(JTA) — Germany’s Jews and Muslims will not be punished for breaking the law if they carry out circumcisions on young boys, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said.
“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 Friday according to Reuters. “Circumcision carried out in a responsible manner must be possible in this country without punishment.”
Earlier this week, Europe’s main Orthodox rabbinical body held an emergency meeting in Berlin after a Cologne court ruled that the religious ritual could be considered a criminal act. Regardless, the rabbis urged Jews in Germany to uphold the commandment to circumcise newborn sons.
The court decision came 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. The ruling by the Cologne Regional Court applies to the city and surrounding districts.
Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, welcomed Merkel’s decision.
“This statement will come as a great comfort to Jewish communities not only in Germany, but also to communities right across Europe who felt deeply troubled by the court’s decision," he said. "I am grateful to Chancellor Merkel for making it clear that religious freedom will not be compromised in Germany.”
In a news conference held July 12 at the Amano Hotel in Berlin, Goldschmidt said his organization was ready to back Jews in challenging the court decision, which Jewish groups see as symptomatic of a trend across Europe against some Jewish rituals.
The rabbinical conference also announced that it is joining with the Orthodox Rabbinical Conference of Germany to create an association of mohels, or ritual circumcisers, to be supervised by the Association of Jewish Doctors and Psychologists.
Goldschmidt, who is chief rabbi of Moscow, told JTA he didn’t think “that 70 years after the Holocaust a German court would put a parent or a mohel in jail for performing a Jewish religious commandment.”
The Central Council of Jews in Germany condemned the court’s decision and promised to work with German lawmakers to reverse the ruling. Muslim groups also have proposed bringing a test case to German courts.
The German Medical Association has advised doctors to not perform circumcisions until the legal questions are resolved, according to Reuters.