The Bundestag, Germany’s lower house of Parliament, began debate today on a bill to legalize circumcision in Germany, and the Minister of Family Affairs took to the podium and affirmed her support of the measure. The upper house of Parliament passed the draft law last month, A final vote in the Bundestag is expected in a few weeks.
The Minister, Dr. Kristina Schroder, told members of Parliament that she had come to understand the centrality of circumcision to Jewish life only after attending meetings this summer.
The meetings, which were held in August in the offices of Germany's Federal Minister of Justice, Sabine Leuttheusser-Schnarrenberger, who drafted the circumcision legislation, included the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yona Metzger, Rabbi Yehuda Teichtel, the Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Berlin who serves as Rabbi of the Jewish Community in Berlin, and leaders of Germany's Jewish community.
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“Today was a very important day,” said Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal, Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Berlin, who along with Chabad-Lubavitch emissary Rabbi Shmuel Segal, was among several guests invited to be present as final debate began on a topic that has sparked insecurity and confusion for Germany’s Jews.
The uncertainty began in May, when a Cologne court ruled that the circumcision of a young boy on religious grounds amounted to grievous bodily harm and was therefore illegal. The court’s ruling ignited months of debate on the cultural and religious meaning of circumcision, and led many Jews in Germany and around the world to once again question the acceptance of Jews as part of mainstream German life.
In July, the German Parliament concluded that a new federal law must be passed in order to overturn the Cologne court's ruling, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office directed her government to find “legal certainty” on the topic.
Chabad-Lubavitch and the Jewish community at large, including Dieter Graumann, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, have taken a very active role in explaining the significance of circumcision to political leaders in Germany.
To that end Rabbi Teichtal and the Berlin Jewish community invited Chief Rabbi Metzger to meet with government leaders to explain the importance of circumcision in Judaism, and to clarify that it is not an additional or optional part of Jewish tradition but is a cardinal principle and a pillar of Judaism.
The upper house of Parliament passed the draft law last month.
“We felt that leading figures in the German government needed to understand more of the religious meaning and central role that circumcision takes,” said Teichtel. “We have been in constant contact in the last few months with various members of Parliament and the government,” he said, adding that with a growing number Jewish children being born in Germany, the issue was one of growing concern.
The new law permits religious circumcision of a baby boy with parental consent, providing that parents have been informed of the risks and that there are no medical contraindications. A religiously-trained circumciser, known in Judaism as a mohel, can perform the procedure as long as the child is under the age of six months.
The legislation also has the potential to affect other European countries, and a number of Parliament members have spoken quite strongly in its favor. “Overall, it looks quite positive,” Teichtel said, adding that Chabad-Lubavitch has been involved since the beginning in advocating passage of the bill.
"A federal law that protects religious circumcision will strengthen Jewish life in Germany and encourage the Jewish community’s growth and development," added Teichtel. “It will give families the assurance that yes, they can live a Jewish life here, and that Jewish traditions and Jewish law is protected, in this case by federal German law.”