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German court rules medieval anti-Semitic sculpture can stay on church

BERLIN (Reuters) - A German court on Tuesday ruled a 700-year-old anti-Semitic sculpture could stay on the exterior of a church in the city of Wittenberg, dismissing a claim by a member of the local Jewish community that it was defamatory and should be removed.

The court case comes amid a national debate in Germany about rising anti-Jewish hate, after an anti-Semitic gunman killed two people near a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle last year.

The “Judensau,” or “Jew pig”, on a wall of Wittenberg’s St Mary’s church is a reminder of widespread anti-Semitism in the Middle Ages. It depicts a rabbi lifting the tail of a sow and peeping at its behind, while Jewish children suckle on the animal.

Pigs are considered unclean in Judaism, which forbids both their rearing as well as pork consumption.

The Higher Regional Court in Naumburg ruled that displaying the “Judensau”, which is 4 meters from the ground did not constitute an offence.

“The sculpture in its current context has neither an insulting character, nor does it violate the plaintiff’s personal rights,” the judgment said.

Sigmount A. Koenigsberg of Berlin’s Jewish community said: “We don’t want this ‘Judensau’ to disappear. It should be on public display but not on the side of a church. It belongs in a museum alongside clear historical context about anti-Semitism in the Middle Ages.”

St. Mary’s Church said in a statement, that it acknowledged with sadness, that there were those who would feel hurt and offended by the sculpture. But it added that in 1988, in consultation with the Jewish community, it had created a site of remembrance incorporating the “Judensau”, a plaque on the ground beneath remembering the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, and an information board.

The court said the information board clearly stated that the parish “distanced itself from the persecution of Jews, the anti-Judaic writings of Martin Luther and the mocking aim of the defamatory sculpture”.

It was the second time in two years that a court has ruled against the removal of Wittenberg’s “Judensau”, one of about two dozen such sculptures from the Middle Ages that still feature on churches in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

The German government is trying to tame an alarming rise in anti-Semitism with stricter laws against hate speech online, tougher gun ownership rules and increased campaigns to raise awareness.

Editing by Alexandra Hudson