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German parliament guarantees legality of ritual circumcision

BERLIN (JTA) — The German parliament passed a law protecting the right of Jewish and Muslim parents to choose a ritual circumcision for their sons.

In all, 434 legislators voted Wednesday for the new law proposed by the federal government; there were 100 votes against, and 46 abstentions. The vote came after months of heated debate over the practice, spurred in large part by a German court ruled earlier this year that called into question the legality of ritual circumcision for children.

The parliament’s action was applauded by Dieter Graumann, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, who said in a statement that he was "pleased and relieved … The circumcision law finally brings legal security and hopefully brings this highly disastrous debate, which marked this past year, to an end."

The new law, which introduces restrictions on the practice for the first time, requires that the procedure be carried out by a medically trained and certified practitioner such as a mohel, or ritual circumciser, or by a medical professional, and that anesthetic be used if needed. For a child over 6 months old, the procedure must be done in a hospital.

The campaign against ritual circumcision in Germany, led by a cadre of activists and boosted by some politicians on the left, picked up steam last May after a Cologne District Court ruled that the circumcision of a Muslim minor was a criminal assault. The ruling came to light in the general public in June. In response, Jewish and Muslim leaders demanded a legal response that would protect their religious freedom.

Graumann said in his statement today that the law provided a sense of security that Jews and Muslims could continue to practice their faith in Germany. "In my view, the recent debate was also a tolerance test for our society. And I am very glad that we have passed the test."

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