Last updated: 21 August, 2012

Israel’s chief Rabbi bids to soothe German circumcision row

Doctors should test the medical competence of people carrying out circumcisions in Germany, one of Israel’s chief rabbis said Tuesday, after a court ruled the practice tantamount to grievous bodily harm.

“Doctors should also study the teaching material and decide whether a circumciser is competent,” Yona Metzger told reporters in Berlin.

The final decision on whether someone can practise the rite must be taken by the chief Rabbi’s office in Israel, added Metzger, one of two chief rabbis.

Metzger noted that the rite had been practised for 4,000 years and 1,800 years in Germany. It was the “root of the Jewish soul” and a part of Jewish life “that you can never depart from.”

He hit back at the suggestion it could constitute grievous bodily harm.

“We give the infant a drop of sweet wine” to dull the pain and there are very few examples of complications, he said.

In a ruling published in June, a court in Cologne said removal of the foreskin for religious reasons amounted to grievous bodily harm and was therefore illegal, in a judgement that sparked an outcry at home and abroad.

Diplomats admit that the ruling has proved “disastrous” to 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.

Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly told her party the country risked becoming a “laughing stock” over the ruling.

In July, German MPs adopted a cross-party motion calling on the government to protect religious circumcision.

The resolution urges the government to draw up legislation in the autumn that “ensures that the circumcision of boys carried out to medically professional standards and without undue pain is fundamentally permissible.”