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Berlin, Germany - German officials have been meeting here with Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi over the past two days as they seek a way to enshrine some sort of legal protection for Jews and Muslims who circumcise infant boys as a religious rite, officials said Tuesday.
The effort follows a June 26 ruling by a Cologne court that equated the practice with inflicting bodily harm on boys too young to consent. The ruling brought a wave of international criticism as an infringement on religious freedom, and it created legal confusion. Although the court’s ruling was not enforceable outside its jurisdiction, it was disruptive enough that many hospitals in the country, and even in neighboring Austria and Switzerland, recommended that doctors refrain from carrying out circumcisions until legal clarity could be created.
German lawmakers passed a resolution weeks after the court ruling, asking Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to draft legislation by the fall to ensure that the practice could be carried out safely. “Jewish and Muslim religious life must continue to be possible in Germany,” read the resolution, supported by the leading opposition and governing parties.
The visiting rabbi, Yona Metzger, told reporters on Tuesday that he was confident that a compromise could be found on the issue, but he insisted that mohelim, or those who carry out ritual circumcisions according to the Jewish rite, must be allowed to continue with the practice. He said that proposed compromises that would allow doctors to perform the rite in the presence of mohelim, or the use of anesthesia during the practice, were seen as unacceptable because of the sacred significance of the rite, passed down as a decree from God, for Jews.
“This is our belief, and this is the root of the Jewish soul,” Rabbi Metzger said. “It is a stamp, a seal on the body of a Jew.”
Anders Mertzlufft, a spokesman for the Justice Ministry, confirmed that Rabbi Metzger had met with members of the group working on the draft legislation, but declined to give details of when they might be finished.
Opponents argue that circumcision is a violation of a child’s bodily integrity and should not be carried out on boys until they are 14 and able to have a say in their religious beliefs and whether they want the practice to be carried out.
Prosecutors in the Bavarian city of Hof said that a doctor had sought to file charges against a local rabbi for performing ritual circumcisions, citing the Cologne court’s ruling, the regional broadcaster BR reported on Tuesday.
“Religious freedom cannot be used as an excuse for carrying out violence against an under-age child,” BR quoted the petition to prosecutors as saying.
Hof prosecutors could not be reached for comment, and it was unclear whether any decision had been made to open an investigation and press charges.
David Goldberg, the rabbi reported to have been named in the file, said in a telephone interview that the prosecutor’s office had not yet contacted him and that he had learned of the petition against him only from local news media. Rabbi Goldberg said he had not carried out any circumcisions in Germany since June 26, but had been called abroad several times to perform the rite. “There is not so much demand in Germany,” he said.
On Thursday, Germany’s Ethics Council, an independent body made up of 26 members who specialize in various scientific, ethical, social and legal concerns, is to hold a public discussion on the circumcision debate.