Got news? Bavarian rabbi in legal trouble for WHAT?!

With GetReligion’s move to the Patheos universe, it’s highly likely that this here weblog has lots of new readers. As a result, some of the language that we use over and over may sound a bit strange, for people who have not been around for our whole eight-year journey.

Take, for example, the constant references to religion “ghosts.” Confused? This is a big one, so please click here and read.

And what, pray tell, is the “tmatt trio”? Here’s a collection of URLs that will help you work that one out. And what about “tmatt” as a name (it’s a lower-case “t,” by the way)? That showed up years ago, a digital nickname bestowed by the wife of my family’s Orthodox priest. Many of you may know the work of the justifiably admired writer Frederica Mathewes-Green.

You may, on occasion, see a reference to the Rt. Rev. Douglas Leblanc. No, he is not an Anglican bishop, I bestowed the title on him in a rather postmodern fashion. I mean, who is to say that he is not an Anglican bishop, that’s his decision and not anyone else’s, right? Meanwhile, he is the co-founder of GetReligion and I leave his name on the masthead because of my vast respect for his work (and in hopes that he returns to this space, some day, somehow).

And so forth and so on. The key term for this post is our ongoing “Got news?” features. This is a label that was created to let us write about stories that seem very important to us as readers, yet for some strange reason, they are not getting very much or any coverage in the mainstream press. We even have an archive category for these posts.

If one of the goals of GetReligion is to spot religion-news sins of commission, then “Got news?” is a label that we have pinned on some of the sins of omission. Does that make sense?

So here is a perfect example. The following story from Europe seems very important, seeing as how it perfectly illustrates what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was talking about the other day in her unusually candid speech on the rising global tide of threats to religious liberty.

What often happens is that major stories get stuck in the world of the denominational press or, when it comes to religion news, the alternative “conservative media.” The implication is that only true believers care about this stuff.

With that introduction, consider the top of this very alarming story from JTA.org, a news service dedicated to covering Jewish news.

BERLIN (JTA) – A court in Bavaria is considering criminal charges of committing bodily harm against a local rabbi, in the first known case to arise from an anti-circumcision ruling in May.

The investigation against Rabbi David Goldberg, who is a mohel (or ritual circumciser) undertaken after a complaint was filed against him with police by anti-circumcision activists, means that the May decision in the state of Hesse has been applied in Bavaria, confirming the fears of Jewish leaders here that the local ruling would have a wider impact.

Goldberg, 64, a Jerusalem native living in Hof Saale in Bavaria, told JTA he had not yet received a notice from the court. He said he would decide what to do after he had seen it. The charge was confirmed to the main Jewish newspaper of Germany, the Juedische Allgemeine Zeitung.

The rabbi also said he did not know what act the charges could refer to, since he has not performed any circumcisions recently in Germany. “Only abroad: in Budapest, in the Czech Republic, in Italy,” he said. Still, the rabbi said no secular ruling would stop him from performing brit milah in the country.

Read it all.

Once again, the goal here at GetReligion is not to discuss, let alone argue, about the doctrinal or political issue at the heart of this case. We are trying to do something that is a journalistic cut above that. The goal is to discuss whether this is an important story and, if it is, why isn’t the story breaking out into the mainstream press.

Was this story covered in the newspaper — analog or digital — that landed in your metaphorical front yard this morning? Have you seen significant coverage of this significant event in the mainstream, as opposed to niche, sites that you frequent?
Why or why not?

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Johannes Oesch

    So here is the ghost of imprecision! According to the recent article in “Jüdische Allgemeine”, it was a private person which filed charges with the prosecution authority against the mohel and rabbi. So the prosecutor still has to consider whether this charge has merit and might be relevant at all. If so, then the prosecutor will start investigations. Only after enough evidence and legal consideration were forthcoming by the investigations, then the court would become involved. So by now, everythings seems to be completely open. Imho it is a piece of real work to understand and to convey these legal matters across the Atlantic due to the different legal systems. So we need journalists with extra knowledge!

    • The Old Bill

      Excellent point. The legal structure is different, the procedures are different and the wheels turn in different directions. Add to that the matter of translation. This echoes the problem of covering the Vatican: a very old bureaucracy with its own Canon law, operating in 180+ countries, each with its own legal system. Very hard to understand, very hard to cover. I did see coverage of this, but it lacked details of the legal procedures.

      Editorial comment: Mohels have been in business far longer than nation states. The ninny who complained needs a different hobby.

  • CarlH

    Considering all the possible angles on this story–not the least of which is the available potential for sensationalism from a story that involves both private parts (of infants, no less!) and sharp instruments, let alone the fact that the U.S. anti-circumcision activists are hardly reticent about making a public to do–you would think that someone, somewhere, even if it had to be a tabloid, would pick up on this story in the United States.

    But given the seemingly calculated effort among a very wide swath of the traditional U.S. media not even to let on that religious liberty issues might exists in first world countries if such stories might have an unhappy intersection with the current administration’s framing of its campaign narrative as nobly documented at GR by Mollie (example here), perhaps we should not be surprised.

