Protecting circumcision in Germany

Markus Schreiber AP Mohel doctor Yacov Gassinovitch, center, is surround by other Rabbis and relatives as he holds eight days … Continued

Markus Schreiber


Mohel doctor Yacov Gassinovitch, center, is surround by other Rabbis and relatives as he holds eight days old Jonathan during the boy’s circumcision at synagogue in Berlin on Oct. 29, 2012.

Despite the efforts, well-intentioned or otherwise, of regional authorities, Germany’s Bundestag or lower house of Parliament, has passed a law protecting circumcision of infant boys. The law is expected to be passed in the upper house, the Bundesrat, as well.

Not only is this a victory for the free exercise of religion, it is a victory for responsible parenting, good medical practice, and for Germany itself. It represents a welcome new stage in the nation’s ongoing post-WWII wrestling with the ethical use of power, be it governmental or parental.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not one of those people who are totally insensitive to some of the concerns raised by anti-circumcision folks. Any surgical procedure performed on an infant is serious business, and when it involves their genitals, it is a particularly sensitive issue. That said, the arguments which would criminalize the sacred traditions of both Jews and Muslims, range from wrong-headed to simply hateful.

No, the circumcision ban is not especially wrong in Germany because circumcision is a Jewish ritual and Germany’s Nazi government wanted to rid the world of all Jews. Nor is it especially wrong because circumcision is sacred to Muslims, and Germany continues to wrestle with the full inclusion of the 4 million Muslims who make their homes in Germany today.

There is also no guarantee that just because a particular community holds a practice to be sacred, that it deserves to be protected at all costs. From betrothing children, to plural marriage, to the use of drugs, to a host of other practices, governments can and do limit the expression of what some consider legitimate religious practice.

These may be good decisions or not, that is another conversation, but they are examples of the fact that even when it comes to fundamental rights such as religious expression, nothing is absolute, nor should it be. Simply because a community holds a practice to be sacred, does not assure the protection of that act, nor should it. Banning infant circumcision however is wrong, whether the ban is enacted in Germany or anywhere else.

There is no demonstrable damage caused by infant circumcision, especially when done in accordance with good medical practice, as the new German law requires, no matter how many bogus studies some opponents of circumcision claim. In fact, there is copious evidence which supports the enormous public health benefits of circumcision, especially in the fight against sexually transmitted disease including HIV/AIDS.

If there were evidence of the negative health effects of infant circumcision, then there might be real grounds for a debate about abridging the practice, but there is none. That is why no such arguments were made in Germany, even by those who supported the ban.

Those who voted to limit or ban circumcision in Germany, did so out of a misplaced notion of human freedom, and a fundamental inability to accept the notion that people, and especially parents, do things with far-reaching consequences all the time. Parents make all sorts of life-changing decisions for their kids – that’s what it means to be a parent. Avoiding that responsibility is virtually always the wrong way to go, and especially so when it involves government either banning or coercing religious practice.

From its penchant for non-interventionism in a variety of global conflicts, to those German jurists and law-makers who would like to avoid allowing parents to make big decision for the children, Germany has struggled with what it means to take and use power responsibly. Happily, this week, the Bundestag got it right. They upheld the right of people to take action on behalf of the people and the traditions they love, even when those acts may be unpopular to some others.

Germany’s decision to protect infant circumcision for boys was much more than a victory for the nation’s Jews and Muslims. It was even more than a victory for the freedom of religious and cultural expression. The decision to protect circumcision was a victory for Germany and for its future.

Related content on On Faith:

* Jews and Muslims applaud German vote to protect circumcision

* Anti-circumcision activists confront pediatricians

* Germany’s ban on circumcisions: Rabbi David Wolpe reflects in verse

Brad Hirschfield
Written by

  • jackno1

    “free exercise of religion”??? A person being free to cut off blood vessels, skin structure, muccosal membrane and nerves, estimated from about 10000 to 100000 specialized nerve endings, from ANOTHER human ( a BABY)? The freedom to disconnect a part of ANOTHER person’s sensory system? Okay, it is better than the free exercise of religious human sacrifice.

    The parts of that are cut off are some of the most highly innervated parts of the human. The lips, nipples and fingertips have similar touch sense. To take this away from another person without their consent is heinous. To do this to a newborn baby is creepy, child abuse and a human rights VIOLATION.

    Those saying that preventing the cutting off parts of a baby boy violates the cutter’s freedom of religion, are way out there in irrational land. One’s religion ends where their knife touches another human’s body. The idea that another human’s ritual (rite) trumps ones right to ones OWN body parts is insane and creepy. Baby boy genital parts removal cuts off about 20000 thousand fine touch and stretch nerve endings. No human should be subjected to sensory system harm as well as a forced decrease of sexual function and PLEASURE for life!

    It’s about time someone stood up to these wackos who still believe that the genital mutilation of baby boys is an acceptable practice in the 21st century. If they want to chop their own let them. But doing it to a defenseless baby is, or should be, a crime.


    Their gods demand the sacrifice of foreskins.

    Creepy pedo gods, if you ask me. Can’t even wait until the child is of the age of consent, they need to mutilate before it can say yes or no.

    Well, their interpretation of religious freedom includes the genital mutilation of infants and the court in Germany has agreed. But that doesn’t mean critics can’t call it what it is – RITUAL GENITAL MUTILATION OF INFANTS. That’s the facts.

  • Openletter2004

    Read the Jewish Holy Book from which the Muslims get their religious belief in circumcision.

