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Anti-Jewish medieval sculpture can remain in church, under German court rules

Germany’s highest court ruled on Tuesday that an anti-Semitic medieval sculpture could remain on the facade of a church in the eastern city of Wittenberg, rejecting an appeal by a Jewish plaintiff who has argued for years that he is acted as an insult to all Jews.

The 13th century “Judensau” or “Jew Sow” on the town church depicts a caricature of a rabbi lifting a sow’s tail and two Jewish children suckling the teats. Pigs are considered unclean in Judaism.

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At a time when politicians are warning of rising anti-Semitism in Germany, the decision is reminiscent of anti-Jewish sentiment prevalent in the Middle Ages.

The plaintiff has been waging a legal battle for years to have the sandstone sculpture removed, about 4 meters above the ground.

However, the Federal Court of Justice, the nation’s highest court of appeal, upheld lower court rulings that dismissed the case, saying there was no violation of the law.

The relief’s transformation over the years into a memorial to the Christian Church’s age-old anti-Jewish attitudes was a way to avoid a violation of the law, the court said in a statement.

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In November 1988, fifty years after Kristallnacht, when Jewish properties were burned and destroyed in Nazi Germany, the church installed a bronze plaque under the relief in remembrance of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust and an information board.

The Wittenberg stone carving is one of two dozen similar carvings from the Middle Ages that still appear on churches in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

The Central Council of Jews says it understands the court’s decision but in its view the floor plaque and explanatory display did not go far enough and that the Church must admit guilt and condemn its anti-Judaism secular.

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“The defamation of Jews by the Church must be a thing of the past once and for all,” Council President Josef Schuster said.

Wittenberg was also the city where Martin Luther is said to have nailed his theses defying Catholicism to a church door in 1517, leading to the Protestant Reformation in Germany.

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