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Religious male circumcision

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Title: Religious male circumcision  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Circumcision, Circumcision controversy in early Christianity, Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, Bull of Union with the Copts, Gisu people
Collection: Circumcision, Religious Behaviour and Experience
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Religious male circumcision

Religious male circumcision generally occurs shortly after birth, during childhood or around puberty as part of a rite of passage. Circumcision is most prevalent in the religions of Judaism and Islam. Circumcision is common in some predominantly Christian countries such as the United States, the Philippines, South Korea, Ethiopia, and Kenya, and is also widely practiced among Christians from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, and North Africa. Circumcision is less common in Europe, East Asia and Latin America. It is practiced by the Muslim population in India and amongst some Indian Christians. Hodges argues that in Ancient Greece the foreskin was valued and that Greek and Roman attempts to abolish ritual circumcision were prompted by humanitarian concerns.[1]

Male circumcision practised as a religious rite is found in texts of the Hebrew Bible, as part of the Abrahamic covenant, such as in Genesis 17, and is therefore practised by Jews, Muslims, and a significant number of Christians, who constitute the Abrahamic religions. Some rabbinical sources indicate that even before the covenant of Abraham, the aposthia of Shem may have been an inspiration for circumcision; though the aposthia of Shem is not specifically mentioned in the Genesis text.[2][3]


  • Ancient Egypt 1
  • In the Tanakh 2
  • In Judaism 3
    • In rabbinic literature 3.1
    • Converts to Judaism 3.2
    • Normative position 3.3
    • Minority position 3.4
  • In the Deuterocanon/Biblical Apocrypha 4
  • In Christianity 5
    • The Catholic Church 5.1
    • The Latter Day Saint movement 5.2
  • Islam 6
  • African cultures 7
  • Asian cultures 8
  • Pacific cultures 9
  • See also 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12

Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egyptian carved scene of circumcision, from the inner northern wall of the Temple of Khonspekhrod at the Precinct of Mut, Luxor, Egypt. Eighteenth dynasty, Amenhotep III, c. 1360 BC.

Sixth Dynasty (2345 - 2181 BC) tomb artwork in Egypt is thought to be the oldest documentary evidence of circumcision, the most ancient depiction being a bas-relief from the necropolis at Saqqara (ca. 2400 B.C) with the inscription reading "Hold him and do not allow him to faint". In the oldest written account, by an Egyptian named Uha, in the 23rd century B.C, he describes a mass circumcision and boasts of his ability to stoically endure the pain: "When I was circumcised, together with one hundred and twenty men...there was none thereof who hit out, there was none thereof who was hit, and there was none thereof who scratched and there was none thereof who was scratched."[4]

Circumcision in ancient Egypt was thought to be a mark of passage from childhood to adulthood. The alteration of the body and ritual of circumcision was supposed to give access to ancient mysteries reserved solely for the initiated.[5] The content of those mysteries are unclear but are likely to be myths, prayers, and incantations central to Egyptian religion. The Egyptian Book of the Dead, for example, tells of the sun god Ra performing a self-circumcision, whose blood created two minor guardian deities. Circumcisions were performed by priests in a public ceremony, using a stone blade. It is thought to have been more popular among the upper echelons of the society, although it was not universal and those lower down the social order are known to have had the procedure done.[6]

In the Tanakh

There are numerous references to circumcision in the Jewish Bible. Circumcision was enjoined upon the biblical patriarch Abraham, his descendants and their slaves as "a token of the covenant" concluded with him by God for all generations, an "everlasting covenant" (Genesis 17:13), thus it is commonly observed by two (Judaism and Islam) of the Abrahamic religions.

The penalty of non-observance was kareth, spiritual excision from the people (Genesis 17:10-14, 21:4; Lev 12:3). Non-Israelites had to undergo circumcision before they could be allowed to take part in the feast of Passover (Exodus 12:48). See also Mosaic Law directed at non-Jews and Conversion to Judaism.

It was "a reproach" for an Israelite to be uncircumcised (Josh 5:9) The name arelim (uncircumcised) became an opprobrious term, especially a pejorative name for the Philistines, who might have been of Greek origin, in the context of the fierce wars recounted in the Book of Samuel (1 Sam 14:6, 31:4). When the general (and future king) David wanted to marry King Saul's daughter, the King required a grisly "dowry" of a hundred Philistine foreskins. David went one better: "and David arose and went, he and his men, and slew of the Philistines two hundred men; and David brought their foreskins, and they gave them in full number to the king, that he might be the king's son-in-law. And Saul gave him Michal his daughter to wife".(1 Sam 18:25)

"Uncircumcised" is used in conjunction with tame (unpure) for heathen (Isa 52:1). The word 'arel' (uncircumcised) is also employed for "impermeable" (Lev. 26:41, "their uncircumcised hearts"; compare Jer. 9:25; Ezek. xliv. 7, 9); it is also applied to the first three years' fruit of a tree, which is forbidden (Lev 19:23).

