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I’m bumping this entry back to the fore today because it’s experiencing increased traffic.
I’m the father of two-year-old girls, so I’ve not faced the issue of whether to circumcise my children or not. My guess is that my wife and I would have chosen to do it. I agree that it does feel like a fairly important custom of Judaism, warm and traditional in all the best senses of the word, and not medically significant one way or the other. But I’ve been struck by the number of people who’ve commented on my post, The End of Circumcision?, who said simply, “It’s not a choice. It’s a mandate from God. Jews don’t have to know the reason or not know the reason, God says do it so we do it. That’s what it means to be a Jew, kid.” Okay, I’m paraphrasing. Let me let one of the commenters, whose email address suggest he’s either a rabbi or very learned, state the case in its most eloquent.
When God instructed Abraham to circumcise all males, I guarantee you that
not anywhere near 57% of the world’s population at the time were
circumcised, nevertheless 90%! For Jews, circumcision has never been about
numbers and being like the rest of society. Indeed, it was, is, and should
be, quite the opposite. It is about a physical sign of the special
covenant that exists between the Jewish people and God. It is about what
sets us apart and makes us different. COVENANT – that is the operative
word here. That is why the ceremony is called “Brit (Covenant) Milah (of
Circumcision).” In regards to health benefits – over the years we have
seen that debate go back and forth. I suspect that before too long, it
will swing back one more time to the circumcision side. In the end, that
does not matter as long as there are no definite serious health risks which
can be directly and incontrovertibly attributed to circumcision.
Personally, I have always found Brit Milah to be a ritual filled with very
powerful imagery. Taking the foreskin is a sacrifice to God in the name of
Jewish identity. Since it comes from the penis, it represents a sacrifice
coming from that which is most physically precious to men and a commitment
to the future of our people (fertility).
First of all, I want this person giving me, or my children, advice on religion. I am grateful he chose to chime in here. Doing this for the literary-historical meaning of the act strikes me as almost perfect.
But what doesn’t strike me as perfect is the failure of a number of people here to acknowledge that God issues any number of commandments in the Bible that we simply ignore. Even some of the sexual ones alone seem relevant here: When men and women should sleep together or not, rules about mensturating women, etc. Even many Orthodox Jews ignore these mandates as simply dated. And that’s not even to touch homosexuality.
So first of all I think justifying circumcision because it’s a biblical mandate is ahistorical to Judaism for the last century. That pushes us to the realm of which mandates we chose to follow, and which we don’t. Nearly every Jew in America is a pick-and-chose Jew of this variety. Some pick more than others, but just look at how many of the rules of Kashrut even devout Jews adhere to. Just look at the way elevators in hotels in Jerusalem just run all the time on Shabbat so those keeping the holiday don’t have to press the buttons. But they ride them. It seems fair enough to address circumcision to the same questions about whether it should survive. And the answer, I believe, lies closer to the commenter above.