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, and some Christian denominations such as the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and the 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, and in North Africa and West Africa. It is common in countries such as Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Kenya. 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.
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 and Muslims, which are both Abrahamic religions. While the Roman Catholic Church has condemned religious circumcision for its members, and currently maintains a neutral position on the practice of non-religious circumcision, it is customary in Coptic Christianity, Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Eritrean Orthodox Church, which keep it as a rite of passage. In Classical civilization, the foreskin was positively valued both from Ancient Greeks and Romans; Greek and Roman attempts to abolish ritual circumcision were prompted mostly by humanitarian concerns.
According to the Torah and Halakha (Jewish religious law), ritual circumcision of all male Jews and their slaves (Genesis 17:10-13) is a commandment from God that Jews are obligated to perform on the eighth day of birth, and is only postponed or abrogated in the case of threat to the life or health of the child. Jews believe that Gentiles (i. e. non-Jews) are neither required nor obligated to follow this commandment, since it's considered binding exclusively for the Jewish people; according to the Jewish law, only the Seven Laws of Noah apply to non-Jews.
This section possibly contains original research. (November 2018)
There are numerous references to religious male 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; Leviticus 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 (Joshua 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 First Book of Samuel (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 Samuel 18:25).
"Uncircumcised" is used in conjunction with tame ("unpure") for heathen (Isaiah 52:1). The word arel ("uncircumcised") is also employed for "impermeable" (Leviticus 26:41, "their uncircumcised hearts"; compare Jeremiah 9:25; Ezekiel 44:7-9); it is also applied to the first three years' fruit of a tree, which is forbidden (Leviticus 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 Joshua 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 Hebrew 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 Hebrew Bible. In the Book of Deuteronomy (10:16) it's written: "Circumcise the foreskin of your heart," (also quoted in Jeremiah 4:4, New JPS Tanakh translates as: "Cut away, therefore, the thickening about your hearts") along with Jeremiah 6:10: To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? behold their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken: ... (the New JPS Tanakh translates: "Their ears are blocked"). Jeremiah 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 Tanakh 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)
The deuterocanonical books and biblical apocrypha reveal the cultural clash between Jews and Greeks, and between Judaizers and Hellenizers. Both Greeks and Romans valued the foreskin positively, and when they took part in athletic sports or trained in the gymnasium, they did it in the nude. They insisted that the glans had to remain covered, as they strongly disapproved of the custom of circumcision, which was regarded as a cruel and barbaric genital mutilation. The Books of the Maccabees reveal that many Jewish men chose to undergo epispasm, the ancient practice of 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 IV 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 Hellenized Jews 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).
The Book of Jubilees, part of the Ethiopian Orthodox biblical 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 
Paul's many references in his letters are to make this argument to Jewish and Gentile followers alike: Romans 2:29, Philippians 3:3, 1 Cor 7:19, Gal 6:15, and Col 2:11-12. Paul's point was to overturn many Jewish laws, not just circumcision, because what you ate, who you ate with and other technical observations of the law were no longer required in Christ's new kingdom on earth.
The Jewish Encyclopedia in the article "Gentiles", section "Gentiles May Not Be Taught the Torah", states:
R. Emden, 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.
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 text of Genesis. 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 Hellenistic 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 Antiochus IV Epiphanes 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 CE).
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?), 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 Jewish circumcision consists of three procedures, the first being the amputation 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 and oral suction by mouths of mohels.
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!"
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 much food and aid to the people of Jerusalem.
On the other hand, the emperor Hadrian (117-138 CE) forbade circumcision. His successor Antoninus Pius (138-161 CE) 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 and practices 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: , plural of 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 in Judaism, 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 kareth, "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).
While the circumcision of Jesus was recorded as having been performed in accordance with Torah requirements in Luke 2:21, circumcision was controversial during the period of early Christianity (before 325). The first Council of Jerusalem (c. 50) declared that circumcision was not necessary for new Gentile converts (a record of the council is found in Acts 15); covenant theology largely views the Christian sacrament of baptism as fulfilling the Israelite practice of circumcision, both being signs and seals of the covenant of grace.
In Western Christianity, the Catholic Church at the Council of Florence condemned the practice of circumcision for Christians, with Catholic Christian moralists preaching against the practice; the Lutheran Churches have historically taught that Christians should not be circumcised.
Circumcision is considered a customary practice, however, among Oriental Christian denominations such as the Coptic, Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Churches, as well as 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.
