Recently I posted a comment criticizing the ruling of a German court in Cologne prohibiting the circumcision of male infants, even for religious reasons. I’ve received a great many responses to my comment, pro and con, and to my surprise they seem to be breaking down (albeit not perfectly) along ideological lines, with conservatives (of various faiths) joining me in criticizing the ruling and liberals criticizing me for criticizing it. My critics reject the argument that the ruling violates the religious liberty rights of Jews and Muslims; they maintain that, on the contrary, infant circumcision violates the rights of children to bodily integrity and religious liberty, since they cannot consent to being circumcised. What we have here, it seems, is a deep conflict of visions or understandings of human rights and religious freedom.
My friend Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth of Great Britain, has now published a short but powerful essay on the controversy in the Jerusalem Post . It is unlikely to change the minds of supporters of the Cologne court’s ruling, but Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks is always worth listening to, and his essay will help people to understand how the ruling looks to Torah-observant Jews, and why they simply cannot accept it.