German Gov't Drafts Bill Allowing Circumcision

By Don Snyder

Published September 28, 2012.
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BERLIN—Germany’s Ministry of Justice has presented a draft law to permit circumcisions by doctors and mohels in response to uncertainty about the procedure fueled by a Cologne court’s ban on the procedure.

The Cologne court’s June ruling, which angered many among the country’s 4 million Muslims and 100,000 Jews, held that circumcision deprives a child of the right to self -determination and inflicts “bodily harm” and “assault.” The ruling resulted from the circumcision of a four-year-old Muslim boy who was hospitalized due to medical complications following the procedure.

Though strictly local in jurisdiction, the court’s ruling generated uncertainty about circumcisions in the rest of Germany and sparked an international uproar. Coverage of the issue came from as far away as Japan. In Hof, a small town in northeastern Germany near the Czech border, a local resident lodged charges recently against a 64-year-old rabbi for performing circumcisions—though under Germany’s legal system, in which any citizen can lodge charges against another, this does not mean the government will ultimately find a prosecution is warranted.

Initial Jewish reaction to the draft law was positive. “From our point of view it is a step in the right direction,” said Dieter Graumann, President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. “The Federal Ministry of Justice deserves respect for presenting such a wise proposal.”

Members of the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, said there were few details available, but early responses were positive. Dietmar Nietan, a Social Democratic Bundestag member, told the Forward he believed that a law on circumcision would be passed by the end of the year. Nietan said it would be Germany’s first legislation on the ritual. The Cologne court ruling took on greater importance because there was no national law on the subject.

Philip Missfelder, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party, said Wednesday that the draft law ensures the practice of the Jewish religion and children’s welfare

But Deidre Berger, director of the American Jewish Committee in Berlin, voiced concern about the proposal’s prospects. ”Public opinion seems to be against circumcision and many parliamentary delegates from all parties are against it,” she wrote in a September 26 email to the Forward.

Berger added that major medical associations in Germany oppose the procedure in this highly secular nation, where many people sees numerous religious traditions as relics of the past. Opponents are likely to contend that circumcision inflicts bodily harm and that anaesthesia should be required in the procedure. The current draft of the legislative proposal stipulates only that use of anaestheisa is preferred, she said. Many Orthodox mohels oppose its use on the grounds that injecting an anaesthesia to the area of the circumcision causes an infant greater pain than the procedure itself.

The circumcision draft proposal will be reviewed by other government ministries and then be submitted to the Bundestag for debate and a vote.


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