Religious male circumcision
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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, Islam, Coptic Orthodox Church, Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Eritrean Orthodox Church.
Many countries with majorities of Christian adherents have low circumcision rates (as in Europe and South America), while both religious and non-religious circumcision is common in some predominantly Christian countries such as the United States, and the Philippines, Canada, and in North and West Africa and it is common in countries such as Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Kenya, Male circumcision is also widely practiced among Christians from South Korea, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, and North Africa. Circumcision rates in Oceania were high but are now relatively low.
While the Catholic Church has condemned religious circumcision for its members, and currently maintains a neutral position on the practice of non-religious circumcision, Coptic Christianity and Ethiopian Orthodoxy and Eritrean Orthodoxy still observe male circumcision and practice circumcision as a rite of passage. Hodges affirms that in Classical civilization the foreskin was positively valued both from Ancient Greeks and Romans, and that Greek and Roman attempts to abolish ritual circumcision were prompted by humanitarian concerns.
Male circumcision practiced 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 practiced by Jews, Muslims, and some 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; although the aposthia of Shem is not specifically mentioned in the Genesis text.
- 1 Abrahamic religions
- 2 Africa
- 3 Ancient Egypt
- 4 Asia
- 5 Pacific cultures
- 6 Criticism and opposition to circumcision
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
According to Halakha (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. Jews do not believe that non-Jews are obligated to follow this commandment; only the Seven Laws of Noah apply to non-Jews.
In the Hebrew Bible
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There are numerous references to circumcision in the Hebrew 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 (Hebrew: "cutting off") 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 further: "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). "The Philistines, more than any other nation, are regularly called uncircumised" in the Hebrew Bible.
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"). 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 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; this may be due to a concern about haemophilia.
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 CE). 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. Jewish circumcision includes the removal of the inner preputial epithelium, in a procedure that is called priah(Hebrew: פריעה), which means: 'uncovering'. This epithelium is also removed on modern medical circumcisions, to prevent post operative penile adhesion and its complications. According to rabbinic interpretation of the traditional Jewish sources, the periah has been performed, as part of Jewish circumcision, since the Israelites first inhabited the Land of Israel, and without it the mitzvah isn't performed at all. However, the editors of the Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion, note that periah was probably added by the rabbis, in order to "prevent the possibility of obliterating the traces of circumcision". 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. 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. The rite is considered of such importance that in Orthodox communities, the body of an uncircumcised Jewish male will sometimes be circumcised before burial. Although 19th century Reform leaders described it as "barbaric", the practice of circumcision "remained a central rite" and the Union for Reform Judaism has, since 1984, trained and certified over 300 practicing mohels under its "Berit Mila Program". Humanistic Judaism argues that "circumcision is not required for Jewish identity."
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). 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.' 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. 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 CE, 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.
Flavius Josephus in Jewish Antiquities book 20, chapter 2 recorded the story of King Izates of Adiabene who decided to follow the Law of Moses at the advice of a Jewish merchant named Ananias. He was going to get circumcised, but his mother, Helen, who herself embraced the Jewish customs, advised against it on the grounds that the subjects would not stand to be ruled by someone who followed such "strange and foreign rites". Ananias likewise advised against it, on the grounds that worship of God was superior to circumcision (Robert Eisenman in James the Brother of Jesus claims that Ananias is Paul the Apostle who held similar views) and that God would forgive him for fear of his subjects. So Izates decided against it. However, later, "a certain other Jew that came out of Galilee, whose name was Eleazar", who was well versed in the Law, convinced him that he should, on the grounds that it was one thing to read the Law and another thing to practice it, and so he did. Once Helen and Ananias found out, they were struck by great fear of the possible consequences, but as Josephus put it, God looked after Izates. As his reign was peaceful and blessed, Helen visited the Jerusalem Temple to thank God, and since there was a terrible famine at the time, she brought lots of food and aid to the people of Jerusalem.
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, although not their servants, slaves, or converts. Even before that, in 95 CE, 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 God-fearers, who were gentiles who shared religious ideas with Jews, to one degree or another, but refused 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 the Apostle Paul 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.
