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German Jews Angry at Anti-Circumcision Law

Germany’s top Jewish leader has reacted sharply to a court ruling in the District Court of Cologne, which would make ritual circumcision for boys a criminal act.

Dieter Graumann, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, in a statement issued Tuesday, called on the Federal Parliament to step in “to ensure religious freedom.”

Though Monday’s decision does not outlaw circumcision, it is still “outrageous and insensitive,” Graumann said. Ritual circumcision by a medical doctor or a mohel with “medical competency” is “an integral part of the Jewish faith that has been practiced around the world for millennium,” he added. “This right is respected in every country of the world.”

The district court decision involved the circumcision of a Muslim boy in Cologne. The parents took their four-year-old to a hospital several days after his ritual circumcision in 2010, after they became concerned about bleeding from the incision.

According to reports, the bleeding was normal and quickly brought under control. However, local prosecutors filed suit against the doctor. A lower court ruled on behalf of religious freedom and the right of parents to decide. After prosecutors appealed, a higher court gave precedence to the right of the child to be protected from bodily harm.

The doctor was acquitted on all charges. But the ruling suggests that those performing circumcisions in the future would be committing a criminal offense, since the court holds the right of the child sacrosanct.

Berlin attorney Nathan Gelbart worries about the notion that “the parents have to accept that only the child can decide about his religion when he grows up, and that circumcision is a pre-decision” being forced on the child.

Other courts are not restricted by the decision of one out of 55 district courts nationwide. The ruling could be appealed to a higher court, and is not binding unless there is a decision by the High Court of Justice or High Constitutional Court.

Meanwhile, Holm Putzke, a professor of criminal law at the University of Passau who has argued for several years for a ban on involuntary circumcision, told JTA he hoped the ruling would spark discussion in Germany about “what should be given more weight – religious freedom or the right of children not to have their genitals mutilated.”

In late 1999, Germany’s top court ruled in favor of religious freedom, protecting the right to Islamic ritual slaughter and, by association, kosher slaughter. The ruling came after an Islamic butcher challenged a 1995 German law banning the slaughter of animals without stunning them first – something that is against the laws of kosher and hallal.

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