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Germany wants religious circumcision protected

The German government wants to ensure Jewish and Muslim parents can continue circumcising their sons despite a local court’s ruling that the practice amounts to criminal bodily harm.

A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel says the government is committed to protecting religious freedom including the ancient practice of circumcision, provided it is carried out responsibly.

Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin Friday that the government is seeking a quick solution to resolve the issue.

Jewish and Muslim leaders have protested the Cologne court’s ruling in the case of the circumcision of a 4-year-old boy that led to medical complications.

The head of the German Medical Association this week recommended that doctors cease performing circumcisions for religious reasons until the law can be clarified.

An Israeli parliamentary committee on Monday said the decision infringes upon religious freedom and evokes memories of the worst chapter in German history, the Holocaust.

The ruling was particularly sensitive, given German history and the Holocaust of World War II, when 6 million Jews were killed by German Nazis and their collaborators.

Committee chairman Danny Danon invited the German ambassador to Israel to parliament, seeking clarifications to the court ruling.

"Circumcision is one of the pillars of Judaism, and the last time it was restricted was in Germany during its darkest hour," Danon said at the meeting with the ambassador, which was open to reporters.

Danon said that Israel would not tolerate restrictions on the practice of Judaism anywhere in the world, "and certainly not in Germany."

The German ambassador, Andreas Michaelis, told the Israeli lawmakers his country was working to resolve the issue and that the ruling doesn't apply at the national level.

"It's clear that the ruling prohibiting circumcision is more sensitive in Germany because of the Holocaust," Michaelis said. He noted that the Jewish community in Germany, practically wiped out during the Holocaust, is growing.

A German Justice Ministry spokeswoman, speaking on condition of anonymity according to government regulations, said Monday that legislative action might be needed to protect religious traditions in the wake of the court ruling.

"It's being examined whether there needs to be a change to the laws and if so, in which form," she said.

Pinchas Goldschmidt, the chief rabbi of Moscow and the president of the Conference of European Rabbis, said the court's decision was part of what he saw as growing infringement upon religious freedom in Europe.

"We see this development as part of the larger problem in Europe today," he said, citing France's ban on the face-covering Muslim veils and Switzerland's ban on the construction of new minarets for mosques.