Council of Europe chief reassures rabbis on ritual circumcision

BERLIN (JTA) — The Council of Europe will not ban Jewish ritual circumcision of boys, its leader assured members of the Conference of European Rabbis.

Thorbjorn Jagland, the council’s secretary general, said Monday in Berlin that he wanted to make it “absolutely clear … that in no way does the Council of Europe want to ban the circumcision of boys. It is a very important part of Judaism and of Jewish life.”

He spoke during a news conference with rabbinical leaders as part of the conference’s annual convention.

Referring to a non-binding, anti-circumcision resolution passed last month by the council’s Parliamentary Assembly, Jagland said no European Union member country had actually banned the practice.

“We have an obligation to protect it” on behalf of freedom of religion, he added.

In recent years, ritual circumcision of boys and ritual slaughter of animals have come under attack in Europe, particularly by right-wing populist political movements.

Muslims, not Jews, are the main target of these attacks, said Conference of European Rabbis head Pinchas Goldschmidt, the chief rabbi of Moscow, in an address to nearly 250 member rabbis at a dinner at the Jewish Museum on Monday.

European Jewry is “the collateral damage in this anti-Muslim offensive,” he said.

Stephan Kramer, secretary general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told JTA he would like to know “what [Jagland] is doing, ‘tacheles,’ ” or ultimately, to protect religious freedom in Europe — and he offered to help.

Meanwhile, the Conference of European Rabbis is moving forward with its program to help European Jews find a mohel, or ritual circumciser, online.

Vienna Rabbi Shlomo Hofmeister told JTA that the Conference of European Rabbis’ Union of Mohelim in Europe will go online within days. Orthodox mohels who meet stringent medical requirements will be listed and parents will be able to contact them through the site. Mohels may not charge a fee for performing a brit milah, but may ask parents for compensation for travel and lodging, Hofmeister said.

The website, whose address has not yet been announced, will also provide legal advice to mohels.

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