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Charges filed against Bavarian rabbi over circumcision

Charges have been brought against a Bavarian rabbi over religious circumcisions of infant boys. The charges, filed in a civil court by a doctor, are part of a case pitting human rights against religious rights.

Sebastian Guevara Kamm filed the charges against rabbi David Goldberg, who lives in the Bavarian town of Hof. Goldberg is a mohel, or ritual circumciser.

"Charges have been filed but no investigation is yet underway," said Gerhard Schmitt, the local chief public prosecutor. "It really has to be examined in detail - this is a very, very complex issue."

While Schmitt declined to reveal the identity of who filed the charges - citing standard practice - Kamm came forward later in the day to reveal himself.

Kamm said he himself had foreign roots and was sensitive to Jewish beliefs. However, he said the practice of circumcision is harmful, saying he would have brought the charges against anyone, regardless of religion or nationality. Though Goldberg, 64, has lived in Germany for the past 20 years, he is originally from Israel.

According to Schmitt's office, the charges will be reviewed and prosecutors will decide whether there is enough evidence to open a case against Goldberg. Schmitt said it was too early to say whether the case had merit or not.

Charges blasted abroad

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt speaking in July.

Goldschmidt decried the charges against Goldberg

Several Jewish groups criticized the charges, which they see as an affront to their religious traditions.

"This criminal complaint is an attack not only on one rabbi but against the entire Jewish people," officials with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights group, said in a statement.

In London, Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt of the Conference of European Rabbis also expressed concern over the charges made against Goldberg.

"This latest development in Hof, Germany, is yet another grave affront to religious freedom and underlines the urgent need for the German government to expedite the process of ensuring that the fundamental rights of minority communities are protected," said Goldschmidt.

Germany's Foregin Minister Guido Westerwelle weighed in on the controversy on Wednesday, saying that the government in Berlin must avoid religious insensitivity.

"We cannot put Germany's global reputation as a land of religious tolerance at risk," Westerwelle said while travelling in the small western European country of Lichtenstein. "Jewish and Muslim traditions must not be restricted by legal uncertainties."

On June 26, a court in Cologne banned the circumcision of young boys for religious reasons, triggering passionate public debate. In July, the German parliament adopted a non-binding resolution calling for the government to draw up legislation that "ensures that the circumcision of boys carried out to medically professional standards and without undue pain is fundamentally permissible."

"No law that prevents circumcision"

Goldberg said on Wednesday that he couldn't understand the suit against him. "Up to now, there is no law that prohibits circumcision," he said in an interview with the dpa news agency, claiming that some legal scholars have said the Cologne ruling only sets a precedent for that particular city. When asked what he thought about Kamm's complaint, Goldberg said he thought it was motivated by anti-Semitism. "I can't see any other reason for it," he said.

Kamm rejected Goldberg's accusation. "I am duty bound to protect children," he told news agency dpa. He also decried Goldberg's accusations of anti-Semitism as "the usual reflex."

Algerian boys dressed up in traditional outfits play around as they wait for their turns to be circumcised on the last week of the Muslim holly month of Ramadan at a hospital in Algiers, Algeria, September 27, 2007.

Circumcision is practiced by both Muslims and Jews

The circumcision row has triggered a firestorm of controversy both in Germany and abroad, not least because of the country's Nazi past. Even Chancellor Angela Merkel has weighed in, telling her Christian Democratic Union party that Germany risked becoming a "laughing stock" over the issue.

On Tuesday, prominent Israeli rabbi Yona Metzger said that circumcision has been practiced for 4,000 years - and 1,800 in Germany - saying it is "root of the Jewish soul" and a tradition "that you can never depart from." He rejected the Cologne court's ruling that the operation causes irreparable bodily harm and is performed on young boys without their consent.

The Cologne court case followed the circumcision of a 4-year-old boy that went wrong. When he was admitted into hopsital with severe bleeding, public prosecutors took an interest in the case. The court ruled that the operation causes bodily harm and that parents should wait and let their children decide whether they want to be circumcised or not. The doctor was not convicted, with the court saying he acted on the parents' wishes. The ruling made it clear, however, that a doctor would be convicted in a subsequent, similar case.

bm/msh (dapd, dpa, KNA, Reuters)