However, the Israelites born in the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt apparently did not carry out the practice of circumcision. According to Josh 5:2-9, "all the people that came out" of Egypt were circumcised, but those "born in the wilderness" were not. In any case, we are told that Joshua, before the celebration of the Passover, had them circumcised at Gilgal.

The Bible contains several narratives in which circumcision is mentioned. There is the circumcision and massacre of the Shechemites (Genesis 34:1-35:5), the hundred foreskin dowry (1 Samuel 18:25-27) and the story of the Lord threatening to kill Moses, and being placated by Zipporah's circumcision of their son (Exodus 4:24-26), and the Circumcision at Gilgal of Joshua 5.

There is another sense in which the term "circumcise" is used in the Bible. Deut 10:16 says: "Circumcise the foreskin of your heart," (also quoted in Jer 4:4, New JPS translates as: "Cut away, therefore, the thickening about your hearts") along with Jer 6:10: To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? behold their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken: ... (New JPS translates: "Their ears are blocked"). Some interpret this as giving the rite a spiritual meaning; circumcision as a physical act being enjoined nowhere in the book. Jer 9:25-26 says that circumcised and uncircumcised will be punished alike by the Lord; for "all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart." The New JPS translation adds the note: "uncircumcised of heart: I.e., their minds are blocked to God's commandments." Non-Jewish tribes that practiced circumcision were described as being "circumcised in uncircumcision."(Jeremiah 9:24)

In Judaism

According to Jewish law, ritual circumcision of male children is a commandment from God that Jews are obligated to follow, and is only postponed or abrogated in the case of threat to the life or health of the child.[7] Jews do not believe that non-Jews are obligated to follow this commandment; only Noahide laws apply to non-Jews.

In rabbinic literature

During the Babylonian exile, Sabbath and circumcision became the characteristic symbols of the Jewish people. However, the Talmud orders that a boy must not be circumcised if he had two brothers, from the same mother as him, who have died as a result of their circumcisions;[8] this may be due to a concern about haemophilia.[8]

Contact with Greek polytheistic culture, especially at the games of the arena, made this distinction obnoxious to Jewish-Hellenists seeking to assimilate into Greek culture. The consequence was their attempt to appear like the Greeks by epispasm ("making themselves foreskins"; 1 Macc 1:15; Josephus, Ant. xii 5, § 1; Assumption of Moses, viii.; 1 Cor 7:18;, Tosef.; Talmud tractes Shabbat xv. 9; Yevamot 72a, b; Yerushalmi Peah i. 16b; Yevamot viii. 9a). 1 Macc 2:46 records that after King Antiochus effectively banned traditional Jewish religious practice, including circumcision, the Maccabean rebels "forcibly circumcised all the uncircumcised boys they found within the borders of Israel." Circumcision was again banned by Emperor Hadrian (117-138). His anti-circumcision law is considered by many, to be one of the main causes of the Jewish Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135).

Around 140 CE Rabbinic Judaism made its circumcision requirements stricter.[9][10] Jewish circumcision includes the removal of the inner preputial epithelium, in a procedure that is named 'priah'(Hebrew: פריעה), which means: 'uncovering'. This epithelium is also removed on modern medical circumcisions,[11] to prevent post operative penile adhesion and its complications.[12] According to Rabbinic interpretation of the traditional Jewish sources, the 'priah' has been performed, as part of Jewish circumcision, since the Israelites first inhabited the Land of Israel,[13] and without it the mitzvah isn't performed at all.[14] However, the editors of the Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion, note that priah was probably added by the rabbis, in order to "prevent the possibility of obliterating the traces of circumcision".[15] Jewish law states that circumcision is a mitzva aseh ("positive commandment" to perform an act) and is obligatory for Jewish-born males and for non-circumcised Jewish male converts. It is only postponed or abrogated in the case of threat to the life or health of the child.[7] It is usually performed by a mohel on the eighth day of life in a ceremony called a brit milah (or Bris milah, colloquially simply bris), which means "Covenant of circumcision" in Hebrew. According to Jewish law, the foreskin should be buried after a brit milah.[16] The rite is considered of such importance that in Orthodox communities, the body of an uncircumcised Jewish male will sometimes be circumcised before burial.[17] Although 19th century Reform leaders described it as "barbaric", the practice of circumcision "remained a central rite"[18] and the Union for Reform Judaism has, since 1984, trained and certified over 300 practicing mohels under its "Berit Mila Program".[19] Humanistic Judaism argues that "circumcision is not required for Jewish identity."[20]

The circumcision consists of three procedures, the first being the cutting of the foreskin. The second is the priah, or peeling back of the epithelium after the foreskin has been amputated. According to Shaye J. D. Cohen, in Why Aren't Jewish Women Circumcised?: Gender and Covenant in Judaism, pg 25, the Torah only commands circumcision (milah).[21] David Gollaher has written that the rabbis added the procedure of periah to discourage men from trying to restore their foreskins: ‘Once established, periah was deemed essential to circumcision; if the mohel failed to cut away enough tissue, the operation was deemed insufficient to comply with God's covenant’ and ‘Depending on the strictness of individual rabbis, boys (or men thought to have been inadequately cut) were subjected to additional operations.’[22] In addition to milah (the actual circumcision) and priah, mentioned above, the Talmud mentions a third step, metzitzah, or squeezing some blood from the wound.