Subject to overriding medical considerations, the circumcision must take place eight days after the birth of the child, even when this falls on Shabbat. 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.
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. 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. 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, Deborah Cohen became the first certified Reform mohelet; she was certified by the Berit Mila program of Reform Judaism.
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. Even so, the punishment for not being circumcised in rabbinic 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).
The Intertestamental period
The deuterocanonical books and 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. 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, 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.
Although 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 Ethiopian Orthodoxbiblical canon, 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".
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 
The Jewish Encyclopedia in the article "Gentiles", section "Gentiles May Not Be Taught the Torah", states:
R. Emden, in a remarkable apology for Christianity contained in his appendix to 'Seder 'Olam' (pp. 32b–34b, Hamburg, 1752), gives it as his opinion that the original intention of Jesus, and especially of Paul, was to convert only the Gentiles to the seven moral laws of Noah and to let the Jews follow the Mosaic law—which explains the apparent contradictions in the New Testament regarding the [laws of Moses and the Sabbath.
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), which 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. Some Christian churches in South Africa oppose circumcision, viewing it as a pagan ritual, while others, including the Nomiya church in Kenya, require circumcision for membership.
Among primarily Christian countries, both religious and non religious circumcision is common in countries such as the United States, the Philippines, Australia, and Canada, Circumcision is near universal among Christian countries of Oceania and in North and West Africa and it is common in countries such as Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Kenya, and is also widely practiced among Christians from South Korea, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, and North Africa. However, circumcision is rare for Christians in the countries of Europe, East Asia, parts of Africa, as well as in India and until recently in Southern Africa. Christians in the East and West Indies (excluding the Philippines) do not practice it either.
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 (see also list of events in early Christianity). The rite of circumcision was especially execrable in Classical civilization because it was the custom to spend an hour a day or so exercising nude in the gymnasium and in Roman baths, therefore Jewish men did not want to be seen in public deprived of their foreskins. Hellenistic and Roman culture both found circumcision to be cruel and repulsive.
The Apostle Paul, 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). He also appeared to praise its value in Rom 3:1–2, hence the topic of Paul the Apostle 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. 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.The Pauline epistles fiercely criticized the Judaizers that demanded circumcision for gentile converts, and opposed them; he stressed instead that faith in Christ constituted a "New Covenant" with God, a covenant which essentially provides a "free gift" of salvation from the harsh edicts of the Mosaic Law for Gentiles that didn't require circumcision.
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.)."
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), although 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)  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 the 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.
The Greek Orthodox Church celebrates the Circumcision of Christ on 1 January, while Orthodox churches following the Julian calendar celebrate it on 14 January. All Orthodox churches consider it a "Great Feast". In much of Western Christianity, the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ has been replaced by other commemorations, such as the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God in the Roman Catholic Church.
There are strands of study and research (see P Whelan, F Grewel  and E Douglas) 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), 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. The psychological effects of these conditions, while little understood, are real, and are visible in literature and art.
Historically, the Catholic Church denounced religious circumcision for its members in the Cantate Domino, written during the 11th Council of Florence in 1442. This decision was based on the belief that baptism had superseded circumcision (Col 2:11-12), and may also have been a response to Coptic Christians, who continued to practice circumcision. However, the Church currently maintains a neutral position on the practice of cultural circumcision, as the church has a policy of inculturation.
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. 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. 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. 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), have also been interpreted to support and reject 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.
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.[clarification needed (what is "circumcision of the spirit?")]
The Latter Day Saint movement
The origin of circumcision in Islam is a matter of religious and scholarly debate. It is mentioned in some hadith, but not in the Quran. Some fiqh scholars state that circumcision is recommended (sunnah), others that it is obligatory. Some have quoted the hadith to argue that the requirement of circumcision is based on the covenant with Abraham.
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 Muslim-majority countries, circumcision is performed on Muslim boys after they have learned to recite the whole Quran from start to finish. 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. The procedure is sometimes semi-public, accompanied with music, special foods, and much festivity.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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". 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. 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).
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."
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. 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.
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.
Circumcision in South Korea is largely the result of American cultural and military influence following the Korean War.
