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Berlin imposes conditions on religious circumcision

  • Rabbi Cooper (R), Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Dr. Shimon Samuels, Director for International Affairs speaks at a press conference in Berlin on August 29, 2012. AFP PHOTO / ODD ANDERSEN

BERLIN: The city of Berlin on Wednesday imposed new legal conditions on parents who have their boys circumcised, following a recent court ruling saying the religious rite amounted to grievous bodily harm.

The German capital's top justice official, Thomas Heilmann, said the new rules were intended to protect the rights of Jewish and Muslim parents who wish to have their sons' foreskin removed in a ritual practice.

"We explicitly welcome Muslim and Jewish life in Berlin," Heilmann said. "That is only possible if freedom to practise religion is possible."

Heilmann said this freedom would be upheld, but only with certain provisos.

Both parents must give written permission after being informed of the risks of the procedure and provide proof of the "religious motivation and religious necessity of the circumcision" before the child is old enough to take the decision himself.

Heilmann said this could come in the form of a written declaration from the parents or their religious congregation.

Thirdly, the practice must be carried out only by doctors according to a "medically professional standard" including a sterile environment, as little pain as possible and care to stop bleeding.

Heilmann said the location did not necessarily have to be a hospital.

"Doctors tell me that this can be achieved elsewhere with minimal effort," he said, adding that Jewish mohels who traditionally perform the "brit milah" or circumcision on the eighth day of life lacked the necessary medical training.

Heilmann said Berlin had created the new legal framework at the request of doctors seeking clarity after the court ruling in the western city of Cologne published in June.

He said the policy would apply until the German parliament passes legislation on the issue. The Berlin restrictions are largely in line with recommendations last month from a parliamentary ethics committee.

The medical director of the Jewish Hospital in Berlin, Kristof Graf, said he was "satisfied with the solution" put forward by Heilmann, noting that there had been no circumcisions performed at his facility since June.

Normally the hospital performs 80 to 100 circumcisions per year, Graf said.

Diplomats admit that the ruling has proved "disastrous" for Germany's international image, particularly in light of its Nazi past, following uproar from religious and political leaders in Israel as well as Muslim countries.

About four million Muslims and more than 200,000 Jews live in Germany.

 
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