    For at least the 1st 500 years that it was being done, it was only done on boys that were approaching adulthood. The BOY had to make a personal choice to be circumcised! It was a way for the BOY to say “Yes! I am ready to become a practicing member of my faith.”

  • TLC_Tugger

    The new law changes nothing. The German constitution still bars discrimination on the basis of gender, age, or religion. Forced genital cutting of infant males is still grievous bodily harm.

    Foreskin feels REALLY good. Circumcision wrecks sex.

    75% of the legislature voted to enshrine mutilation even though 56% of Germans and the German Pediatrics Association approved of the ban. How does that happen?

  • SamBastian

    “There is no demonstrable damage caused by infant circumcision”

    A growing number of men strongly disagree with your culturally biased point of view. You say there is no demonstrable damage because you come from a culture that devalues normal, intact male genitals in the same way African cultures that cut the genitals of girls devalue normal, intact female genitals.

    Medical ethics requires doctors to use effective, non-invasive method of prevention and treatment before they use surgery. Because there are effective, non-invasive ways to prevent and treat problems related to a male’s foreskin, male circumcision is unethical and inappropriate.

  • Dan Seely

    Mr. Hirschfield would you kindly list the “bogus” studies to which Intactivists are always referrin and how you went about determining their being invalid!

    Thank you kindly.

  • Simon says

    “the enormous public health benefits of circumcision”

    You’d think that medical associations all over the world would be not only recommending, but promoting circumcision, much the same way they do inoculation.

    In fact, no medical association, anywhere, recommends routine circumcision. What medical benefits there are, are slight, and the potential adverse consequences have not well known.

    Brad, some intellectual honesty would be nice.


    It a shame that the person to have a circumcision cannot have a voice on his body but it’s about religion, not a true medical reason. Only the male at age 18 or over should make the call for a none medical health issue circumcision.

  • Catken1

    Comparing male circumcision to female castration (which involves actually cutting off the organ of female sexual pleasure, and sometimes sewing together her labia with drastic and dangerous consequences for hygiene and for first intercourse) is like comparing a culture that regularly pierces its little girls’ ears to one that cuts off boys’ ears and digs out their hearing apparatus to boot. It’s not even close to the same thing, and relating them to each other trivializes female mutilation something awful.

  • Catken1

    ” Circumcision wrecks sex. ”

    Funny, I have a circumcised husband who’s never seemed to have any problem with arousal or sexual pleasure, none at all…

  • hugh7

    Catken, would you think it was OK to cut off boys’ ears just because we didn’t also dig our their heafing apparatus? Is cutting off ears “trivial”? That is where your comparison leads. It is as human rights violations that any genital cutting of any child of any sex (absent pressing medical need) is to be condemned. The fact that some is worse doesn’t make other kinds one whit better. The foreskin IS an important organ of male pleasure – ask any man who’s got one!

  • hugh7

    Catken, there is more to sexuality than “not having any problem with arousal”. The effect of adult circumcision has been compared to going colourblind, and there are plenty of men who didn’t know they were colourblind until they were actually tested. What you don’t remember having, you don’t miss, but that doesn’t mean you’re not still lacking it.

  • hugh7

    A woman was convicted of manslaugher in Manchester on Friday after the four-week old baby she circumcised died from loss of blood. She had done over a thousand without incident. So much for “make sure the person who circumcises your son is experienced”!

  • Dreamer_fla

    Your 3rd to 6th paragraphs seemed balanced until you stated “no matter how many bogus studies some opponents of circumcision claim”

    And then you said “there is copious evidence which supports the enormous public health benefits of circumcision, especially in the fight against sexually transmitted disease including HIV/AIDS.” – Have you seen the methodology and the flaws of the RCTs used to “prove” this benefit?

    And, how many neonates are getting sexually transmitted diseases? Wouldn’t it make sense for an adult person to make this decision on his own, after reviewing the evidence for himself and deciding based on his own lifestyle?

    So you’d rather protect a tradition than protect children from non-consensual surgical alteration of their genitals. Now we know.

  • louiscd

    Why can you not have your religion without doing harm to an infant?

  • SamBastian

    Some forms of female genital cutting are much less damaging than male circumcision. In 2010 the American Academy of Pediatrics proposed allowing doctors to make a small incision in the genitals of a girl if her parents requested it for cultural or religious reasons. Because of the public outcry the AAP withdrew its proposal. Making a small incision in the genitals of a girl is much less damaging than cutting off a boy’s foreskin.

  • cricket44

    It is this: “a victory for the free exercise of religion” and ONLY that. Not any of the other things you mention.

    No reason at all to cut on a perfectly healthy infant.

  • Henry75List

    What? Death from circumcision is not demostrable damage?

  • Henry75List

    The ones that determine more than one parameter at a time, the ones that are retrospective, non-double blind studies …

  • Henry75List

    You seem to have no knowledge of proper research protocol.

  • pkjames

    There are immediate and long term complications, and death possible from circumcision. Not doing this does not result in any of those. So there is a negative net health benefit from it. What benefits it might have later, depend much more on other factors than circumcision status, All of this and obviously that evolution favored it say that it’s a danger to do to your child. Std’s are like political,and religious, ideas shared only by a group with common interests and pursuits that many in monogamous or similarly low risk situations sexually, do not share. They least benefit from circumcision of all.
    The rational is so weak for deciding logically on needing to do something like this, I think perhaps the idea in circumcised men’s mind is that they miss nothing. But yet most would want to have had the choice.
    It’s sold to the public, with the “would you like to add a circumcision to that order sir. Suggestive selling. You “can” do it, sure go ahead.
    It’s so uncivilized really and dangerous.