  • http://www.spiritofthescripture.com/blog Joshua Tilghman

    The story as it is presented to us above simply doesn’t give enough information. I would consider it worth mentioning simply for the reasons stated by Johannes above.

  • JWB

    FWIW, I saw plenty of mainstream-media coverage of the original ruling; perhaps this followup is too new or perhaps as suggested above it’s not necessarily a big deal at least at this stage once you understand German criminal procedure (“someone has complained; the authorities have said they’ll look into it”). Since a rabbi is not necessarily a mohel and vice versa (although this fellow is both), I’m wondering if calling him a “rabbi” in the headline (in the original story and the post) is useful or just confusing since that’s not the capacity in which he has attracted the ire of the anti-circumcision activists. (Although maybe mohel isn’t a widely-enough known word for a general audience?)

    What this story does not say is that it was I thought pretty clear last month from the actions of the Bundestag, the statements of Chancellor Merkel and other party leaders etc., that if the prior ruling is not overturned on appeal, the legislature will fix the law to clarify the legality of parentally-approved circumcision (at least if performed for religious reasons). That seems an important bit of context for any story on the ongoing fallout from the prior ruling. What the Bavarian authorities should do with a private-party complaint in the interim (put it on the back burner pending legislative developments would be my own suggestion) requires insight into the German legal system I do not possess. Similarly, there have been other more encouraging stories regarding lack of support for the controversial earlier decision, e.g. that of an Austrian provincial governor reacting by suggesting a suspension of circumcisions locally until the legal situation was clarified and promptly being told to sit down and shut up by the federal minister of justice before he damaged the country’s international reputation. One can understand why the various rabbis quoted in the JTA piece would want to keep the sky-is-falling message going until the politicians’ indications that the problem will be fixed one way or another have become reality, but journalism should still provide the sky-is-probably-not-actually-going-to-hit-you side of the story.

  • sari

    JTS writes to the Jewish community, so while much might be missing to the non-Jewish reader, Jewish concerns of renewed religious persecution are apparent even to the most assimilated Jew. The Huf Post did a better job of explicitly relaying those concerns.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/22/german-rabbi-david-goldberg-circumcision-criminal-charges_n_1822222.html

    None of the articles provide the religious mandate for Brit Milah, the covenant of circumcision, or explained its importance: culturally, religiously, and historically. That’s an egregious error; Jews don’t circumcise their boys on the eighth day just because, even those who are completely non-observant.

  • Johannes Oesch

    The following article is a very critical in depth coverage of the first verdict in Cologne against an particular case of muslim circumcision. The article follows the trails in a detailed manner. The Tagesspiegel is a major paper in Berlin.

    http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/beschneidungs-debatte-ein-journalist-aus-dem-fernen-san-francisco-berichtet-als-erster/7018904-3.html

  • EssEm

    “I mean, who is to say that he is not an Anglican bishop, that’s his decision and not anyone else’s, right? ”
    I spit my coffee all over my keyboard…ROTFL!

  • Sarah

    Yes to whether this story has popped up in mainstream media. I’ve been following this story for weeks, and it was on NPR last night. People in Germany, Denmark, and Norway have been trying to ban circumcision (and there has actually been a ban in effect in Swiss hospitals) because of “bodily harm” committed on children. Obviously this brings the state into direct conflict with some of the most basic rituals of Judaism and Islam. NPR went to Israel and discovered an anti-cicumcision movement there, spearheaded by “mothers.” There are at least 20,000 Jewish boys now living in Israel who have NOT been circumcised.

  • Jonathan

    “We are trying to do something that is a journalistic cut above that.” I nearly spit my coffee on my keyboard when I read that sentence. Unintentional or not, in this context, that sentence made me laugh.

  • CarlH

    Sarah, if the following is the link to the story you heard on NPR, it is not a report on the same story tmatt’s post covers here:

    Some Israeli Parents Rethink Ritual Circumcision

    The NPR story does mention the decision from the court in Hesse (not the private complaint filed in Bavaria), but only as a rather clumsy (IMO) lead-in that’s barely a blip in, if not just a downright excuse for, the NPR story about Isreali non-conformists. The NPR article does seem to cover both sides , but from my jaundiced view the (which does seem to cover both sides, but despite the internal headline about “Battling a Long Tradition,” says absolutely nothing about the basis for the “tradition”).

  • CarlH

    Oops, something got garbled. That last paragraph should read:

    The NPR story does mention the decision from the court in Hesse (not the private complaint filed in Bavaria), but only as a rather clumsy (IMO) lead-in that’s barely a blip in, if not just a downright excuse for, the NPR story about Isreali non-conformists. The NPR article does seem to cover both sides , but from my jaundiced view the article (which does seem to cover both sides), despite the internal headline about “Battling a Long Tradition,” says absolutely nothing about the basis for the “tradition.”

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