The book Abot De-Rabbi Natan (The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan) contains a list of persons from the Israelite Scriptures that were born circumcised: Adam, Seth, Noah, Shem, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the wicked Balaam, Samuel, David, Jeremiah and Zerubbabel.[23] To be born without a foreskin was regarded as the privilege of the most saintly of people, from Adam, "who was made in the image of God," and Moses to Zerubbabel (see Midrash Ab. R. N., ed. Schechter, p. 153; and Talmud, Sotah 12a). Uncircumcision being considered a blemish, circumcision was to remove it, and to render Abraham and his descendants "perfect" (Talmud Ned. 31b; Midrash Genesis Rabbah xlvi.)

Rabbinic literature holds that one who removes his circumcision has no portion in the world to come (Mishnah Ab. iii. 17; Midrash Sifre, Num. xv. 31; Talmud Sanhedrin 99).

According to the Midrash Pirke R. El. xxix., it was Shem who circumcised Abraham and Ishmael on the Day of Atonement; and the blood of the covenant then shed is ever before God on that day to serve as an atoning power. According to the same midrash, Pharaoh prevented the Hebrew slaves from performing the rite, but when the Passover time came and brought them deliverance, they underwent circumcision, and mingled the blood of the paschal lamb with that of the Abrahamic covenant, wherefore (Ezek. xvi. 6) God repeats the words: "In thy blood live!"

Converts to Judaism

According to the Hebrew Bible, Conversion to Judaism for non-Israelites necessitated circumcision, (Exodus 12:48). In the 1st century AD, there was a controversy between the Shammaites and the Hillelites regarding a convert born without a foreskin: the former demanding the spilling of a drop of blood of the covenant; the latter declaring it to be unnecessary.(Shab. 137a)

On the other hand, the emperor Hadrian (117-138) forbade circumcision. His successor Antoninus Pius (138-161) upheld the decree, but around 140 included an exemption for Jews who circumcised their sons, though not their servants, slaves, or converts.[24] Even before that, in 95 AD, Flavius Clemens, a nephew of the emperors Titus and Domitian, suffered the penalty of death for undergoing circumcision, and embracing the Jewish faith with his wife Domitilla (see Grätz, "Gesch." iv. 403 et seq., 702).

It can be thus understood why during Early Christian times there existed groups of Godfearers, who were gentiles who shared religious ideas with Jews, to one degree or another, but were afraid to circumcise, and were not recognized as Jews. It is possible that the view of them is echoed in the Midrash: "If thy sons accept My Godhead [by undergoing circumcision] I shall be their God and bring them into the land; but if they do not observe My covenant in regard either to circumcision or to the Sabbath, they shall not enter the land of promise" (Midrash Genesis Rabbah xlvi.). "The Sabbath-keepers who are not circumcised are intruders, and deserve punishment," (Midrash Deut. Rabbah i.)

The uncompromising Jewish stance that the seal of circumcision might not find its substitute in "the seal of baptism" — led Paul of Tarsus to urge the latter in opposition to the former ( Romans 2:25-29, 4:11-12, and elsewhere), just as he was led to adopt the antinomistic or antinational view, which had its exponents in Alexandria.

Currently, the issue of circumcising converts remains controversial in Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism [25][26] and it is not mandatory in either movement.[27]

Normative position

Subject to overriding medical considerations, the circumcision must take place eight days after the birth of the child, even when this falls on Shabbat.[28] The child must be medically fit for a circumcision to be performed, and Jewish law prohibits parents having their son circumcised if medical doctors hold that the procedure may unduly threaten the child's health (e.g. because of hemophilia). If by reason of the child's debility or sickness the ceremony is postponed, it cannot take place on Shabbat.[29]

It is the duty of the father to have his child circumcised; and if he fails in this, the beth din of the city must see that the rite is performed.[30] According to traditional Jewish law, in the absence of a grown free Jewish male expert, a woman, a slave, or a child, that has the required skills, is also authorized to perform the circumcision, provided that she or he is Jewish.[31] However, most streams of non-Orthodox Judaism allow female mohels, called mohalot (Hebrew: מוֹהֲלוֹת‎, plural of מוֹהֶלֶת mohelet, feminine of mohel), without restriction. In 1984, Dr. Deborah Cohen became the first certified Reform mohelet; she was certified by the Berit Mila program of Reform Judaism.[32]

However important it may be, circumcision is not a sacrament, unlike a Christian baptism. Circumcision does not affect a Jew's Jewish status. A Jew by birth is a full Jew, even if not circumcised.[33] Even so, the punishment for not being circumcised in mainstream Judaism is believed to be "Karet", being cut off; meaning premature death at the hand of G-d (Mo'ed Katan 28a) and a severe spiritual punishment, the "soul's being cut off," and not being granted a share in the world to come (Hilchot Teshuvah 8:1,5).

