International

Germany's Merkel Pledges To Protect Religious Circumcision

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, right, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, gestures next to Rabbi Avichai Appel, left, a board member of the Orthodox Rabbinical Conference of Germany, during a news conference in Berlin, Germany on Thursday. i i

hide captionRabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, right, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, gestures next to Rabbi Avichai Appel, left, a board member of the Orthodox Rabbinical Conference of Germany, during a news conference in Berlin, Germany on Thursday.

Gero Breloer/AP
Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, right, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, gestures next to Rabbi Avichai Appel, left, a board member of the Orthodox Rabbinical Conference of Germany, during a news conference in Berlin, Germany on Thursday.

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, right, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, gestures next to Rabbi Avichai Appel, left, a board member of the Orthodox Rabbinical Conference of Germany, during a news conference in Berlin, Germany on Thursday.

Gero Breloer/AP

In Germany, the past few weeks have been marked by an intense debate over religious liberties.

Today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel jumped into the fray saying her administration would work to protect religious circumcision.

"It is absolutely clear to the federal government that we want Jewish, we want Muslim religious life in Germany. Circumcisions carried out in a responsible way must not be subject to prosecution in this country," Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters.

As The Guardian notes, the controversy started last month when a court in Cologne ruled that the practice of circumcision "inflicted bodily harm and should not be carried out on young boys but could be practiced on older males who gave consent."

The court reached that decision after police were alerted to the case of a Muslim boy who was treated for bleeding after he underwent the procedure.

After the ruling, the German Medical Association advised doctors not to continue performing circumcisions. All of this sparked major protests from Jewish, Muslim and Christian groups.

The Independent, from the U.K., reports:

"Yesterday, Moscow's Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the president of the Conference of European Rabbis who made the Holocaust comments, added: 'I see no future for Jews in Germany if the ruling is upheld.'

"Opinion polls conducted after the ruling found that a majority of Germans approved of the court's decision. Rabbi Goldschmidt said the poll's findings were 'shocking.' He said the court's ruling suggested that Muslims and Jews were no longer socially acceptable in Europe.

"His remarks followed a strongly worded statement from European Jewish and Muslim community leaders, which underlined that circumcision was fundamental to both faiths, and demanded that the German government intervene to grant the practice legal protection. They described the Cologne court decision as: 'an affront to our basic religious and human rights.'"

Merkel took that side, today, saying her administration would work toward a solution.

"It is well known that in the Jewish religion early circumcision carries great meaning, so it is a matter of urgency that this right be restored," Seibert, the Merkel spokesman, said. "We know a quick decision is needed and that this cannot be put off. Freedom of religious practice is a very important legal right for us."

If you're interested in digging deeper into the vast opinions on this subject, The New York Times has gathered five distinct opinions, ranging from those who say circumcision is akin to female genital mutilation to those who believe this is an issue of religious liberty.

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