Return to Table of Contents

Rabbis: "Learned Scholars" or Circumcision Fanatics?


Historical scholars have long known that circumcision came not from God, but was an invention of priests. Many Jews either do not know this, or choose to ignore the evidence rather than give up their compulsion to mutilate infant genitals. Even worse, over the years, some rabbis (learned scholars?) have gone to hysterical and absurd lengths to promote the continuation of this barabaric and harmful procedure.

Marked in Your Flesh -- Circumcision from Ancient Judea to Modern America
Leonard B. Glick
Oxford University Press 2005

"The Mishnah was completed shortly after 200 CE. But the rabbis were only beginning. They continued with the original written texts, and over the next several centuries they created an even more extensive and elaborate document, the Talmud (from the word for learn). The Talmud did not supersede the Mishnah; it incorporated the Mishnah intact and greatly enlarged on it, with explanations attached as additional commentary. Talmudic commentary is even more elaborate and imaginative than that of the Mishnah. Although the Talmud certainly includes a fair share of legalistic discourse, it is rich with creative additions of every kind: retold or reworked myths and legends, narratives, anecdotes, fanciful word-play, surprising digressions, all in the service of ever-deeper understanding of fundamantal texts.

Another rabbi joins the discussion: When Moses neglected the duty of circumcision, Af and Chemah "swallowed him up," leaving only his legs exposed. Both "Af and Chemah" mean "anger" or "rage." These personifications of divine emotion he says, swallowed Moses down to the legs - that is, as far as the groin, to show Zipporah that this area in the child's body demanded immediate attention. Then a commentator returns to the "Great is circumcision" theme with one new gloss and repetition of two that we've heard before: the familiar reference to becoming "perfect" and the observation that circumcision is so "great" that without it Creation itself would have been pointless. "Great is circumcision," he adds, for despite Abraham's devotion to his religious duties, he became "perfect" only after his cirumcision. Moreover, comments another, circumcision is so great that it outweighs in importance all other Torah precepts. Another proposes that were it not for circumcision, neither heaven nor earth would endure (a varient on the theme of God's reluctance to create a world in which penisies remained intact).

The Talmud follows the Mishnah fairly closely here, adding still more words of praise for circumcision, offering yet another warning, men ignore it at their peril. We may wonder why this commentary repeats almost verbatim so much of what is already found in the Mishnah text. I think this was a way of emphasizing its importance. The rabbis seem to say that we can never be reminded too often of the greatness of circumcision.

Chapter two: "great is circumcision" relates other aburdities of these "learned scholars."

"Marked in your Flesh" is well worth a read.


Information quoted on this site is with the written permission of the authors.

Return to Table of Contents