Minority position

Some contemporary Jews choose not to circumcise their sons.[34] They are assisted by a small number of Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis, and have developed a welcoming ceremony that they call the brit shalom ("Covenant [of] Peace") for such children, also accepted by Humanistic Judaism.[35][36]

This ceremony of brit shalom is not officially approved of by the Reform or Reconstructionist rabbinical organizations, who make the recommendation that male infants should be circumcised, though the issue of converts remains controversial[25][26] and circumcision of converts is not mandatory in either movement.[27]

In the Deuterocanon/Biblical Apocrypha

The Deuterocanon/Biblical Apocrypha reveal the cultural clash between Jews and Greeks, and between Judaizers and Hellenizers. Greeks valued the foreskin, and when they took part in athletic sports, they did it in the nude [1]. However, they insisted that the glans remained covered, and they did not approve of the Jewish custom of circumcision. The Books of the Maccabees reveal that some Jewish men chose to undergo epispasm, foreskin restoration by stretching the residual skin [2], so that they could conform to Greek culture and take part in these sports. (1 Macc 1:11-15). Some also left their sons uncircumcised (1 Macc 2:46). This relatively peaceful period came to an end when Antiochus Epiphanes attacked first Egypt and then sacked and looted Jerusalem (1 Macc 1:16-64). Epiphanes determined to force everyone to live the Greek way and abandon the Jewish way. Among other things, he banned circumcision.

Though many were prepared to conform to Greek culture, observant Jews saw circumcision as a mark of Jewish loyalty and many who kept to the Mosaic Law defied the edict of Antiochus Epiphanes prohibiting circumcision (1 Macc 1:48, 1:60, and 2:46). Jewish women showed their loyalty to the Law, even at the risk of their lives, by themselves circumcising their sons. "For example, two women were brought in for having circumcised their children. They publicly paraded them around the city, with their babies hanging at their breasts, and then hurled them down headlong from the wall (2 Macc 6:10)." At the same time, the Zealots forcibly circumcised the uncircumcised boys within the borders of Israel (1 Macc 2:46).

In the upshot, the Jewish Zealots defeated the Greeks and they retained the right to circumcise.

The Book of Jubilees, part of the Bible of the Ethiopian Orthodox, written in the time of John Hyrcanus, reveals the hostility directed against those who abandoned circumcision (xv. 26–27): "Whosoever is uncircumcised belongs to 'the sons of Belial,' to 'the children of doom and eternal perdition'; for all the angels of the Presence and of the Glorification have been so from the day of their creation, and God's anger will be kindled against the children of the covenant if they make the members of their body appear like those of the Gentiles, and they will be expelled and exterminated from the earth".

According to the Gospel of Thomas saying 53, Jesus says:

"His disciples said to him, 'is circumcision useful or not?' He said to them, 'If it were useful, their father would produce children already circumcised from their mother. Rather, the true circumcision in spirit has become profitable in every respect.'" SV [3]

Parallels to Thomas 53 are found in Paul's Romans 2:29, Philippians 3:3, 1 Cor 7:19, Gal 6:15, and Col 2:11-12.

The Jewish Encyclopedia in the article "Gentiles", section "Gentiles May Not Be Taught the Torah", states:

In Christianity

Today, most Christian denominations are neutral about biblical male circumcision, neither requiring it nor forbidding it. Circumcision was controversial during the period of Early Christianity (before 325) and the first Church Council in Jerusalem (c.50) declared that circumcision was not necessary for new gentile converts (a record of the council is found in Acts 15). But it is customary among the Coptic, Ethiopian, and Eritrean Orthodox Churches, and also some other African churches.[38] Some Christian churches in South Africa oppose circumcision, viewing it as a pagan ritual, while others, including the Nomiya church in Kenya,[38][39] require circumcision for membership. Some participants in focus group discussions in Zambia and Malawi said that Christians should practice circumcision because Jesus was circumcised and the Bible teaches the practice.

"Scène de la circoncision de Jésus", a sculpture in the Cathedral of Chartres.

While Jesus' circumcision was recorded as having been performed in accordance with Torah requirements in Luke 2:21, according to the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 15, the leaders of the Christian Church at the Council of Jerusalem rejected circumcision as a requirement for Gentile converts, possibly the first act of differentiation of Early Christianity from its Jewish roots,[40] see also list of events in early Christianity. Paul of Tarsus, who called himself Apostle to the Gentiles, attacked the practice, but not consistently, for example in one case he personally circumcised Timothy "because of the Jews" that were in town (Timothy had a Jewish Christian mother but a Greek father Acts 16:1–3).[41] He also appeared to praise its value in Rom 3:1–2, hence the topic of Paul of Tarsus and Judaism is still debated. Paul argued that circumcision no longer meant the physical, but a spiritual practice ( Rom 2:25–29). And in that sense, he wrote 1 Cor 7:18: "Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised"—probably a reference to the practice of epispasm.[42] Paul was already circumcised ("on the eighth day", Phil 3:4–5) when he was "called". He added: "Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised", and went on to argue that circumcision did not matter: "Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God's commands is what counts ( 1 Cor 7:19)."

