St. Louis Jewish Light: National And World News - Circumcision ritual under investigation in Berlin

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Circumcision ritual under investigation in Berlin

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Posted: Friday, April 12, 2013 10:00 am | Updated: 10:12 pm, Sun Apr 14, 2013.

BERLIN (JTA) -- Berlin's District Attorney is investigating complaints about a circumcision that took place last month in the German capital. 

A spokesperson for the office of the public prosecutors, Martin Steltner, told JTA that several complaints were formally lodged in the past two weeks regarding the March 3 circumcision of the infant son of Berlin Chabad Rabbi Yehudah Teichtal and his wife, Leah Teichtal. The department is looking into the charges and had not yet launched a formal investigation.

News of the investigation comes months after Germany's parliament passed a law protecting the rights of Jews and Muslims to religious circumcision.

The Teichtal circumcision involved mezizah b'peh, an tradition common only in limited Orthodox circles in which blood is sucked orally from the circumcision wound. The practice has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years due to the risk of transmission of viruses to the infant. Prosecutors have not said if Teichtal's son was harmed by the procedure. 

Germany's main Jewish newspaper, the weekly Juedische Allgemeine Wochenzeitung, reported that one of the complainants was Christian Bahls, a mathematician from the city of Rostock who heads the Mogis association for victims of sexual abuse and which has a "working group on victims of circumcision."

In an online statement, Bahls said he decided to sue after seeing a video of the circumcision. He said that the new German law did not legalize the practice of mezizah b'peh, but rather required that all circumcisions be performed according to modern medical standards.

Rabbi Teichtal was in Israel and could not be reached before the Sabbath, but the Chabad office in Berlin confirmed that the formal complaints mentioned Teichtal as well as Menachem Fleischman, a well-known mohel in Israel, and the child's maternal grandfather, Rabbi Yochanan Gurary of Holon, Israel.

Some Orthodox communities have adopted the medically recommended use of a glass pipette for the procedure, but this protective measure allegedly was not employed in the recent ceremony.

The case arises against the background of public disapproval of the circumcision rite in Germany. In December, the Bundestag passed a new circumcision law after months of heated debate over efforts to ban the practice.

Gideon Joffe, head of Berlin's Jewish community, issued a statement Friday defending the right to practice traditions handed down over generations.

"We were hoping that the new circumcision law would finally restore legal security and that the recent debates, which were very stressful to the Jewish community, were finally over," Joffe said. "The Jewish Community of Berlin is a unified community and members of every denomination should be able to live out their Judaism as they learned it from their parents and grandparents."

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