The United States is an outlier with regards to other predominately Christian Western nations. As of 2007, fifty-five percent of newborn males were circumcised, a significant decline from years past. Countries like Australia and Canada have much lower rates of circumcision, and the United Kingdom is considering an outright ban. 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. 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.
According to the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 15, the Jewish Christian leaders of the early 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.
Paul the Apostle, 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 Romans 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 those Judaizers who advocated circumcision of turning from the Spirit to the flesh. In the Epistle to the Galatians, Paul warned Gentile Christians that the advocates of circumcision were "false brothers" (Gal 2:4), and wrote: "Are you so foolish, that, whereas you began in the Spirit, you would now be made perfect by the flesh?" (Gal 3:3); he also wrote: "Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you" (Gal 5:2). He accused circumcision advocates of wanting to make a good showing in the flesh (Gal 6:12-13), and of glorying or boasting of the flesh (Gal 6:12-14). Paul in his letters 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 the justification and salvation for Gentiles from the harsh edicts of the Mosaic Law, a New Covenant that didn't require circumcision (see also Justification by faith, Pauline passages supporting antinomianism, Abrogation of Old Covenant laws).
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.
The Lutheran Church and the Greek Orthodox Church celebrate 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 or the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus in the Lutheran Churches. There are, however, notable exceptions, such as among most Traditionalist Catholics, who reject Novus Ordo and other changes following Vatican II to varying degrees, thereby maintaining the feast as a Holy day of obligation.
Historically, the Roman Catholic Church denounced religious circumcision for its members in the Cantate Domino, written during the 11th Council of Florence in 1442, warning of loss of salvation for converts who observe it. 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.
Pope Pius XII taught that circumcision was morally permissible for the prevention of a disease that cannot be countered with any other way, but should otherwise be avoided entirely. On one instance, he stated:
"Furthermore, Christian doctrine establishes, and the light of human reason makes it most clear, that private individuals have no other power over the members of their own bodies than that which pertains to their natural ends: and they are not free to destroy or mutilate their members, or in any other way render themselves unfit for their natural functions, except when no other provision can be made for the good of the whole body.
The Church currently maintains a neutral position on the practice of cultural circumcision, as the church has a policy of inculturation, though Catholic scholars, including John J. Dietzen, David Lang, and Edwin F. Healy, teach that "elective male infant circumcision not only violates the proper application of the time-honored principle of totality, but even fits the ethical definition of mutilation, which is gravely sinful."
Catholic moralists such as Fr. John J. Dietzen, a 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 origin of circumcision in Islam is a matter of religious and scholarly debate. It is mentioned in some hadith and the sunnah, but it's not found anywhere in the Quran. In the time of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, both male and female circumcision were carried out by Pagan Arabian tribes, and male circumcision by the Jewish tribes of Arabia for religious reasons. This has also been attested by the Muslim scholar al-Jahiz, as well as by the Roman Jewish historian Flavius Josephus.
The four schools of Islamic jurisprudence have different opinions and attitudes towards circumcision: some state that it's recommendable, others that it's permissible but not binding, while others regard it as a legal obligation. According to Shafi'i and Hanbali jurists both male and female circumcision are legally obligatory for Muslims, while Hanafi jurists consider circumcision to be recommendable exclusively for Muslim males on the seventh day after birth. The Salafi website IslamQA.info, founded by the Saudi Arabian Salafi scholar Muhammad Al-Munajjid, has quoted some hadith to argue that the requirement of circumcision in Islam is based on the covenant with Abraham, that male circumcision is obligatory for Muslim men in order to provide ritual cleanliness while the purpose of female circumcision for Muslim women is to "regulate" and reduce their sexual desires.
Whereas Jewish circumcision is closely bound by ritual timing and tradition, in Islam there is no fixed age for circumcision. Therefore, there is a wide variation in practice among Muslim communities, with children often being circumcised in late childhood or early adolescence. It depends on family, region, and country. 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 health facilities or hospitals, and performed by trained medical practitioners. The circumciser can be either male or female, and is not required to be a Muslim.
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 and 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.
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.
Sikh infants are not circumcised. Sikhism does not require circumcision of either males or females, and criticizes the practice. For example, Bhagat Kabir criticizes the practise of circumcision in the following hymn of Guru Granth Sahib.
