Circumcision in Europe is not as widespread as in the United States. In Germany, it is becoming even less commonly practiced because of new policy regarding the circumcision of infants. The rulings have religious groups up in arms.

Jews and Muslims alike trace their lineage back to Abraham, and since God told Abraham to be circumcised, it has become a common religious practice for several faiths. The cultures of many communities worldwide also traditionally embrace circumcision.

The German federal government has ruled cultural and religious circumcision legal and even allows religious officials to perform the task, provided they are qualified and the child is under six months old, after which an official must be the one to do the circumcision. However, several regional courts have begun placing regulations on circumcision on children. In Hamm, the courts ruled that parents must discuss it with the child before the procedure is carried out, thus creating a choice for the boy, and eliminating the practice of infant circumcision for religious purposes. The courts of Cologne ruled that circumcision could be qualified as “bodily harm,” and thus the child’s right to their own body overruled the right of their parents to practice their religion on their child.

This decision stemmed from an incident in 2010 when a four-year-old Muslim boy was circumcised and then two days later, he had to be rushed into the emergency room due to bleeding. Charges were brought against the doctor, though he was acquitted due to the court ruling that the doctor had not committed any crime. Regardless, this event incited the controversy over the right of children versus the right of religion.

Since several ruling bodies in Germany have declared that children’s rights supersede religious rights, Jews and Muslims have experienced what they feel is an infringement on their privilege of religious practice. Circumcision has deep, historical and cultural roots as stated before and thus these new rulings have alienated people groups.  Some have called the policies anti-Semitic.

According to the Conference of Jewish Rabbis, the ban is the “worst attack on Jewish life since the Holocaust.”

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt stated “A ban on circumcision poses an existential question for the Jewish community in Germany. If the ruling is allowed to stand, then I don’t see a future for Jews in Germany.” In 2011, there were 119,000 German Jews, as compared to about 50 million Christians and 4 million Muslims.

Here is a clip of the Rabbi expressing his views on the ban.

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Unfortunately for the pro-circumcision crowd, much of the German public has sided with the courts. According to a survey taken in 2012, many people consider the practice to be out-of-date and unnecessary, and 60 percent of the population labels circumcision as “genital mutilation.” And while Jews still contend that the mindset is fueled from anti-Semitism, officials insist that it is not a religious issue, but simply an issue of children’s rights. Circumcision has many risks involved and since much of the time the child is in no position to object, regulations are obligatory.

What both sides miss, however is the health benefits that come with circumcision. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that circumcision reduces the risk of males acquiring HIV from their partners and can even prevent penile cancer and other STDs. Females benefit from male circumcision because it reduces the risk of cervical cancer, genital ulceration, bacterial vaginosis, trichomoniasis, and HPV. Several countries in Africa have begun encouraging male citizens to get circumcised so as to reduce the risk of contracting HIV, and studies have shown that the practice has reduced cases of the disease.

German’ mandates on circumcision have created a controversy over religion versus human rights, while maybe what should be more closely considered are the health consequences of circumcision. There are risks but also benefits to the practice, and this should be the government’s focus as it looks forward to further mandating on the issue.


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