The Jewish ritual of circumcision and how and why it unsettles the Gentile world

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By the brilliant Rabbi Berel Wein

Parsha TAZRIA,  Torah portion of the week

From: Leviticus (Vayikra), the Third Book of Moses, The Hebrew Bible

The ritual of circumcision has been one of the basic institutions of Jewish life since the beginnings of our familial and national existence. It is this covenant of our father Avraham which has always been a testament to the eternity of the Jewish people, to its heritage and identity.
As in the case of Avraham circumcising his son Yitzchak on the eighth day after the infant’s birth, the Torah emphasizes this matter in this week’s Torah reading. The eighth day always has significance in Jewish thought and life. It is a day of action and of looking forward, of the future and not merely of the nostalgic past. The ritual of circumcision consecrates the boy to a life of service and holy purpose.

It channels the life giving force that lies within him to nobility and circumspection, in avoidance of wanton lust and dissolute behavior. It is the covenant that is inscribed in our very flesh that constantly marks our identities as Jews and signals our loyalty to our faith and tradition. That is why the ceremony of circumcision is always a joyous one marked with a festive meal and a gathering of friends and family.

The prophet said twice: “In your blood shall you live.” One of these instances refers to the blood of the infant at the moment of his circumcision. It is the blood of life and hope, of purpose and of uniqueness.

Throughout the ages, the Jewish ritual of circumcision has been under attack. The Greeks thought it to be a mutilation of the human body, which to them was their temple of worship. The Romans banned it because to them it was a symbol of the Jewish nationalism that they endeavored so mightily to crush and extinguish forever.

Much of the Christian world, in separating itself from its Jewish roots, objected to and ridiculed the practice of circumcision. They could not refute its biblical origin but claimed that its time had passed, with the coming of this “new” faith completely replacing the “old” one. But the Jews steadfastly maintained their practice of circumcision for their infant boys and for those males who wished to convert to Judaism.

This characteristic Jewish stubbornness continually angered the Christian world with many a blood libel and pogrom caused by the insistence of Jews to circumcise their male children. In the modern era in the western world where Christianity waned and weakened, the attack on Jewish circumcision practices nevertheless continued though in a different form.

Now these attacks took on a “humanitarian” coloration, supposedly protecting the helpless infant from the pain and discomfort of circumcision. The banning of circumcision by legislative action became the favorite tactic of those who wanted to rid their societies of Jews and Judaism.

And this struggle against the covenant and people of Avraham continues today throughout parts of Europe. Some of this is still a legacy of the communist ideology of the Soviet Union that banned circumcision in its “workers’ paradise” for many decades until its own collapse. But behind all attempts to discredit and attack circumcision lies the unreasoning hatred of the Jewish people. It is an age-old battle.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Berel Wein

Berel Wein (born March 25, 1934) is an American-born Orthodox rabbi, lecturer and writer. Rabbi Wein and his wife moved to Israel in 1997. They settled in the Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem. He has authored several books concerning Jewish history and popularized the subject through more than 1,000 audio tapes, newspaper articles and international lectures. Throughout his career, he has retained personal and ideological ties to both Modern Orthodox and Haredi Judaism. His numerous works and blog are readily available on the Internet.

PS  Coincidentally, I just received notice that a few days ago,  six immigrants to Israel were awarded the Nefesh B’Nefesh Bonei Zion Prize and one of them  was Rabbi Berel Wein, founder and director, The Destiny Foundation.

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