But Schmidt-Salomon has made no secret about his hostility toward organized religion, and he seems to have a particular animosity toward Judaism. German
authorities condemned his 2008 children's book, How Do I Get to God, Asked the Small Piglet, for its virulent depictions of a rabbi, an imam, and a
priest. Several critics likened its portrait of the rabbi to caricatures of Jews in Nazi-era propaganda. And Jewish leaders say whatever its motivations,
the campaign has exposed wellsprings of anti-Semitic feeling in the German public. "We've gotten thousands of emails, ninety-five percent against us," I
was told by Kramer. "People are saying things like 'Jews are torturing their own children, living in caves, performing ancient rituals for nothing.' It has
made us strangers in our country."
Last summer and fall, my partner began to feel a bit alienated herself. Every day when she pushed Tom in a stroller around our neighborhood, she ran a
gauntlet of posters pasted up by Schmidt-Salomon's organization. They showed a young boy with his hands shielding his groin, with a legend that has become
the rallying cry of the so-called children's rights movement: MY BODY BELONGS TO ME. At her weekly baby class, she has become reluctant to change Tom's
diaper in front of the other mothers, for fear of drawing unwanted attention and being dragged into a discussion about the circumcision issue. As for me,
the ongoing circumcision debate has reminded me again of the intolerance and parochialism in German society, and it also has started me wondering: what if
my partner's family is right? What if Tom is subjected to abuse in school over his circumcised penis? (My two older sons, 11 and 7, haven't experienced
any, at least as far as I know.) My partner's family has been warm and accepting toward me and has never raised Tom's circumcision in conversation, but for
me, it remains there, hovering in the background -- a reminder of my "difference."
Germans I've talked to have downplayed the anti-Semitic angle in all this. They say that the circumcision backlash simply reflects a German habit of
telling people what to do and how to behave, a busybody quality that reached its apogee in the culture of informants that thrived under the East German
Stasi, but seems to infuse western German society as well. On repeated occasions I've been yelled at on the street, and even called a "murderer," for
crossing against the light; the argument is that I'm setting a bad example for children, who might plunge into traffic and injure or kill themselves. (The
fact that several of my acts of jaywalking took place on a deserted street on Sunday morning seems to have made little difference.) My son's pediatrician
considers the anti-circumcision drive "ridiculous and dangerous" and believes outlawing the procedure would ensure that it would be carried out in
"backrooms" and increase its risk.
The German leadership, after a month-long silence, finally condemned the court ruling last summer. Prosecutors have promised not to arrest doctors or
mohels, and the Jewish Hospital has resumed circumcisions. A bill legalizing ritual circumcision -- as long as it is performed using an anaesthetic by
someone with "medical expertise" -- is working its way through the Bundestag. But about fifty Parliamentarians have proposed a countermeasure that would
ban circumcisions on boys below age 14; the legislators insist that the child himself should have the right to allow or reject "such a serious interference
with his bodily integrity."
Even if the anti-circumcision movement gets its way, my longtime acquaintance Joshua Spinner, a rabbi at Skoblo Synagogue in
the Berlin neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg, and head of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation here, vows that the ancient ritual will go on. "We have never
stopped," he told me. "We said, 'If they want to haul us into court, they can do it. They can go to hell.'"