German Justice Ministry plans new circumcision law

Wiesenthal Center calls move ‘encouraging’ new German law that will attempt to counter circumcision ban.

circumcision brit mila 311 R (photo credit: Gil Cohen Magen / Reuters)
circumcision brit mila 311 R
(photo credit: Gil Cohen Magen / Reuters)
BERLIN – After meeting with Germany’s federal justice minister on Wednesday, leaders of the Simon Wiesenthal Center told The Jerusalem Post that the outlines of a new German law appear to be an “encouraging” step toward remedying the ongoing criminalization of male circumcision in the Federal Republic.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s associate dean, and Dr. Shimon Samuels, the center’s director for international relations, held a meeting with Minister Sabine Leutheusser- Schnarrenberger and her legal task force, which has been charged with drafting a new law to counter the circumcision ban. The minister told the center representatives that Germany is doing its best to “remove the uncertainty” surrounding the practice.
After a young German Muslim boy experienced bleeding because of a circumcision, a Cologne court issued a controversial ruling in June outlawing the practice. The ruling has sparked international outrage among Jewish and Muslim groups in Germany, Israel and the US.
Cooper told the Post that the “legislation as drafted will talk about rights of parents instead of the state granting permission,” which he stressed are important because the government should not meddle in religious freedom and parental decision-making. He went on to characterize the Cologne judge who issued the ruling as “either ill-informed or a bigot.”
Cooper, who wrote an article in the German weekly Die Zeit explaining the importance of the Jewish ritual, told the Post that Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger plans to use the weight of “Germany’s government to influence the discussion in Europe” regarding circumcision.
He said the “Cologne ruling has caused a viral effect on the issue of ritual circumcision” in Europe. The ruling from one judge affects millions of people, added Cooper.
Some Swiss hospitals have in fact stopped performing the procedure based on the ruling, and a leading Norwegian party in Oslo is slated to introduce legislation to ban it. There have been anti-circumcision cases in Austria, and Denmark is examining whether the practice violates its health code.
Legislation affirming the right to circumcision is needed and as fast as possible, said Cooper. The Federal Ministry of Justice’s timeframe to implement the law remains unclear, but Cooper said he hoped it would have the legislation completed before the end of the year.
A solid majority of Bundestag deputies passed a July resolution in support of circumcision.
According to participants in a justice ministry meeting, the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg will not enforce the Cologne ruling, while Berlin is also considering opposing it. The Post could not immediately confirm this.
Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger told the Simon Wiesenthal Center that the attack on religious freedom in connection with Germany’s post-war Jewish community is the first such case since 1949 – citing Article 6 of German law, which guarantees religious freedom.
A German doctor filed a criminal charge in August against a Bavarian-based Rabbi for performing circumcision.
The local prosecutor’s office is still investigating the complaint against mohel David Goldberg. The mohel, or person trained in the practice of Jewish circumcision, sees the complaint as part of an anti- Semitic campaign spreading throughout the Federal Republic.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle have issued statements reaffirming religious freedom in Germany and the pressing need to resolve the circumcision crisis. Both politicians have noted that the country’s reputation is on the line and the Cologne decision is a great source of embarrassment for post-Holocaust Germany.
Cooper said that totalitarian countries like Stalin’s Soviet Union invoked circumcision as one of the reasons to persecute Jews. “Now it being done by democracies. The impact would be quite devastating for Jewish communities." He noted the ban is “an invitation to Jews to leave.”