Later he more explicitly denounced the practice, rejecting and condemning those who promoted circumcision to Gentile Christians. He accused Galatian Christians who advocated circumcision of turning from the Spirit to the flesh. And in Gal 3:3 says "Are you so foolish, that, whereas you began in the Spirit, you would now be made perfect by the flesh?" He accused circumcision advocates of wanting to make a good showing in the flesh Gal 6:12 and of glorying or boasting of the flesh Gal 6:13. Some believe Paul wrote the entire book of Galatians attacking circumcision and requiring the keeping of Jewish law by Christians, saying in chapter five: "If ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing."

In a late letter he warned Christians to beware of the concision, or mutilation,[43] saying that Christians were the true circumcision because they worshiped in the Spirit of God ( Phil 3:2–3).

The Catholic Encyclopedia's entry on Judaizers notes: "Paul, on the other hand, not only did not object to the observance of the Mosaic Law, as long as it did not interfere with the liberty of the Gentiles, but he conformed to its prescriptions when occasion required ( 1 Cor 9:20). Thus he shortly after circumcised Timothy ( Acts 16:1–3), and he was in the very act of observing the Mosaic ritual when he was arrested at Jerusalem ( 21:26 sqq.)."[44]

Simon Peter, who for Catholic Christians is the first Pope, condemned circumcision for converts according to Acts 15. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, charged that the advocates of circumcision were "false brothers" ( Gal 2:4). Some Biblical scholars think that the Epistle to Titus, generally attributed to Paul, may state that circumcision should be discouraged among Christians ( Titus 1:10–16), though others believe this is merely a reference to Jews. Circumcision was so closely associated with Jewish men that Jewish Christians were referred to as "those of the circumcision" ( Col 3:20) [4] or conversely Christians who were circumcised were referred to as Jewish Christians or Judaizers. These terms (circumcised/uncircumcised) are generally interpreted to mean Jews and Greeks, who were predominate, however it is an oversimplification as 1st century Iudaea Province also had some Jews who no longer circumcised (see Hellenistic Judaism), and some Greeks (see Proselytes or Judaizers) and others such as Egyptians, Ethiopians, and Arabs who did.

In the Gospel of John 7:23 Jesus is reported as giving this response to those who criticized him for healing on Sabbath: "If a man on the sabbath day receive circumcision, that the law of Moses should not be broken; are ye angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the sabbath day?"

This passage has been seen as a comment on the Rabbinic belief that circumcision heals the penis (Jerusalem Bible, note to John 7:23) or as a criticism of circumcision [5].

The Greek Orthodox Church celebrates the Circumcision of Christ on 1 January,[45] while Orthodox churches following the Julian calendar celebrate it on 14 January. All Orthodox churches consider it a "Great Feast".[46] In the Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran churches it has been replaced by other commemorations.[47]

There are strands of study and research (see P Whelan,[48] F Grewel [49] and E Douglas[50]) which show that certain foreskin conditions (paraphimosis and frenulum breve) when left unacknowledged, and therefore untreated, cause psychosexual problems - especially when mixed with courtship and other individual and environmental factors from childhood - wracking with self-doubt, and leading ultimately to psychosis. Once having successfully overcome the condition(s), however, the effect of the traumas can recur on the birth of a son, and later. This is a dangerous situation and liable to cause much confusion and disturbance, or worse, and provides an explanation of the story of Abraham, covenant of circumcision and the binding of Isaac, i.e. psychosis and foreskin management intention and, ultimately, the saving nature of faith. The conclusions in Acts 15, when logically interpreted (see E Douglas[51]), raises understanding of these adverse anatomical conditions: paraphimosis (symptom: strangling the head of the penis); and slender frenulum breve (symptom: blood from rupture of frenulum blood vessels), and advises avoidance of them. It raises awareness of the issues but carefully refrains from being prescriptive as to the means of management. This allows room for modern methods of management, e.g. frenuloplasty.[52] The psychological effects of these conditions, while little understood, are real, and are visible in literature and art.[50]

The Catholic Church

Historically, the Catholic Church denounced religious circumcision for its members in the Cantate Domino, written during the 11th Council of Florence in 1442.[53] This decision was based on the belief that baptism had superseded circumcision ( Col 2:11-12),[54] and may also have been a response to Coptic Christians, who continued to practice circumcision. The Church currently maintains a neutral position on the practice of non-religious circumcision, and has never addressed the issue of infant circumcision specifically.[55]

Some Catholic scholars, such as Fr. John J. Dietzen, a retired priest and columnist, have argued that paragraph number 2297 from the Catholic Catechism (Respect for bodily integrity) makes the practice of elective and neonatal circumcision immoral.[56] John Paul Slosar and Daniel O'Brien, however, argue that the therapeutic benefits of neonatal circumcision are inconclusive, but that recent findings that circumcision may prevent disease puts the practice outside the realm of paragraph 2297.[55] They also argue that statements regarding mutilation and amputation in the "Respect for bodily integrity" paragraph are made within the context of kidnapping, hostage taking or torture, and that if circumcision is defined as an amputation, any removal of tissue or follicle, regardless of its effect on functional integrity, could be considered a violation of moral law.[55] The proportionality of harm versus benefit of medical procedures, as defined by Directives 29 and 33 of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (National Conference of Catholic Bishops),[57] have also been interpreted to support[55] and reject[58] the practice of circumcision. These arguments represent the conscience of the individual writers, and not the official stance of the Church. The most recent statement from the Church was that of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