The origin of circumcision (tuli) in the Philippines is uncertain. One newspaper article speculates that it is due to the influence of Western colonisation, however, Antonio de Morga's 17th-century History of the Philippine Islands documents its existence in pre-Colonial Philippines, owing it to Islamic influence.
Circumcision is part of initiation rites in some Pacific Islander, and Australian aboriginal traditions in areas such as Arnhem Land, where the practice was introduced by Makassan traders from Sulawesi in the Indonesian Archipelago. Circumcision ceremonies among certain Australian aboriginal societies are noted for their painful nature, including subincision for some aboriginal peoples in the Western Desert.
In the Pacific, ritual circumcision is nearly universal in the Melanesian islands of Fiji and Vanuatu; 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.
Criticism and opposition to circumcision
Opposition within Judaism
During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries many Jewish reformers, doctors, and physicians in Central and Eastern Europe proposed to replace circumcision with a symbolic ceremony, while others sought to ban or abolish circumcision entirely, as it was perceived as a dangerous, barbaric and pagan ritual of genital mutilation that could transmit infectious diseases to newborns. The first formal objection to circumcision within Judaism occurred in 1843 in Frankfurt. The Society for the Friends of Reform, a group that criticized traditional Jewish practices, said that brit milah was not a mitzvah but an outworn legacy from Israel's earlier phases, an obsolete throwback to primitive religion. With the expanding role of medicine came further opposition; certain aspects of Jewish circumcision such as periah and metzitzah (drawing the blood from the circumcision wound through sucking or a cloth) were deemed unhygienic and dangerous for the newborns. Later evidence that syphilis and tuberculosis – two of the most feared infectious diseases in the 19th century – were spread by mohels, caused various rabbis to advocate metzitzah to be done using a sponge or a tube. Among the secular, non-observant Jews that chose to not circumcise their sons and keep them intact there was also Theodor Herzl.
A growing number of contemporary Jews and Intactivist Jewish groups in the United States, United Kingdom, and Israel, both secular and religious, started to question overall long-term effects, psychological and psychophysical consequences of trauma caused by circumcision on Jewish children, and choose not to circumcise their sons. They are assisted by a small number of Reform, Liberal, 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.
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 and circumcision of converts is not mandatory in either movement.
Anti-circumcision movement (Intactivism)
An early British opponent of circumcision was Herbert Snow, who wrote a short book called The barbarity of circumcision as a remedy for congenital abnormality in 1890. But as late as 1936, L. E. Holt, an author of pediatric textbooks, advocated male and female circumcision as a treatment for masturbation.
The first serious questioning of the practice did not occur until late 1949, when the paediatrician Douglas Gairdner, D. M., published The Fate of the Foreskin in the British Medical Journal; according to Wallerstein, this began to seriously affect the practice of circumcision in Great Britain. According to Darby and Cox, the persistence of circumcision in the US has led to more vigorous protest movements. A 1980 protest march at the California State Capitol was reported in an Associated Press article. The National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers (NOCIRC), was formed by Marilyn Milos, R.N., in 1985. The organization's stated objective is to secure the birthright of male, female, and intersex children and babies to keep their sex organs intact. Protest rallies have been held in the US and other areas. NOCIRC have consistently criticised the American medical community's circumcision guidelines. According to Milos and Donna Macris, "The need to defend the baby's right to a peaceful beginning was brought to light by Dr. Frederick Leboyer in his landmark work, Birth Without Violence".
This period also saw the formation of anti-circumcision organizations in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and South Africa. Activists began creating websites in the mid-1990s, and this process has continued to this day. Doctors Opposing Circumcision asserts that genital integrity produces the highest state of health and well-being. Many anti-circumcision groups have joined the International Coalition for Genital Integrity and endorsed its declaration, which was adopted by the First International Symposium on Circumcision, on March 3, 1989, at Anaheim, California (there have been nine such further symposia held since, with the proceedings of several subsequently published in book form). Intact America, founded in 2008, and other organizations such as Genital Autonomy America, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Civil Liberties Union, and Centers for Disease Control strive to raise public awareness on the biological and sexual functions of the foreskin, alter policy and change attitudes toward male infant circumcision in the United States.
