Merkel tells Jews, Muslims they will be free to circumcise

Community head: If ban stands, Jewish life in Germany is over.

Rabbi holds boy for circumcision (photo credit: REUTERS)
Rabbi holds boy for circumcision
(photo credit: REUTERS)
BERLIN – Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman promised Germany’s Jewish and Muslim communities on Friday they would be free to carry out circumcision on their children despite a court ban.
Dr. Dieter Graumann, the head of Germany’s central council of Jews, said if there was no change in the legal situation, “then we must go,” because the ban would spell the end of Jewish life in the country.
The government said it would find a way around the cologne court ban, issued in june, as a matter of urgency.
“For everyone in the government it is absolutely clear that we want to have Jewish and Muslim religious life in Germany,” Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said. “Circumcision carried out in a responsible manner must be possible in this country without punishment.”
Graumann called on lawmakers to rapidly quash the growing efforts to ban circumcision in the federal republic.
In an interview with Focus magazine on Saturday, he said, “we need a law that declares circumcision to be legitimate and legal.”
Over the past few weeks he sent letters to Merkel and to all party leaders, as well as cabinet ministers, with the request that a law to that effect be introduced after the summer break.
Graumann said politicians must act right away and not display cowardice by shunning action. The central council, which represents more than 105,000 members, has posted explanations in English and German on its website, explaining the religious importance of circumcision.
Graumann said his dramatic language about Jews leaving Germany was “not a rhetorical trick.” He said he has received concerned queries from all over the world to the effect of: “what is wrong with Germany?” and “can one still live there as a Jew?” According to Focus, Graumann said he was disturbed by the contention during the public debate that Jewish parents cause harm to their children.
“The love for children is deeply rooted in the Jewish religion,” he said, adding that Jewish fathers and mothers take every measure to protect their children.
European rabbis descended on Berlin last week to lobby against what they see as an affront to religious freedom – with the backing of Muslim and Christian leaders, as well as the support of many German politicians.
Ruling in the case of a Muslim boy taken to a doctor with bleeding after circumcision, the Cologne court said the practice inflicts bodily harm and should not be carried out on young boys, but could be practiced on older males who give consent.
This is not acceptable under Jewish religious practice, which requires boys to be circumcised from eight days old, nor for many Muslims, for whom the age of circumcision varies according to family, country and branch of Islam.
“It is well know that in the Jewish religion early circumcision carries great meaning, so it is a matter of urgency that this right be restored,” Seibert said, adding that Merkel’s office would be involved in efforts to resolve the problem.
“We know a quick decision is needed and that this cannot be put off. Freedom of religious practice is a very important legal right for us,” he said.
Germany is an ally of Israel and its ambassador has promised the Knesset’s Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee to defend the rights of Germany’s growing Jewish community.
European rabbis ended their meeting in Berlin on Thursday in a defiant mood.
They plan talks with German Muslim and Christian leaders in Stuttgart this week to see how they can fight the ban together.
The ruling by the Cologne Regional Court applies to the city and surrounding districts with a total population of just over 2 million people. The total population of Germany is about 82 million.
Cologne is home to about 120,000 Muslims, whose plans for a new central mosque has stirred antiimmigrant sentiment.
Germany is home to about 120,000 Jews and 4 million Muslims. Many of the latter originate from Turkey, which has also condemned last month’s court ruling.
Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the head of the Conference of European Rabbis, urged Jews in Germany to continue carrying out circumcision despite the ban.
But the German Medical Association, while opposing the ban because it could drive circumcision underground with greater risk of infection through poor hygiene, advised doctors not to carry out the operation until the legal situation was cleared up as they could risk prosecution.
Goldschmidt, the Swissborn chief rabbi of Moscow who organized the meeting, said the ban was a fresh example of creeping prejudice in European law against non-Christians, after a Swiss ban on minarets, French and Belgian bans on Islamic veils in public and an attempted Dutch ban on halal meat.
“Circumcision represents the basis for belonging to the Jewish community. It has been practiced for 4,000 years and cannot be changed,” Goldschmidt said.
Reuters contributed to this report.