"The Church of Antioch sent Barnabas on a mission with Paul, which became known as the Apostle's first missionary journey . . . Together with Paul, he then went to the so-called Council of Jerusalem where after a profound examination of the question, the Apostles with the Elders decided to discontinue the practice of circumcision so that it was no longer a feature of the Christian identity (cf. Acts 15: 1-35). It was only in this way that, in the end, they officially made possible the Church of the Gentiles, a Church without circumcision; we are children of Abraham simply through faith in Christ."[59]

With the exception of the commemoration of the circumcision of Jesus in accordance with Jewish practice, circumcision has not been part of Catholic practice. According to an epistle of Cyprian of Carthage, Circumcision of the flesh was replaced by circumcision of the spirit.[60]

The Latter Day Saint movement

Passages from scriptures connected with the Latter Day Saint movement (Mormons) explain that the "law of circumcision is done away" by Christ and thus unnecessary from a religious standpoint.[61][62]


Map published by the United Nations (WHO/UNAIDS) showing percentage of males who have been circumcised, at a country level. Data was provided by MEASURE DHS and other sources.[63]

The origin of circumcision in Islam is a matter of religious and scholarly debate. It is mentioned in some hadith, but not in the Qur'an. Some fiqh scholars state that circumcision is recommended (sunnah), others that it is obligatory.[64] Some have quoted the hadith to argue that the requirement of circumcision is based on the covenant with Abraham.[65]

Whereas Jewish circumcision is closely bound by ritual timing and tradition, in Islam there is no fixed age for circumcision. The age when boys get circumcised, and the procedures used, tend to change across cultures, families, and time. In some Islamic countries, circumcision is performed on Muslim boys after they have learned to recite the whole Qur'an from start to finish.[66] In Malaysia and other regions, the boy usually undergoes the operation between the ages of ten and twelve, and is thus a puberty rite, serving to introduce him into the new status of an adult.[67] The procedure is sometimes semi-public, accompanied with music, special foods, and much festivity.[67]

There is no equivalent of a Jewish mohel in Islam. Circumcisions are usually carried out in a clinic or hospital. The circumciser is not required to be a Muslim.[66] The position of the scar is usually neither fully "low" nor fully "high", and the skin left is rather loose. However, due to a relatively secular approach to circumcision in the Muslim world, the "styles" of the Islamic circumcision vary on every individual, and change in the light on new medical knowledge.[67]

African cultures

In West Africa, infant circumcision had religious significance as a rite of passage or otherwise in the past; today in some non-Muslim Nigerian societies it is medicalised and is simply a cultural norm.[68] In many West African traditional societies circumcision has become medicalised and is simply performed in infancy without ado or any particular conscious cultural significance . Among the Urhobo of southern Nigeria it is symbolic of a boy entering into manhood. The ritual expression, Omo te Oshare ("the boy is now man"), constitutes a rite of passage from one age set to another.[69]

In East Africa, specifically in Kenya among various so-classified Bantu and Nilotic peoples, such as the Maragoli and Idakho of the Luhya super-ethnic group, the Kikuyu, Kalenjin and Maasai, circumcision is a rite of passage observed collectively by a number of boys every few years, and boys circumcised at the same time are taken to be members of a single age set.[70]

Authority derives from the age-group and the age-set. Prior to circumcision a natural leader or Olaiguenani is selected; he leads his age-group through a series of rituals until old age, sharing responsibility with a select few, of whom the ritual expert (Oloiboni) is the ultimate authority. Masai youths are not circumcised until they are mature, and a new age-set is initiated together at regular intervals of twelve to fifteen years. The young warriors (Il-Murran) remain initiates for some time, using blunt arrows to hunt small birds which are stuffed and tied to a frame to form a head-dress. Traditionally, among the Luhya, boys of certain age-sets, typically between 8 and 18 years of age would, under the leadership of specific men engage in various rites leading up to the day of circumcision. After circumcision, they would live apart from the rest of society for a certain number of days. Not even their mothers nor sisters would be allowed to see them.

