European Orthodox rabbis honor Merkel at Brussels shul

BERLIN (JTA) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel accepted an award from Europe’s main Orthodox rabbinical association at a Brussels synagogue.

The Conference of European Rabbis honored Merkel with the Lord Jakobovits Prize for European Jewry in ceremonies held Tuesday at the Great Synagogue in the Belgian capital.

Merkel was recognized for her ”strong record of support for the German Jewish community and her outspoken denunciation of anti-Semitism throughout Europe,” the rabbinical group said.  The group also thanked the German leader for taking a stand to protect the rights of Jews and Muslims to ritual circumcision, including supporting a new law.

In thanking the group, Merkel said, “We must learn to talk to one another and not to about one another.”

She added, “Freedom needs to be defended anew every day. I am deeply moved to have received this prize, and I see it as an encouragement, as there is much work still to be done across Europe.”

The right to perform ritual circumcision in Germany came into question after a district court in Cologne ruled one year ago that the religious circumcision of a young boy constituted an irreversible and unlawful attack on the child.

The heated public debates and parliamentary intervention culminated last December in the passage of a law regulating and protecting the right to ritual circumcision — thanks in large part to Merkel’s determination to find a satisfactory answer, the rabbinical group said.

Moscow Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the rabbinical group’s president, said Merkel’s intervention in the circumcision debate “was a decision based not on opinion polls and a populist agenda but on the deeply held conviction that it was the right thing to do for Germany and for Europe.”

The award, which was initiated in 2012, is named for the former Conference of European Rabbis president and chief rabbi of Britain. Last year’s winner was former Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek, who served as president of the European Parliament from 2009 to 2012.