BERLIN – Infant male circumcision for religious reasons is legal in Berlin, a top state official said Wednesday, making the capital the first of Germany's 16 states to specify that the ritual followed by Jews and Muslims shouldn't be considered a crime.
State Justice minister Thomas Heilmann's announcement came after Berlin's Jewish Hospital asked for clarification following a June ruling by a regional court in Cologne.
That ruling said circumcising young boys on religious grounds amounts to bodily harm even if parents consent to the procedure. The court decision didn't amount to a ban on the procedure and wasn't binding for other courts, but it raised fears among Jews and Muslims of possible prosecutions.
The federal government is drafting new legislation clarifying the issue, but Heilmann says he felt it necessary to allay fears in this "difficult transitional period."
The Cologne court decision loomed large Wednesday at a gathering of international rabbis and imams in Paris aimed at overcoming enmity, and Jewish and Muslim leaders said the debate about ritual circumcision has brought their communities closer together.
R. Hamza Woerdemann of Germany's Central Council of Muslims said Muslim leaders in Cologne quickly conferred with German Jewish groups after the ruling.
"It took only a few hours and we made a telephone conference with the Central Council of Jews in Germany," he said. "Our communities, now, they can understand why it's important to work together."
At the Paris gathering, some rabbis and imams said they feel religion is under attack in Europe. They noted criticism in the Netherlands of the ritual slaughter of animals that is part of both Jewish and Muslim traditions, a French ban on face-covering veils, and Switzerland's ban on the construction of new minarets.
"It's clear that the Jewish and Muslim communities are at one on this issue. We find the reaction on the part of these governments unconscionable," said Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. He also expressed concern about "the continued attacks that we find on Jews and Muslims here in Europe."