On June 26, the District Court of the Federal State of Cologne ruled that circumcision of children for religious reasons at the instruction of parents constituted the infliction of bodily harm and therefore was a punishable offense. As the judges concerned included their email addresses and telephone numbers in a press release, concerned individuals might wish to express their views directly.

To: State Court Judge Dr. Jan F. Orth, Cologne (Jan.Orth@lg-koeln.nrw.de; tel +49-221-477-3304) and District Court Judge Jorg Baack (Joerg.back@ag-koeln.nrw.de, tel +49-221-477-2008.)

Your Honors: Your decision last week to criminalize the religious rite of circumcision presents a threat to the survival of the German people. Germans are failing of the desire to live. At your present fertility rate of 1.3 children per female, there will be virtually no German speakers left to celebrate Goethe’s quadricentennial, although a few Jewish scholars still might learn German as a supplement to Yiddish. In more ways than you imagine, this decision poisons the hearts of your countrymen and reduces their long-term prospects for survival.

Whether the Constitutional Court will uphold your decision remains to be seen; in the meantime, you have put the life of Germany’s small Jewish community into suspension. Physicians at the Jewish Hospital in Berlin have stopped performing circumcisions for fear of legal action. Even worse: you have provided a pretext for every Jew-hater in Germany to denounce a fundamental practice of our religion on the spurious pretext of child welfare.

Not even the Nazis thought of banning circumcision as a way of uprooting Jewish life in Germany. If your decree withstands a constitutional challenge, Germany once again will be Judenrein. The difference today is that you need us more than we need you.

Never mind that your decision involved the case of Muslim parents circumcising a child for religious reasons. The matter of circumcision comes to the West through the Jews, regardless of the Muslim imitation Jewish practices. This is our issue, and you will answer to us in the court of world opinion.

In danger of extinction: Germans aged 15 to 24 vs over 60, at constant fertility

Source: United Nations World Population Prospects

To suggest that circumcision impairs health is silly on the face of it, considering that the Jewish people, alone among all the peoples of the world, have endured through these past 4,000 years – not in spite of circumcision, but rather because of it, as I shall explain.

The State of Israel, the only country in which almost every male is circumcised, has the world’s highest life expectancy at 82 years (in a tie with Japan and Switzerland). The average Israeli man can expect to live four years longer than the average German man. Israel also has the highest fertility of any industrial country, at three children per female. If the respective fertility rates of Germany and Israel continue, there will be more Israelis under the age of 25 than Germans by the end of the present century.

I will not address the scientific grounds for circumcision (which among other things drastically reduces the transmission of infections including AIDS), because your decree has nothing to do with science. Rather, as Heinrich Heine wrote in 1844 of your city of Cologne,

Dummheit und Bosheit buhlten hier
Gleich Hunden auf freier Gasse;
Die Enkelbrut erkennt man noch heut
An ihrem Judenhasse.

(Stupidity and evil mated here / Like dogs in the open gutter / You still can recognize their descendants today / By their Jew-hatred).

What we call the b’rit, or covenant, brings the sacred and eternal into the carnal and temporal sphere of human life. That is the content of Jewish practice: the sanctification of eating through kashrut, of the family through the laws of marital purity, and of time itself through the observance of the Sabbath. But circumcision precedes all of these. It denotes what all the peoples of the world desire: to be holy (that is, eternal) in their own flesh. It is the token of God’s love for Israel set in the body of Israel itself, the sign of our immortality. God’s love for Abraham extends to his descendants, and circumcision denotes the transformation of Jewish flesh to a holy vessel for God’s presence in the world.

