German government drafts measure to keep circumcision legal

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BERLIN -- The German government finalized its draft of a measure Wednesday to protect circumcision after a local court threw the practice into a legal quagmire in June.

The bill would allow circumcision to be carried out as long as it is performed in accordance with medical standards, does not put the child’s health in jeopardy and parents are notified of potential risks. Trained practitioners can also perform circumcisions on boys up to 6 months old even if they aren’t doctors, guaranteeing that mohels, Jews trained to perform the procedure, can do so in accordance with Jewish law.

The draft legislation by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet should help remove the legal uncertainties around the practice for religious communities in Germany, said Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, who drew up the bill.

The measure came in response to a court ruling in the city of Cologne this summer that made circumcision illegal, saying it caused children bodily harm. The issue arose after a 4-year-old Muslim boy suffered complications from the practice.


Though the ruling only applied to that area in western Germany, doctors around the country were advised to stop performing circumcision until its legality was cleared up.

In Germany, Jewish and Muslim communities that practice ritual circumcision on baby boys in conformity with religious tenets contested the ruling, which brought to the surface fears of growing anti-Semitism in the country. One prominent Jewish commentator and Holocaust survivor wondered aloud whether Jews were welcome in post-World War II Germany anymore.

The draft bill “sends an unmistakable signal that Jews and Muslims are not criminalized in Germany,” Aiman Mazyek, head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, told Bavarian state radio.

But he added that while the new law was going in the right direction, it was a bit too vague. “What does ‘well-being of a child’ mean?” he said.

Dieter Graumann, head of the Central Council for Jews in Germany, also welcomed the bill, telling a German television station that “in this case, politicians have earned much praise and respect.”

The proposal now heads to the German parliament for approval and is expected to pass before the end of the year.

Charlotte Knobloch, former chairwoman of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that she now hopes discussion over circumcision will finally disappear from the public realm.


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-- Renuka Rayasam