By Stephen Brown
BERLIN (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman promised Germany's Jewish and Muslim communities on Friday they would be free to carry out circumcision on young boys despite a court ban which has provoked concerns about religious freedom.
In a country that is especially sensitive to allegations of intolerance because of the Nazis' slaughter of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust, the government said it would find a way around the Cologne court ban in June as a matter of urgency.
"For everyone in the government it is absolutely clear that we want to have Jewish and Muslim religious life in Germany," said Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert. "Circumcision carried out in a responsible manner must be possible in this country without punishment."
European rabbis descended on Berlin this week to lobby against what they see as an affront to religious freedom - with the backing of Muslim and Christian leaders in an unusual show of unity, as well as the support of many German politicians.
Ruling in the case of a Muslim boy taken to a doctor with bleeding after circumcision, the Cologne court said the practice inflicts bodily harm and should not be carried out on young boys, but could be practiced on older males who give consent.
This is not acceptable under Jewish religious practice which requires boys to be circumcised from eight days old, nor for many Muslims, for whom the age of circumcision varies according to family, country and branch of Islam.
"It is well know that in the Jewish religion early circumcision carries great meaning, so it is a matter of urgency that this right be restored," said Seibert, adding that Merkel's own office would be involved in efforts to resolve the problem.
"We know a quick decision is needed and that this cannot be put off. Freedom of religious practice is a very important legal right for us," he said.
Germany is a close ally of Israel and its ambassador there has promised parliament's Diaspora Affairs Committee to defend the rights of Germany's growing Jewish community.
European rabbis ended their meeting in Berlin on Thursday in a defiant mood. They plan talks with German Muslim and Christian leaders in Stuttgart next week to see how they can fight the ban together. Continued...