The truth is, there is no "logical" argument for such an elective procedure. Yet circumcision has been practiced on Jewish males for close to 4,000 years, ever since Abraham was so commanded by God. Why?
Let's tackle the issues:
It is a foundation of Judaism that we are to control our animal desires...
Best answer: The truth is, there is no "logical" argument for such an elective procedure. Yet circumcision has been practiced on Jewish males for close to 4,000 years, ever since Abraham was so commanded by God. Why?
Let's tackle the issues:
It is a foundation of Judaism that we are to control our animal desires and direct them into spiritual pursuits. That's why the Bris is done on the organ where many people unfortunately express "barbaric" behavior. If we bring holiness into our life there, then all other areas will follow.
Another aspect of circumcision is that it is integral to Jewish identity. This point was made quite powerfully in a movie called "Europa Europa," the true story of a young Jewish boy trying to escape detection by the Nazis. The boy looks Aryan and speaks German fluently, so he poses as a non-Jew and is eventually recruited into an elite training program for the next generation of SS officers.
This boy was on his way to a fully non-Jewish life, except for one thing: His circumcision. He couldn't hide it. And that is what kept him Jewish throughout the entire ordeal. The man survived the war, and made a new life for himself in Israel. Instead, he may have ended up becoming a Nazi officer. It all depended on the Bris.
It is a principle of Jewish life that we do not perform mitzvot based on the "practical benefit." At the same time, the mitzvot frequently have positive observable effects in our everyday life.
Regarding the medical issues, Rabbi Yonason Goldberger writes in "Sanctity and Science":
As an operation, circumcision has an extremely small complication rate. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine (1990) reported a complication rate of 0.19 percent when circumcision is performed by a physician. When performed by a trained mohel, the rate falls to 0.13 percent or about 1 in 1000. When a complication occurs, it is usually excessive bleeding, which is easily correctable. No other surgical procedure can boast such figures for complication-free operations.
One reason why there are so few complications involving bleeding may be that, according to recent studies, the major clotting agents, prothrombin and vitamin K, do not reach peak levels in the blood until the eighth day of life. Prothrombin levels are normal at birth, drop to very low levels in the next few days, and return to normal at the end of the first week. One study showed that by the eighth day prothrombin levels reach 110 percent of normal. In the words of Dr. Armand J. Quick, author of several works on the control of bleeding, "It hardly seems accidental that the rite of circumcision was postponed until the eighth day by the Mosaic law."
Furthermore, circumcision has been known to offer virtually complete protection from penile cancer. According to a recent review article in the New England Journal of Medicine, none of the over 1,600 persons studied with this cancer had been circumcised in infancy. In the words of Cochen and McCurdy, the incidence of penile cancer in the U.S. is "essentially zero" among circumcised men.
Several studies reported that circumcised boys were 10-to-39 times less likely to develop urinary tract infections during infancy than uncircumcised boys. In addition, circumcision protects against bacterial, fungal and parasitic infections and a variety of other conditions related to hygiene. The extremely low rate of cervical cancer in Jewish women (9-to-22 times less than among non-Jewish women) is thought to be related to the practice of circumcision.
As a result of studies like these, a number of prestigious medical organizations have recognized the benefits of circumcision, and the California Medical Association has endorsed circumcision as an "effective public health measure."
The bottom line, however, is that Bris is the sign of the covenant, maintaining one’s spiritual attachment to the Jewish people.
We find its origin in the book of Genesis. Just 17 chapters into the Torah, Abraham receives a strange command from God:
You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin.
No reason given other than, as God says, it will be a sign of the Eternal covenant between God and Abraham and all of his descendants. The text makes it clear that circumcision must occur on the eighth day of life and falls to every Jewish male. No exception. Those who choose not to obey this commandment, continues God, will be cut off from the Jewish people for breaking this sacred agreement.
Abraham. The same Abraham who later accepts God’s command to take his son, Isaac, on a three day camping trip and sacrifice him. Without asking a single question. (Spoiler Alert: For those who have yet to read the story, Isaac lives.)
Nor does Abe ask any questions about circumcising himself and committing all future generations to the same act.
Not. A. Single. Question.
We, on the other hand, have plenty of questions. Starting with “why?”
The text does not explicitly provide a reason. Generations of Rabbinic sages have attempted to answer Abraham’s unasked questions. Because let’s face it—this was a rather unconventional demand. And the Rabbis were anticipating the inevitable questions future generations would have. They have done an admirable job infusing the act with spiritual depth so that the bris is far more than the act of the removal of a piece of skin.
What we do know is that in Biblical times, ritual circumcision was a defining act for the young Israelite nation and continued to distinguish us from other peoples. From the Hellenistic period on, ruling powers attempted to outlaw circumcision, knowing that it was an essential expression of Jewish faith. Scores of Jewish parents in prior generations risked their, and their sons’, lives to fulfill the Covenant that Abraham made with God. Stories of men forced by the Nazis to pull down their pants in order to determine if they were Jewish still haunt us.
Contemporary debates about health and sanitary issues are not part of the conversation as far as traditional Judaism is concerned. because ultimately the bris is not done for any practical reason. Nor is it simply a medical procedure.
It is a sacred act that binds our sons to the thousands of generations who preceded them—and the generations to follow.
4 weeks ago