The implications of one verse in this weeks's Torah reading are vast:
D'varim/Deuteronomy 16:30 Justice, you shall pursue justice, in order that you will live.
דברים טז, כ צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף לְמַ֤עַן תִּֽחְיֶה֙
The verse is phrased to convey emphasis and focus: the repetition of the word צֶדֶק / tzedek draws our attention to the importance of the word and also to the possibility of understanding that word more than one way: tzedek can be translated as "justice" and tzedek can be translated as "righteousness." The verse, therefore, exhorts us to pursue both justice and righteousness by virtue of this repetition.
Then there is the choice of verb: תִּרְדֹּ֑ף / tirdof / you shall pursue.
There are so many other verbs that might have worked here. We might have been commanded to advance justice and righteousness, to elevate justice and righteousness, to embrace justice and righteousness . . . but instead the verb driving this mitzvah leaves no room for any passivity: we are to pursue justice and righteousness. And we are to pursue justice and righteousness in order that we might exist.
It is in response to the challenge of this mitzvah that I approach the campaign to eradicate circumcision taking place now within the German court system. For all that German government leaders like German Justice Ministry spokeswoman, Anne Zimmerman, have pledged to prepare legislation protecting religious circumcision in German (practiced by both Jews and Muslims), the fact is that this week a legal complaint was filed against a rabbi in Germany who serves as a mohel, for perpetrating bodily harm on an infant by performing a circumcision.
In the meantime, circumcisions continue to be performed within both the Jewish and the Muslim communities of Germany. Indeed, we might conjecture that this move is more an anti-Muslim than an anti-Jewish effort since there are so many more Muslims living in Germany than Jews (estimates put the Muslim population of Germany at something over 4 million people and the Jewish population of Germany at a bit over 110,000 people). Nonetheless, the court action in Hof was directed at a mohel. There is no equivalent of a mohel in the Muslim world: circumcisions are generally performed by doctors.
The German legal process is following standard procedures and the prosecutor's office in Hof, Germany, will devote a great deal of time in the next few weeks determining whether they should press charges. In the meantime, pressure on official levels is being levied on the German government to move quickly to protect ritual circumcision within their borders and government leaders are not unaware of the concern felt all over the world.
Two days ago, the AP reported:
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle weighed in while on a trip to Liechtenstein, saying that "Jewish and Muslim traditions must be allowed to be practiced without legal uncertainty."
"We cannot risk Germany's reputation in the world as a country of religious tolerance," he said. "From my perspective it's necessary now to rapidly come up with clear regulations."
But the Torah does not command us to sit back and wait for justice and righteousness to unfold, it commands us to pursue justice and righteousness. To that end, I encourage you to write a short note to Germany's Ambassador to the United States and let Mr. Ammon know that we Jews in the United States are concerned that this issue be resolved in a just manner very soon. You may write to:
The Honorable Peter Ammon
Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany
2300 M Street NW
Washington, DC 20037
You should, of course, phrase your note to reflect your own understanding or and concerns about the matter, but here is a draft of a note which you may use "as is" or edit to your own taste if this is helpful:
Dear Mr. Ambassador,
One of the blessings of being an American Jew is the fact that I and the rest of my co-religionists are able to observe the tenets and practices of our faith here without fear or self-consciousness. The Jewish practice of circumcising our newborn sons at the age of eight days has been observed by every generation of our people in every place we have lived for over 3000 years.
To posit that we, as a people, have been perpetrating bodily harm on our precious sons for millennia is absurd. To allow German citizens to threaten the religious practice of Jewish and Muslim adherents within your borders should be anathema to your government and your people.
I write to you in the hope that you will find a way to convey my expressions of concern to your government and to let them know that we in America, individuals, communities and national organizations, are all waiting anxiously to hear that the religious practice of circumcision will be protected within your borders by irrevocable Germany legislation.
With blessings of peace, "l'shalom"
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.