The Xhosa Tribe from the Eastern Cape in South Africa has a circumcision ritual. The ceremony is part of a transition to manhood. It is called the Abakwetha - "A Group Learning". A group of normally five aged between 16-20 go off for three months and live in a special hut (sutu). The circumcision is the climax of the ritual. Nelson Mandela describes his experiences undergoing this ritual in his biography - "The Long Walk to Freedom".[71][72] Traditional circumcisions are often performed in unsterile conditions where no anesthetic is administered; improper treatment of the wound can lead to Sepsis and dehydration, which has in the past lead to initiate deaths.[73][74] New non-surgical technologies, like Prepex, have been introduced to decrease the number of deaths and injuries caused by circumcision practices during initiation ceremonies (and those caused during circumcision for HIV prevention).[75]

Asian cultures

Bahá'ís do not have any particular tradition or rituals regarding male circumcision, but view female circumcision as mutilation. In early 2007 it was announced that rural aidpost orderlies in the East Sepik Province of Papua New Guinea are to undergo training in the circumcision of men and boys of all ages with a view to introducing the procedure as a means of prophylaxis against HIV/AIDS, which is becoming a significant problem in the country . Circumcision is widely practiced by the Druze. The procedure is practiced as a cultural tradition, and has no religious significance in the Druze faith. Male Druze infants are usually circumcised shortly after birth.

There is no reference to male circumcision in the Hindu holy books[76] and both Hinduism and Buddhism appear to have a neutral view on circumcision.[77]

Sikh infants are not circumcised.[78]

Circumcision in South Korea is largely the result of American cultural and military influence following the Korean War.

