The German government is set to pass legislation that would legalize ritual circumcisions if they are performed by a medical professional, allowing local Jews to breathe a sigh of relief three months after a local court criminalized the rite and criminal charges were filed against two rabbis.
German-Jewish leaders welcomed the bill, a copy of which has been obtained by The Times of Israel. The cabinet in Berlin will discuss the 26-page bill next Wednesday, after which it will proceed to the floor of the Bundestag, where it it is expected to be voted into law within the coming days.
“It is a clear political signal that Jews and Muslims are still welcome in Germany,” said Dieter Graumann, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. “We are happy that Jewish commandments and Jewish life are not being pushed into illegality.”
‘Nowhere else in the world was this issue debated with such sharpness, coldness and sometimes brutal intolerance’
According to what is expected to become paragraph 1631 of the German Civil Code, parents of newborn sons can agree to have someone carry out ritual circumcisions “if they are performed according to rules of medical art.”
Ritual circumcisions can be performed by “a person chosen by a religious community who is especially trained” for such procedures, the bill postulates. In practice, that means that traditional Jewish circumcisers, or mohels, will continue to be able to perform circumcisions if they possess the necessary medical know-how.
“We certainly have to make some compromises about this. Yet the fact that professionally trained mohels can perform a brit milah according to Jewish rite is a good and important decision,” Graumann said.
In June, the Cologne district court ruled that parents having their sons circumcised are liable of causing bodily injury, even if they did so for religious reasons. According to the judges, the constitutional freedom of religion cannot justify interventions such as circumcision.
The court ruling drew heavy criticism from Jews in Germany, who, in a first reaction, called it “an outrageous and insensitive act.”
Amid a heated public debate about the legality of ritual circumcisions, criminal charges were filed against at least two rabbis who had pledged to continue performing circumcisions. In the wake of such news and countless articles and comments by opponents of ritual circumcisions, some prominent Jewish leaders had suggested that Jews were no longer welcome in modern Germany.
Several senior Israeli officials — including President Shimon Peres, Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger — got involved, asking German authorities to create legal safety for Jews seeking to circumcise their newborn sons.
“The circumcision debate sometimes turned very hostile, which was not rationally explicable. Nowhere else in the world was this issue debated with such sharpness, coldness and sometimes brutal intolerance,” Graumann said. “I hope that, after the legal safety, we will now also receive emotional safety from the people in this country.”