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German lawmakers work on legislation to protect circumcision

August 22, 2012 |  9:32 am

Rabbi metzger

BERLIN -- Israel’s top rabbi is in Berlin to rally support among German political leaders regarding legislation to protect the practice of ritual circumcision in Germany, which was called into question earlier this year by a controversial court ruling that Jewish and Muslim leaders said threatened their religious freedom.

In June, after a Muslim boy suffered health complications from the practice, a court in the western German city of Cologne declared nonmedical circumcision to be criminal because it causes children bodily harm. Amid outrage from some religious groups, lawmakers quickly passed a resolution promising legislation guaranteeing legal protection for circumcision.

This week, officials have been meeting with Yona Metzger, chief rabbi of Israel's Ashkenazi Jews, to craft legislation on the issue. But the stakes were raised further Tuesday after a doctor in the southern German city of Hof, in Bavaria, reportedly filed charges with local prosecutors against a rabbi there to stop the practice. Prosecutors must still decide whether to act on the charges, which the Council of European Rabbis described as a “grave affront to religious freedom.”

“This latest development … underlines the urgent need for the German government to expedite the process of ensuring that the fundamental rights of minority communities are protected,” the council said in a statement on its website.

Though the Cologne court ruling applies only to that jurisdiction, the decision immediately called into question the legality of circumcision nationwide. The German Medical Assn. told doctors not to perform circumcisions. Even some doctors in neighboring Austria and Switzerland were advised to stop performing the procedure until legal questions were answered.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that banning circumcisions would make Germany a “laughing stock.” But finding a compromise hasn’t been so simple, with opponents of the practice saying that what they see as protecting the rights of children should come above religious freedom.

The European rabbis’ council says that using anesthesia or having a doctor perform circumcision instead of a mohel would not be in accordance with Judaism. Metzger told reporters Tuesday that he suggested establishing a school for mohels in Germany with both religious training from rabbis and medical training from doctors in case of complications from circumcision.

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Photo: Israeli Rabbi Yona Metzger speaks to reporters in Berlin on Tuesday about the debate in Germany over circumcision. Credit: Kay Nietfeld / EPA

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