The anti-circumcision movement, whose members sometimes call themselves intactivists (a portmanteau of "intact" and "activist"), strives to prohibit involuntary and forced circumcision internationally. Various organisations have been set up specifically for the purpose, other organisations have stated their support for the movement. Intactivists consider themselves to be an LGBT social movement, and have participated in LGBT pride parades ever since 2006.
- Brit milah
- Christian views on the Old Covenant
- Ethics of circumcision
- History of male circumcision
- Khitan (circumcision)
- Prevalence of circumcision
- Adams, Gregory; Adams, Kristina (2012). "Circumcision in the Early Christian Church: The Controversy That Shaped a Continent". In Bolnick, David A.; Koyle, Martin; Yosha, Assaf (eds.). Surgical Guide to Circumcision. London: Springer. pp. 291–298. doi:10.1007/978-1-4471-2858-8_26. ISBN 978-1-4471-2857-1. Retrieved April 6, 2014. (Subscription required (help)). Cite uses deprecated parameter
- Ray, Mary G. "82% of the World's Men are Intact", Mothers Against Circumcision, 1997.
- "Male circumcision: Global trends and determinants of prevalence, safety and acceptability" (PDF). World Health Organization. 2007.
- Slosar, J.P.; D. O'Brien (2003). "The Ethics of Neonatal Male Circumcision: A Catholic Perspective". American Journal of Bioethics. 3 (2): 62–64. doi:10.1162/152651603766436306. PMID 12859824.
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- Hodges, Frederick, M. (2001). "The Ideal Prepuce in Ancient Greece and Rome: Male Genital Aesthetics and Their Relation to Lipodermos, Circumcision, Foreskin Restoration, and the Kynodesme" (PDF). Bulletin of the History of Medicine. 75 (Fall 2001): 375–405. doi:10.1353/bhm.2001.0119. PMID 11568485. Retrieved 2018-10-11.
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- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Singer, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Morbidity". The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.
- Gollaher D (February 2001). "1, The Jewish Tradition". Circumcision: A History Of The World's Most Controversial Surgery. Basic Books. pp. 1–30. ISBN 978-0-465-02653-1.
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- 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.
- Gracely-Kilgor, Katharine A. (May 1984). "Further Fate of the Foreskin". 5 (2). Nurse Practitioner: 4–22. Retrieved 16 October 2018.
- 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.
- Mishnah, Tractate Shabbos, 19:6, and The Jerusalem Talmud there.
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The custom is to circumcise male infants who have not undergone circumcision until then, usually during taharah.
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- Talmud Avodah Zarah 27a; Menachot 42a; Maimonides' Mishneh Torah, Milah, ii. 1; Shulkhan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah, 264:1
- Berit Mila Program of Reform Judaism Retrieved 2 February 2015
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- 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 still practiced by Coptic Christians." "circumcision" Archived 2007-08-08 at the Wayback Machine, The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2001-05.
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Circumcision is not usually performed by public sector health care providers in Mexico and we estimate the prevalence to be 10% to 31%, depending on the population.
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- Acts 15:1-2, Acts 15:6-10, Gal 5:2-3, Gal 5:6-12, Gal 6:12-15, Phil 3:2-3, 1 Cor 7:17-21, Rom 2:17-29, Rom 3:9-28, Rom 5:1-11.
- 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."
- Jewish Encyclopedia: Circumcision: In Apocryphal and Rabbinical Literature: "Contact with Grecian life, especially at the games of the arena [which involved nudity], made this distinction obnoxious to the Hellenists, or antinationalists; and the consequence was their attempt to appear like the Greeks by epispasm ("making themselves foreskins"; I Macc. i. 15; Josephus, "Ant." xii. 5, § 1; Assumptio Mosis, viii.; I Cor. vii. 18; Tosef., Shab. xv. 9; Yeb. 72a, b; Yer. Peah i. 16b; Yeb. viii. 9a). All the more did the law-observing Jews defy the edict of Antiochus Epiphanes prohibiting circumcision (I Macc. i. 48, 60; ii. 46); and the Jewish women showed their loyalty to the Law, even at the risk of their lives, by themselves circumcising their sons."; Hodges, Frederick, M. (2001). "The Ideal Prepuce in Ancient Greece and Rome: Male Genital Aesthetics and Their Relation to Lipodermos, Circumcision, Foreskin Restoration, and the Kynodesme" (PDF). The Bulletin of the History of Medicine. 75 (Fall 2001): 375–405. doi:10.1353/bhm.2001.0119. PMID 11568485. Retrieved 2018-02-06.