Pacific cultures

Circumcision is part of pre-Colonial Philippines, owing it to Islamic influence.[82] Circumcision ceremonies among certain Australian aboriginal societies are noted for their painful nature, including subincision for some aboriginal peoples in the Western Desert.[83] In the Pacific, ritual circumcision is nearly universal in the Melanesian islands of Fiji and Vanuatu;[84] participation in the traditional land diving on Pentecost Island is reserved for those who have been circumcised . Circumcision is also commonly practised in the Polynesian islands of Samoa, Tonga, Niue, and Tikopia. In Samoa, it is accompanied by a celebration. Among some West African animist groups, such as the Dogon and Dowayo, it is taken to represent a removal of "feminine" aspects of the male, turning boys into fully masculine males.[85]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Gollaher, p. 2.
  5. ^ Cf. the old Hebrew classic, Midrash Rabba (Exodus Rabba 30:9), where Aquila of Sinope said to Hadrian the king, "I wish to become a proselyte." When the king retorted, "Go and study their Divine Law, but do not be circumcised." Aquila then said to him,"Even the wisest man in your kingdom, and an elder who is aged one-hundred, cannot study their Divine Law if he isn’t circumcised, for thus is it written: 'He makes known his words unto Jacob, even his precepts and judgments unto Israel. He has not done the like of which to any other nation' (Ps. 147:19-20). Unto whom, then, [has he done it]? Unto the sons of Israel!”
  6. ^ Gollaher, p. 3.
  7. ^ a b
  8. ^ a b  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ Circumcision Policy Statement of The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that "There are three methods of circumcision that are commonly used in the newborn male", and that all three include "bluntly freeing the inner preputial epithelium from the epithelium of the glans", to be later amputated with the foreskin.
  12. ^
  13. ^ Talmud Bavli Tractate Yebamoth 71b: Rabbah b. Isaac stated in the name of Rab: The commandment of uncovering the corona at circumcision was not given to Abraham; for it is said, At that time the Lord said unto Joshua: 'Make thee knives of flint etc.' But is it not possible [that this applied to] those who were not previously circumcised; for it is written, For all the people that came out were circumcised, but all the people that were born etc.? — If so, why the expression. 'Again!' Consequently it must apply to the uncovering of the corona.
  14. ^ Mishna Tractate Shabbos 19:6, and The Jerusalem Talmud there.
  15. ^ Werblowsky, R.J. Zwi & Wigoder, Geoffrey (1997) The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  16. ^ Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, 265:10
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ Berit Mila Program of Reform Judaism, Union for Reform Judaism website. Retrieved January 23, 2010.
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ Circumcision | title=A History Of The World’s Most Controversial Surgery | author= David Gollaher | publisher =Basic Books 2000 | pg =pg 17
  23. ^ The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan, Translated from the Hebrew by Judah Goldin, Yale Judaica Series 10, Chapter 2, p 23.
  24. ^
  25. ^ a b
  26. ^ a b
  27. ^ a b
  28. ^ Tractate Shabbat. xix. 1.
  29. ^ Talmud Shabbat 137a.
  30. ^ Talmud Kid. 29a.
  31. ^ Talmud Avodah Zarah 26b; Menachot 42a; Maimonides' Mishneh Torah, Milah, ii. 1; Shulkhan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah, l.c.
  32. ^ Berit Mila Program of Reform Judaism Retrieved 2 February 2015
  33. ^ Talmud Hul. 4b; Avodah Zarah 27a; Shulkhan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah, 264, 1.
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia"Gentiles: Gentiles May Not Be Taught the Torah".
  38. ^ a b Customary in some Coptic and other churches:
    • "The Coptic Christians in Egypt and the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians—two of the oldest surviving forms of Christianity—retain many of the features of early Christianity, including male circumcision. Circumcision is not prescribed in other forms of Christianity... Some Christian churches in South Africa oppose the practice, viewing it as a pagan ritual, while others, including the Nomiya church in Kenya, require circumcision for membership and participants in focus group discussions in Zambia and Malawi mentioned similar beliefs that Christians should practice circumcision since Jesus was circumcised and the Bible teaches the practice."
    • "The decision that Christians need not practice circumcision is recorded in Acts 15; there was never, however, a prohibition of circumcision, and it is practiced by Coptic Christians." "circumcision", The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2001-05.
  39. ^ Mattson CL, Bailey RC, Muga R, Poulussen R, Onyango T (2005) Acceptability of male circumcision and predictors of circumcision preference among men and women in Nyanza province Kenya. AIDS Care 17:182–194.
  40. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia: Baptism: "According to rabbinical teachings, which dominated even during the existence of the Temple (Pes. viii. 8), Baptism, next to circumcision and sacrifice, was an absolutely necessary condition to be fulfilled by a proselyte to Judaism (Yeb. 46b, 47b; Ker. 9a; 'Ab. Zarah 57a; Shab. 135a; Yer. Kid. iii. 14, 64d). Circumcision, however, was much more important, and, like baptism, was called a 'seal' (Schlatter, "Die Kirche Jerusalems," 1898, p. 70). But as circumcision was discarded by Christianity, and the sacrifices had ceased, Baptism remained the sole condition for initiation into religious life. The next ceremony, adopted shortly after the others, was the imposition of hands, which, it is known, was the usage of the Jews at the ordination of a rabbi. Anointing with oil, which at first also accompanied the act of Baptism, and was analogous to the anointment of priests among the Jews, was not a necessary condition."
  41. ^ McGarvey on Acts 16: "Yet we see him in the case before us, circumcising Timothy with his own hand, and this 'on account of certain Jews who were in those quarters.'"
  42. ^ "making themselves foreskins"; I Macc. i. 15; Josephus, "Ant." xii. 5, § 1; Assumptio Mosis, viii.; I Cor. vii. 18;, Tosef.; Talmud tractes Shabbat xv. 9; Yevamot 72a, b; Yerushalmi Peah i. 16b; Yevamot viii. 9a; [6]; Catholic Encyclopedia: Circumcision: "To this epispastic operation performed on the athletes to conceal the marks of circumcision St. Paul alludes, me epispastho ( 1 Cor 7:18)."
  43. ^ Blue Letter Bible. Strong's G2699
  44. ^ : JudaizersCatholic Encyclopedia
  45. ^ Greek Orthodox Archdiocese calendar of Holy Days
  46. ^ Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarchate of Moscow
  47. ^ For example, "The Calendar of the Church Year" in The (Online) Book of Common Prayer (Episcopal Church in the United States of America), retrieved 11 October 2006.
  48. ^ Whelan. Male dyspareunia due to short frenulum: an indication for adult circumcision. BMJ 1977; 24-31: 1633-4
  49. ^ F Grewel – The Frenum Praeputti and Defloration of the Human Male – Folia Psychiatrica, Neurologica et Neurochirurgica Neerlandica 61(2) p 123-126 1958
  50. ^ a b
  51. ^
  52. ^
  53. ^
  54. ^ : CircumcisionThe Catholic Encyclopedia
  55. ^ a b c d
  56. ^ Father John J. Dietzen. The Morality of Circumcision. The Tablet, Brooklyn, N.Y., 30 October 2004, p. 33.
  57. ^
  58. ^
  59. ^ Benedict XVI, General Audience, Wednesday, 31, January 2007.
  60. ^ Translated by Robert Ernest Wallis. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Epistle 58. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886. Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.
  61. ^ Book of Moroni 8:8 and Doctrine and Covenants Section 74
  62. ^ Book of Mormon Student Manual, (2009), 395–400 [7]
  63. ^
  64. ^
  65. ^
  66. ^ a b
  67. ^ a b c
  68. ^ Ajuwon et al., "Indigenous surgical practices in rural southwestern Nigeria: Implications for disease," Health Educ. Res..1995; 10: 379-384 Health Educ. Res..1995; 10: 379-384. Retrieved 3 October 2006
  69. ^
  70. ^
  71. ^
  72. ^
  73. ^
  74. ^
  75. ^
  76. ^
  77. ^
  78. ^
  79. ^
  80. ^
  81. ^
  82. ^
  83. ^
  84. ^
  85. ^

Works cited:

  • Glick, Leonard B. Marked in Your Flesh: Circumcision from Ancient Judea to Modern America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. (ISBN 0-19-517674-X)

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain:  The rabbinic literature and Converts to Judaism are sections are an evolution of the corresponding article which gives the following Bibliography:

Pocock, Specimen Historiœ Arabum, pp. 319 et seq.;
Millo, Histoire du Mahométisme, p. 350;
Hoffmann, Beschneidung, in Ersch and Gruber, Encyc.;
Steinschneider, Die Beschneidung der Araber und Muhammedaner, in Glassberg, Die Beschneidung;
Jolly, Etude Critique du Manuel Opératoire des Musulmans et des Israélites, Paris, 1899.

External links

  • Jewish Encyclopedia: Circumcision
  • Catholic Encyclopedia: Circumcision
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