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German Jewish leader sees proposed amendment to circumcision law as positive step

(JTA) — A proposal by Germany’s Justice Ministry to amend a law on the circumcison of male children is "a step in the right direction," German Jewish leader Dieter Graumann said.

The amendment, which aims to cement religious rights while responding to critics of the practice, would allow ritual circumcision only with parental consent and performed by a practitioner according to medical standards, and only with the strongest degree of anesthetic medically allowable given the child’s age.

"It is especially welcome to hear that circumcision will not be regulated by criminal law but by family law," said Graumann, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, in a statement published on the council’s website. "It is also important for us that mohels are still able to perform circumcisions," and not only medical doctors.

He added, "Now we have to get the opponents of circumcision on board and convince them."

Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger composed the text. If approved by the parliament, a paragraph would be added to the law code on the rights of children.

According to the law on "the circumcision of male children," it would remain a commission of "bodily injury" but would not be punishable as long as parents followed the law’s requirements, according to the Suddeutsche Zeitung national daily newspaper.

The deputy head of the Association of Turks in Germany greeted the proposal positively, the German news agency DPA reported.

While Jews circumcise healthy infant boys on the eighth day, Muslims often perform the procedure on older children.

According to Graumann, the proposed law contains "special regulations for ritual circumcisors who are not medical doctors: They are allowed to perform a circumcision in the first six months after birth, ‘if they are specially trained and, though they may not be doctors, have a similar certification when it comes to carrying out a circumcision.’ "

By a decision of the German parliament, the Bundestag, in July, the federal government is to create a legal basis for religious circumcisions this fall.

The new proposal follows months of debate sparked by a controversial ruling issued last May by Cologne District Court that criminalized non-medical circumcisions of minors. Jewish and Muslim groups in a rare show of solidarity demonstrated together recently in Berlin against what both groups see as an attempt to curtail  religious freedom.

Representatives of the Green Party, the Social Democrats and the Left Party already have protested the new proposal, according to DPA, calling it "alarming" that the protection of a child from bodily harm seems to have taken secondary importance.

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