Four months ago a district court in Germany issued a ruling on the circumcision of male infants for religious purposes. The ruling stirred a heated public debate both in Germany and Israel. But this debate was riddled with confusion and mistaken interpretation regarding the legal status of circumcision in Germany. Has Germany "banned" circumcision, as some of the pundits claim? Is faith-based circumcision now considered a crime according to German law? The answer to both questions is no.
So what really happened? On May 7, 2012 a court in the western city of Cologne ruled that circumcision "for the purpose of religious upbringing constitutes a violation of physical integrity." The court added: "The child's body is permanently and irreparably changed by the circumcision. This change conflicts with the child's interest of later being able to make his own decision on his religious affiliation."
Contrary to what many analysts claimed in articles published after the court's decision, the ruling is not binding and has not gained the status of a precedent. Meaning, German courts will not necessarily rule in a similar manner in the future. Moreover, it must be stressed that this single ruling went against the current reality in Germany, whereby male circumcision as a religious ritual is accepted by the general public. So far no one in our country has ever challenged faith-based circumcision.
But the court's ruling led to uncertainty within the Jewish and Muslim communities. In response, Germany's lower house of parliament passed a bill to protect the religious circumcision of infant boys. In the resolution, which was endorsed in July by an overwhelming majority of lawmakers (irrespective of their political affiliation), the Bundestag urged the government to take the infant's wellbeing into consideration, and also take into account freedom of worship and the parents' rights vis-à-vis their child's education.
The German government respects the independence of the judicial system. It also takes very seriously the concerns expressed by Jewish leaders in Germany and Israel. In light of our history and Germany's responsibility for the Holocaust, I am humbled and grateful that Jewish life in Germany is flourishing again. There are more than 100 Jewish communities in Germany today. In the current dispute, both Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle made it very clear that we want Jewish life in our country to continue to prosper in a way that allows Jews to live according to their traditions without legal uncertainty.
While the German government works to find a comprehensive solution to the circumcision issue in our country, the public debate on the matter should be conducted in a calm and fair manner.
Andreas Michaelis is Germany's ambassador to Israel.