Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


Brith Abraham


   “Unemaltem ate besar arlatchem v’haya leote berith banee u’veneychem.” (Beraysheet 17:11). “And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin and it shall be a sign of a covenant between Me and you.” So says the Torah. And there is more. Look at Genesis 17:14. “and the uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”

   There is today a concerted effort on the part of some so-called Jews and many of their non-Jewish friends to bring the practice of circumcision among Jews into disrepute. The reason for this assault on this most ancient Jewish practice is the same as the effort to label kosher slaughtering “cruelty to animals” or “gastronomical Judaism”; the same that motivates our self-haters to call Judaism a “fossil religion”; the same that weeps tears over the Arab terrorists while ignoring Jewish suffering; the same that denounces Jewish day schools as “too parochial”.

   It is of course difficult to be a Jew. Unlike any other people, we are endlessly criticized if not murdered for everything we do, do not do, say or do not say.

   Now there are nearly one billion Moslems in this world. Having copied Jewish customs and beliefs, Moslems, like Jews, eat only kosher meat. Moslem men, like Jews, cover their heads while praying or at any time. Like Jews, Moslems believe in the absolute unity of Hashem; and like Jews, Moslems circumcise boys, but also circumcise girls.

   An example of a largely Jewish anti-circumcision group is the the "Circumcision Resource Center" of Boston.  We notice that the “Circumcision Resource Center”, which criticizes Jewish circumcision, has nothing to say about these Moslem practices although female circumcision is prohibited in the United States. 

   Male circumcision has become so common among Americans generally, that few men have ever seen an uncircumcised penis.

   The nature of circumcision is the removal of the foreskin from the penis so as to expose the glans. The word “glans” means acorn because the erectile tissue in both men and women has the shape of an acorn.

   Circumcision is practiced in many cultures. From the Polynesians to the Mayas of Yucatan and the natives of Africa circumcision is a widespread practice. In many cultures circumcision is believed to insure fertility. It also represents the attainment of manhood among those who practice this at puberty when it is extremely painful so that the youngster involved is obliged to exhibit a great deal of courage to undergo this practice.

    Among Jews these motives were never present.  Among us, circumcision implies a “consecration” to Israel and the Jewish people.  The view is that this rite relates each Jewish man to all the generations that went before him and hence relates him to Abraham, the first Jew.

    It is of course one of the functions of religion to relate the believer to the history of his people and to institute a line of succession between those living now and those who came before us. The Brith Abraham does exactly that.

   The enemies of the Jews have in the past shown great hostility to circumcision. This is no longer feasible for them since the Arab Moslems, who sincerely believe that no Jew has the right to live, are themselves circumcised. In Europe, however, the non-Jewish population was seldom circumcised, so that this Jewish practice was ridiculed and lampooned. In short, the European bigots and Jew-haters held the same opinions of circumcision that is now promoted by the substantially Jewish “Circumcision Resource Center”.

   In the past, Jewish circumcision was forbidden by anti-Jewish hate mongers. Antiochus IV, the Seleucid Greek king of Syria, prohibited the practice in the “Syrian province of Judah” leading to the Maccabean revolt of 168 B.C.E. (Before the Common Era). After the revolt of the Jews under the leadership of  Bar Kochba against the Romans in 132 C.E. (Common Era), circumcision was prohibited by the Emperor Hadrian.

   The Jewish philosopher Philo, who lived in Egypt in the first century, supported the rite of circumcision, claiming that it was an aid to personal hygiene and health.

   Today, circumcision is almost universally practiced by American Jews and non-Jews. Among Jews the practice refers to Jewish identity. As a symbol of that identity we need to preserve that custom just as we need to preserve all symbols of our identity in a world ever-hostile to our survival and ever ready to single out our people as the targets of animosity and murder.

   Remember that at the end of the circumcision ceremony the child is given his name. Thereupon the father and all present say, “As he entered into the Covenant so may he enter into the study of Torah and come to the Chuppah (the marriage ceremony) and come to perform good deeds.”

   Let us keep the Brith Abraham, no matter what our enemies say.  Never mind the so-called Jewish “Circumcision Resource Center.” These people are never satisfied until they have erased Judaism from the face of the earth. In that, however, they shall never succeed any more than any of our other enemies will ever succeed either now or at any time. May we have the courage to resist and be without fear as we sing at the conclusion of each Shabbat service: “Adonai Lee v’lo Iro”.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of Stigma:  How We Treat Outsiders (Prometheus Books, 2001) and over 60 other publications.

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