, it’s about the redefinition of identity in the light of what befell my people. No amount of religious indifference or even conversion provided immunity from murder. Increased observance since the Holocaust is merely a strand of denial, pretending that it never happened so that all that went before can continue unchallenged.
Will the ban be overturned. Merkel has promised legislation. But that doesn’t alter the fact that the judgement was humane and legally correct. And it doesn’t destroy the argument that no amount of hanging on to arcane superstitions can obviate debate about what the Holocaust actually means today.
Hopefully, a new sense of identity will soon begin to take shape, one that acknowledges the universality of the slaughter and the moral obligations which flow from that. When that happens, we Jews can perhaps focus on our shared heritage of justice, freedom of thought, the search for knowledge and the quest for personal liberty.