- 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.'"
- "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; ; 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)."
- Catholic Encyclopedia: Judaizers
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[The Holy Roman Church] firmly believes, professes and teaches that the legal prescriptions of the Old Testament or the Mosaic law, which are divided into ceremonies, holy sacrifices and sacraments, because they were instituted to signify something in the future, although they were adequate for the divine cult of that age, once our Lord Jesus Christ who was signified by them had come, came to an end and the sacraments of the new Testament had their beginning. Whoever, after the Passion, places his hope in the legal prescriptions and submits himself to them as necessary for salvation and as if faith in Christ without them could not save, sins mortally. It does not deny that from Christ's passion until the promulgation of the Gospel they could have been retained, provided they were in no way believed to be necessary for salvation. But it asserts that after the promulgation of the gospel they cannot be observed without loss of eternal salvation. Therefore it denounces all who after that time observe circumcision, the [Jewish] sabbath and other legal prescriptions as strangers to the faith of Christ and unable to share in eternal salvation, unless they recoil at some time from these errors. Therefore it strictly orders all who glory in the name of Christian, not to practise circumcision either before or after baptism, since whether or not they place their hope in it, it cannot possibly be observed without loss of eternal salvation.
- The Catholic Encyclopedia: Circumcision
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Directive 29 All persons served by Catholic health care have the right and duty to protect and preserve their bodily and functional integrity. The functional integrity of the person may be sacrificed to maintain the health or life of the person when no other morally permissible means is available. Directive 33 The well-being of the whole person must be taken into account in deciding about any therapeutic intervention or use of technology. Therapeutic procedures that are likely to cause harm or undesirable side-effects can be justified only by a proportionate benefit to the patient.
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- 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!”
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These Borneans are Mahometans, and were already introducing their religion among the natives of Luzon, and were giving them instructions, ceremonies, and the form of observing their religion.…and those the chiefest men, were commencing, although by piecemeal, to become Moros, and were being circumcised and taking the names of Moros.
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“ In the first half of the nineteenth century, various European governments considered regulating, if not banning, berit milah on the grounds that it posed potential medical dangers. In the 1840s, radical Jewish reformers in Frankfurt asserted that circumcision should no longer be compulsory. This controversy reached Russia in the 1880s. Russian Jewish physicians expressed concern over two central issues: the competence of those carrying out the procedure and the method used for metsitsah. Many Jewish physicians supported the idea of procedural and hygienic reforms in the practice, and they debated the question of physician supervision during the ceremony. Most significantly, many advocated carrying out metsitsah by pipette, not by mouth. In 1889, a committee on circumcision convened by the Russian Society for the Protection of Health, which included leading Jewish figures, recommended educating the Jewish public about the concerns connected with circumcision, in particular, the possible transmission of diseases such as tuberculosis and syphilis through the custom of metsitsah by mouth.
Veniamin Portugalov, who—alone among Russian Jewish physicians—called for the abolition of circumcision, set off these discussions. Portugalov not only denied all medical claims regarding the sanitary advantages of circumcision but disparaged the practice as barbaric, likening it to pagan ritual mutilation. Ritual circumcision, he claimed, stood as a self-imposed obstacle to the Jews’ attainment of true equality with the other peoples of Europe.
” — Epstein, Lisa, "Circumcision", The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, Yale University Press.
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Snow's book may be viewed here.
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- Associated Press in San Francisco Examiner with UPI Photograph (29 September 1980). "Protest Against Circumcision". San Francisco Examiner. p. B4.
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- McAteer, Oliver (2 August 2017). "Why America must stop circumcising baby boys and start viewing it as mutilation". Metro News. London. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
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This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Singer, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "article name needed". The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. 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.