Rabbis issue warning over German ruling on circumcision

By Andrew McCathie dpa (Mct)

Published: Monday, July 16 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

BERLIN — European rabbis stepped up their pressure on the German government on Thursday to overturn a court ruling banning the circumcision of boys, saying they expect Berlin to introduce changes to the law.

The call came after a court in Cologne ruled last month that circumcision on children amounted to bodily harm and should be banned - sparking a debate about religious freedom in the country.

"If the ruling was allowed to stand, I would not see a future for Jews in Germany," president of the Conference of European Rabbis, Pinchas Goldschmidt, told a press conference in Berlin.

Goldschmidt said the failure so far of parliament to pass legal changes ensuring religious freedom would represent "a complete change" in the nation's post-war history.

More than 40 rabbis attended the two-day conference.

Religious freedom forms part of the German constitution. But Goldschmidt said: "The ban is a fundamental problem for the further development of a Jewish community in Germany."

He told the German news agency dpa that the conference expected Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition to draw up amendments, ensuring that religious freedom in the country was not comprised by the court's decision.

The deadline for the German government to take action "was not tomorrow but yesterday," warned Goldschmidt.

A spokeswoman for the Justice Ministry in Berlin said that officials were "intensively" examining the court ruling.

The court's decision has united Jewish and Muslim groups, who have argued that circumcision was fundamental to their faiths and called for it to be given protection by the law.

Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders in Germany are expected to meet soon to consider the ramifications of the court's decision.

The original case involved a doctor who had circumcised a 4-year-old Muslim boy, leading to medical complications.

In a joint statement on Wednesday, European Jewish and Muslim organizations condemned the ruling, describing it as an affront to their basic religious and human rights.

"Circumcision is an ancient ritual that is fundamental to our individual faiths and we protest in the strongest possible terms this court ruling," their statement said.

"To that end we will vigorously defend our right to maintain our mutual tradition and call on the German parliament and all political parties to intervene in overruling this decision as a matter of urgency," they said.

The statement was signed by leaders of groups including the Rabbinical Center of Europe, the European Jewish Parliament, the European Jewish Association, Germany's Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs and the Islamic Center Brussels.

Speaking at Thursday's news conference, Rabbi Avichai Apel, a board member of the Orthodox Rabbinical Conference of Germany, said there were now plans for setting up an association of Jewish circumcisers in the country to ensure the procedure was carried out professionally.

While the Cologne court ruling is not binding, critics have argued that it could set a precedent for other courts in Germany's 16 states.

In handing down its decision last month, the court specified that circumcision was not illegal if carried out for medical reasons.

At least one Berlin hospital said it has now stopped performing circumcision with the German Medical Association also warning doctors earlier this month against carrying out the procedure.

©2012 Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany); Visit Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany) at www.dpa.de/English.82.0.html ; Distributed by MCT Information Services

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