German lawmakers back circumcision bill - Lauder: 'Renaissance of Jewish life in Germany can continue'

12 December 2012

The World Jewish Congress (WJC) has welcomed a vote by German lawmakers who overwhelmingly backed a bill which aims to provide legal safety for the circumcision of underage boys. 434 members of the 580 members of the Bundestag who voted were in favor of the government bill, 100 against it and 46 abstained. WJC President Ronald S. Lauder said in reaction to the vote in the Bundestag: “Today, representatives of all major parties have made it clear that the renaissance of Jewish life in Germany can and should continue. The bitter debate that followed the Cologne court ruling on circumcision has irritated and unsettled many Jews around the world, and we hope that a clear legal basis has now been put in place that will prevent the criminalization of religious circumcision in the future.”

The new law grants parents the right to have their sons circumcised by a trained practitioner. Once the boy reaches six months of age, the procedure needs to be performed by a doctor. Some critics of circumcision in Germany have argued that the right of the child to bodily integrity trumped a parents' right to make decisions on their son's behalf.

A minority of left-wing lawmakers in Parliament proposed that parents should have to wait until the boy is 14 so he can give informed consent, noting the procedure is irreversible. Such a delay would have contravened Jewish religious law, which requires that boys are circumcised on the eighth day after birth in a ceremony seen as their entrance into a covenant with God. Muslims also usually perform the procedure early in a boy's life.

Lauder went on to say: “Jews could really have done without this acrimonious debate, and it was even more saddening that it erupted in Germany, of all countries. The efforts to ban, outlaw, define, limit or otherwise curtail circumcision were an affront to freedom and morality, even though they were sometimes motivated by good intentions. Although people are being slaughtered in many parts of the world and massacres are occurring in Syria on a daily basis, the commentarial and activist classes in Germany preferred to occupy themselves with denying Jews - and Muslims - their religious rights.”

Dieter Graumann, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany said: "The circumcision law finally restores legal certaint. What is important for us is the political message of this law, which is that Jewish and Muslim life is still welcome here."

Ronald S. Lauder thanked the German government and the leaders of all major political forces for not giving in to the populist temptation to lend their backing to a ban of circumcision. “It seems that Germany’s leaders have realized what it would have meant to allow the courts to criminalize one of Judaism’s most ancient and sacred commandments,” he added. Lauder expressed hope that the circumcision debate, which had pulled up a lot of anti-Semitic resentment in German society, would now be over. “It is now time to move on and try to heal the wounds. And it is important to ensure that the rights of Jews and other minorities are safeguarded everywhere in Europe,” the WJC president emphasized.

In a statement, WJC Vice President Charlotte Knobloch thanked German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her government for acting swiftly and with a high degree of sensibility on this matter. Knobloch also thanked the lawmakers of the Bundestag for their "responsible, conscientious vote."

Positive reactions from other religious leaders

Churches and Muslims also reacted with relief to the vote. Catholic Bishop Heinrich Mussinghoff, chairman of the committee for relations with Judaism at the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Germany, said: “The bill now adopted reiterates the right of parents to agree to a circumcision of their male child if the operation is done according to the standards of the medical profession.” The sometimes “very emotional and polemical debate” about religious circumcision had caused “grave irritations” among the Jewish and Muslim communities. “I hope that after this decision the unhindered religious freedom will be safeguarded and respected by all,” he added.

The chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Ayman Mazyek, was equally satisfied. “The nightmare we went through after the Cologne ruling is finally over,” Mazyek told KNA. The legislator had given “a clear and unequivocal vote” in favour of legal security and peace. Mazyek said he wouldn’t mind if hat the debate about circumcision continued, “but not on the basis of an instrumentalization of our criminal law.”

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