The Berlin Jewish Hospital has announced it will cease to conduct circumcisions following a ruling by the district court in Cologne to outlaw them. According to the hospital's spokesman, "As a result of the lack of legal clarity, the institution has been forced to cease circumcision surgeries for religious purposes until further notice."
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Earlier this week, the Cologne court outlawed circumcisions carried out for religious reasons, saying the practice inflicts physical harm on newborn babies and causes "irreversible damage to the body." It also determined that freedom of religion and the rights of parents cannot justify the practice. Following the ruling, which sparked uproar among Jewish, Muslim and Christian citizens of Europe, a jurist with a leading role in the legal debate said the court's decision aims only to delay the act, not ban it, and is not directed against any faith.
The manager of Berlin's Jewish Hospital, Cristof Graf, expressed hope, nonetheless, that the hospital would be able to resume conducting circumcisions, which he described as "part of 250 years of medical procedures that have been carried out here." Graf said the Cologne court's decision was a "tragedy with respect to the consequences" and "particularly frightening."
Berlin's Jewish Hospital is a longstanding and respected institution that has been active in both medical practice and academia since the 18th Century. Every year, some 300 circumcisions are carried out there, a third of which are conducted for religious purposes and the rest due to medical considerations. Most are not carried out on Jewish infants, rather on Muslim children.
Following the Cologne court's decision, the head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Aiman Mazyek, told "Focus" magazine that the organization is currently looking into the possibility of submitting an appeal to the court and advance what he described as a "precedential debate" on the matter. Meanwhile, the head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumann, told the German magazine that "Circumcisions are an elementary matter for observant Jews and are not negotiable." He added that "if the ruling becomes applicable throughout Germany, the country will become the only state in the world to outlaw circumcisions."
Rabbi David Goldberg, one of Germany's four mohels, described the court's decision as "shocking" and said it impedes on freedom of religion.
Georg Ehrmann, head of the German organization for children's aide Deutschen Kinderhilfe, said he supports the court's decision. "This is a clear sign of child protection. The fact that [circumcision] is a tradition does not mean it is something good," he said. In addition, a Focus poll showed that more than half of the German public supports banning circumcisions: 56 percent supported the ban while 35 percent opposed it and felt the procedure should continue being carried out.