The great Jewish theologian Michael Wyschogrod wrote:

God could have played a godly role, interested in certain features of human existence, the spiritual, but not in others, the material. He could even have assigned the man the task of wrenching himself out of the material so as to assume his spiritual identity, which is just what so many religious believe he did. Instead, the God of Israel confirms man as he created him to live in the material cosmos … There is a requirement for the sanctification of human existence in all of its aspects. Israel’s symbol of the covenant is circumcision, a searing of the covenant into the flesh of Israel and not only, or perhaps not even primarily, into its spirit. And that is why God’s election is of a carnal people. By electing the seed of Abraham, God creates a people that is in his service in the totality of its human being and not just in its moral and spiritual existence [1]

. Israel is the exemplar and model for the sanctification of the human body, for the dedication of the individual to God through a physical change, through the sanctity of family life, and the sanctity of all life embodied in our dietary laws. But if you excise the sacred from human life, life itself becomes intolerable. I submit that the Germans are in danger of extinction because they have ceased to tolerate life.

On this matter I refer you to the decisive passage in the iconic literary work of your culture, the wager between Faust and Mephistopheles in the second Studierzimmer scene of Goethe’s Faust I. Goethe is the most biblical of modern writers, [2] perhaps the only one to restate the existential question of Ecclesiastes so clearly. [3]

The devil offers Faust the usual inducements: money, fame and sex. But what Faust wants rather is life – a real life, such as all of humanity lives:

What is apportioned to all humankind,
Would I enjoy in my inmost self,
Grasp the highest and lowest with my spirit,
And bring their weal and woe into my own breast.

Mephistopheles answers with contempt. Mere mortals, he tells Faust, cannot abide life, which was made for a God:

Believe me, who for millennia past
Has chewed on this hard crust:
From cradle to the grave
No man ever has been able to digest this sourdough!
Believe our kind: this whole
Was made only for a God!
He basks in light eternal.
Us he brought down into darkness,
While all you get is day and night.

Your Honors: Believe us Jews, who have eaten our bread with joy for so many thousands of years, and who say each morning, “Happy are we, how good is our portion, how lovely our fate, how beautiful our heritage.” Mephistopheles is not entirely wrong: life was indeed made for a god. But what God has made also can be imparted to human beings. We cannot be gods, but we can be godly.

What makes it possible to digest the sourdough of life is to impart the sacred to everyday life. That is why – as the demographers have shown – only the religious have birth rates above replacement in the industrial world.

Germany drove out the divine with fire and sword. Now it chews the old sourdough with disgust. Germany’s sin was to envy us, rather than to emulate us. The great German-Jewish theologian Franz Rosenzweig wrote of this envy before his death in 1929. The Gentile nations of the ancient past accepted their eventual extinction, he explained, until they learned of the hope of eternal life from the Jews.

The God of Israel first offered eternal life to humankind, and Christianity extended Israel’s promise to the nations. But the nations longed for eternal life in their own Gentile skin rather than in the Kingdom of God promised by Jesus Christ. After Christianity taught them the election of Israel, the Gentiles coveted the election of the Jews and desired their own people to be the chosen people.

Rosenzweig hoped that the Jewish example – of a people whose immortality vouchsafed the Christian promise – would inspire Christians to value the enduring presence of the people of Israel. Mercifully he died before National Socialism took envy of the Jewish people to a new and hideous extreme by positing the German “master race” as a neo-pagan lampoon of Jewish election. The Germans have failed as pagans, and they are failing as Christians. Eventually they might fail of their own lack of interest in life.

The neo-pagan illusions of National Socialism have been crushed, although they lurk at the fringes of German politics. Despite their defeat, the National Socialists may have succeeded in extirpating the presence of the divine in German life. No action by responsible public officials since the end of the war has advanced their cause as forcefully as the evil degree you have promulgated.

You no longer have the power to destroy us, but you yet may destroy yourselves. We, the Eternal People, who have seen so many good things disappear from under the sun, will view this with sadness.


Notes: 1. In The Body of Faith: God and the People Israel, (1983), p67
2. See the author’s essay “Hast Thou Considered My Servant Faust?
3. See “Koheleth and Goethe’s Faust,” by Rabbi Isaac Rosenberg