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"Jewish Circumcision" An Enigma in Historical Perspective
- Leonard B. Glick
"Understanding Circumcision," Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York, 2001
"Male infant circumcision as a Jewish ethnic marker began not with the mythical Abraham but as a rite introduced by priests around 500 BCE when they created the circumcision story that became Chapter 17 of Genesis.
"It was these priests who created the foundational texts Of Judaism, the Torah (the first five books of the bible) and it's associated scriptures by combining a number of ancient texts with their own writing -- the latter labeled P (for priestly) by modern biblical scholars. The P section of the Torah is quite large; it includes all of Leviticus, and much of Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers.
"Circumcision appears in several biblical tales (less often, though, than one might expect), but for our immediate purposes one contribution from the authors of P is of central importance, because it is there that circumcision appears for the first time. And it is almost entirely on this text that all justifications for the practice rests -- chapter 17 of Genesis.1"
"The Reason orthodox Jews circumcise their infant sons is because God told Abraham to do it. The main reason given is because Jews are supposed to dedicate their lives to controlling their physical desires and to live spiritual lives. In order to do this, we ritually mark our bodies so we will not forget. The reason it is done on the penis is because, let's face it, that is the strongest physical influence on a male."
Also from Glick -- the "Mysticism of Circumcision" came much later..
"Acclaim for circumcision reached its zenith in the late thirteenth century Spain, when a group of Sephardic Jewish mystics created the 'Sefer ha-Zohar' (Book of Splenor), an anthology of texts describing ten emanations of God radiating from his innermost resources...
The foreskin represents the realm of "demonic powers" from which one must emerge to enter the sacred realm. Visionary experience therefore releases one from a lower realm - possible only when the phallus is no longer "encased in the demonic shell."
Glick goes on to suggest that these writings were written in response to the claim of Christians that their religion was one of the spirit, and that of the Jews, one of the flesh.
1Some secular Biblical scholars who analyze the Bible from a historical/literary POV have developed the "J/E/D/P" theory, which basically states that the Five Books of Moses are derived from 4 basic sources, nicknamed J, E, D and P (for Jahwist, Elohist, Deuteronimist and Priests). Passages are classified according to terminology, style, and the particular points of emphasis. Of course, secular historical analysis proceeds on the assumption that Divine intervention is not responsible for either the Biblical texts or for the events described in the Bible. As well, while there certainly are Jews among these scholars, it would not be accurate to state that this theory represents the "Jewish" POV.
To the Jewish faith, circumcision is a sacrifice to their God by MALES, albeit a sacrifice forced onto an unconsenting infant.
Some scholars believe that the sacrifice of circumcision was a substitute for the sacrifice of the entire infant which was practiced by their neighbors, the Phoenicians.
Jon D. Levinson, a professor of Jewish studies at Harvard, stated that there is "circumstantial evidence that the rite [of circumcision] may have once functioned as a substitution ritual for child sacrifice, averting the death of the son." (Levenson JD. The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: The transformation of Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity. New Haven:Yale University Press 1993. pp 48-52.)
In "Covenant of Blood: Circumcision and Gender in Rabbinic Judaism" (Lawrence A. Hoffman, 1996), Hoffman writes,
"In a private letter to Leopold Zunz, the nineteenth century scholar and advocate of the "Scientific Investigation of Judaism," the Reform leader Abraham Geiger commented on the rite of circumcision as follows:
"I cannot comprehend the necessity of working up a spirit of enthusiasm for the ceremony merely on the ground that it is held in general esteem. It remains a barbarous bloody act... The sacrificial idea, which invested the act with sanctity in former days, has no significance for us. However tenaciously religious sentiment may have clung to it formerly, at present, its only supports are habit and fear, to which we certainly do not wish to erect any shrines."
This above was written by a Jew over 100 years ago."
Information quoted on this site is with the written permission of the authors.
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