Israeli chief rabbi visits Berlin on circumcision issue
Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi said in Berlin that medical training for mohels, or ritual circumcisers, could resolve concerns in Germany regarding circumcision of male children.
In meetings Tuesday with government officials and Berlin’s Jewish community, Rabbi Yonah Metzger noted that mohels could be trained and certified by German doctors. But he emphasized that the Chief Rabbinate in Israel has to make final decision on whether a mohel is up to par.
The suggestion echoes that of the Brussels-based Conference of European Rabbis, which in July announced that Germany’s mainstream Orthodox rabbinical body, the ORD, would create an association of mohels to be supervised by the Association of Jewish Doctors and Psychologists. This project already “is in the works,” Israel Meller, ORD administrator, told JTA Tuesday.
At issue is a ruling in May by a Cologne district court, which said that the circumcision of male infants may be done for only medical reasons. All other circumcisions of a minor would be considered inflicting bodily harm, according to the ruling. The case involved the circumcision of a Muslim boy, but affects both Jews and Muslims.
Although ritual circumcision remains legal, some hospitals have ceased offering the procedure while the debate rages. Meanwhile, mohels continue to perform ritual
circumcisions at private homes or synagogues, far from the public eye. Germany’s parliament has indicated it will step in with a law to protect ritual circumcision for Jews and Muslims.
Germany currently has an estimated 10 Jewish mohels, including women, who also are medical doctors specializing in urology. It is not clear whether they would receive the OK from a traditional rabbinate, however.
Jewish tradition requires that boys be circumcised on the 8th day after birth; postponement is possible in the case of illness.
Metzger addressed the Jewish community at the Centrum Judaicum in Berlin on Monday, in a talk sponsored by the Jewish Community of Berlin, the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish Educational Center of Berlin, several Chabad-related educational institutions in Berlin, Keren Hayesod and other local Jewish associations.
On Tuesday, the rabbi was accompanied by Berlin Chabad Rabbi Yehudah Teichtal in meetings with government officials. According to Die Welt newspaper, Metzger said that a proper brit milah does not cause suffering: “We give the infant a drop of sweet wine and then he falls asleep,” he said, adding that in the rare case of complications, doctors and not mohels are usually to blame.