Because of the love of woman, circumcision is done; I don't believe in it, O Siblings of Destiny. If God wished me to be a Muslim, it would be cut off by itself. If circumcision makes one a Muslim, then what about a woman? She is the other half of a man's body, and she does not leave him, so he remains a Hindu. Give up your holy books, and remember the Lord, you fool, and stop oppressing others so badly. Kabeer has grasped hold of the Lord's Support, and the Muslims have utterly failed.-- Bhagat Kabir, Guru Granth Sahib 477
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.
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.
Some contemporary Jews and anti-circumcision Jewish groups in the United States, United Kingdom, and Israel, both secular and religious, state that there are long-term negative effects, including 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.
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 both circumcision and female genital mutilation as a treatment for masturbation.
The first serious questioning of the practice did not occur until late 1949, when the Scottish neonatologist and pediatrician Douglas Gairdner published The Fate of the Foreskin in the British Medical Journal; according to Wallerstein, this began to significantly 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, sometimes called intactivists (a blend of "intact" and "activist") or genital integrity activists, is committed to defend the rights of male, female, and intersex children and babies to keep their genitals intact, to raise awareness about the forced genital mutilations, and to prohibit them and involuntary or forced circumcision on children internationally. Various organisations have been set up specifically for the purpose, other organisations have stated their support for the movement. Some intactivists consider themselves to be an LGBT social movement, and have participated in LGBT pride parades ever since 2006. In North America, the genital integrity movement primarily focuses on non-therapeutic circumcision of male infants and children and to a lesser but still prevalent extent, intersex surgery. Intactivists also promote bodily integrity and tend to have little or no issue with consenting and informed adults undergoing surgery, since their main concern is to secure children from genital mutilations.
Circumcised barbarians, along with any others who revealed the glans penis, were the butt of ribald humor. For Greek art portrays the foreskin, often drawn in meticulous detail, as an emblem of male beauty; and children with congenitally short foreskins were sometimes subjected to a treatment, known as epispasm, that was aimed at elongation.
The Seven Laws. Laws which were supposed by the Rabbis to have been binding upon mankind at large even before the revelation at Sinai, and which are still binding upon non-Jews. The term Noachian indicates the universality of these ordinances, since the whole human race was supposed to be descended from the three sons of Noah, who alone survived the Flood. [...] Thus, the Talmud frequently speaks of "the seven laws of the sons of Noah," which were regarded as obligatory upon all mankind, in contradistinction to those that were binding upon Israelites only (Tosef., 'Ab. Zarah, ix. 4; Sanh. 56a et seq.).
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.
The custom is to circumcise male infants who have not undergone circumcision until then, usually during taharah.
Proselytes ad God-fearers.-Many scholars see a parallel between the "God-fearers" in rabbinic literature and the "God-fearers" in the NT. In rabbinic literature the ger toshab was a Gentile who observed the Noachian commandments but was not considered a convert to Judaism because he did not agree to circumcision. [...] some scholars have made the mistake of calling the ger toshab a "proselyte" or "semiproselyte." But the ger toshab was really a resident alien in Israel. Some scholars have claimed that the term "those who fear God" (yir?ei Elohim/Shamayim) was used in rabbinic literature to denote Gentiles who were on the fringe of the synagogue. They were not converts to Judaism, although they were attracted to the Jewish religion and observed part of the law.
Unlike Christian baptism, circumcision, however important it may be, is not a sacrament which gives the Jew his religious character as a Jew. An uncircumcised Jew is a full Jew by birth (?ul. 4b; 'Ab. Zarah 27a; Shul?an 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 264, 1). [...] In 1847 Einhorn, as chief rabbi of Mecklenburg, became involved in a controversy with Franz Delitzsch of Rostock, who denounced him for acting contrary to Jewish law in naming and consecrating an uncircumcised child in the synagogue. Einhorn, in an "opinion" published a second time in his "Sinai", 1857, pp. 736 et seq., declared, with references to ancient and modern rabbinical authorities, that a child of Jewish parents was a Jew even if uncircumcised, and retained all the privileges, as well as all the obligations, of a Jew. This view he also expressed in his catechism, his prayer-book, and his sermons, emphasizing the spiritual character of the Abrahamic covenant--"the seal of Abraham placed upon the spirit of Israel as God's covenant people."
[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.
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.
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.
In exchange for turtles and trepang the Makassans introduced tobacco, the practice of circumcision and knowledge to build sea-going canoes.
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.
Snow's book may be viewed here.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Singer, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901-1906). The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. Missing or empty
The rabbinic literature and Converts to Judaism are sections are an evolution of the corresponding article which gives the following