Berlin, Germany. The city of Berlin on Wednesday imposed new legal conditions on parents who have their boys circumcised, as a former head of Germany’s Jewish community blasted the national debate about the practice.
Following a recent court ruling saying the rite amounted to grievous bodily harm, Berlin’s top justice official, Thomas Heilmann, said the new policy was intended to protect the rights of Jewish and Muslim parents and their children.
“We explicitly welcome Muslim and Jewish life in Berlin,” Heilmann said. “That is only possible if freedom to practice religion is possible.”
Heilmann said this freedom would be upheld, but only with certain provisos.
Both parents must give written permission after being informed of the risks of the procedure, and provide proof of the “religious motivation and religious necessity of the circumcision” before the child is old enough to take the decision himself.
Heilmann said this could come in the form of a written declaration from the parents or their religious congregation.
Thirdly, the practice must be carried out only by doctors according to a “medically professional standard” including a sterile environment, as little pain as possible and care to stop bleeding.
Heilmann said the location did not necessarily have to be a hospital.
“Doctors tell me that this can be achieved elsewhere with minimal effort,” he said, adding that Jewish mohels who traditionally perform the “brit milah” or circumcision on the eighth day of life lacked the necessary medical training.
Heilmann said Berlin had created the new legal framework at the request of doctors seeking clarity after the court ruling in the western city of Cologne published in June.
He said the rules would apply at least until the German parliament passes legislation on the issue, which is expected in the next few months.
The Berlin restrictions are largely in line with recommendations last month from a parliamentary ethics committee.
The medical director of the Jewish Hospital in Berlin, Kristof Graf, said he was “satisfied with the solution” put forward by Heilmann, noting that there had been no circumcisions performed at his facility since June.
Normally the hospital conducts 80 to 100 per year, Graf said.
Meanwhile Germany has turned into a patchwork quilt of regulations, with public prosecutors in the southwestern cities of Stuttgart and Karlsruhe saying they will hold off taking action against parents who have sons circumcised, at least until federal legislation is passed.
Diplomats admit that the ruling has proved “disastrous” for Germany’s international image, particularly in light of its Nazi past, following uproar from religious and political leaders in Israel as well as Muslim countries.
In a sharply worded newspaper column, the former head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Charlotte Knobloch, said the debate made her ask angrily whether the country still wanted a Jewish community.
“Not even in my nightmares did I imagine that I would have to ask myself shortly before my 80th birthday if I was able to survive the Holocaust in order to have to experience this,” wrote Knobloch, 79.
“I wonder if it is clear to the countless know-it-alls in medicine, law, psychology and politics who bluster about ‘child torture’ and ‘traumas’ that they are questioning the already dwindling Jewish existence in Germany, a situation we have not seen since 1945.”
Knobloch continued, “Nevertheless, we love this country. But it is about time that we receive confirmation for the trust that we dare to have in it.”
About four million Muslims and more than 200,000 Jews live in Germany.