Circumcision in cultures and religions

Circumcision in cultures and religions

Male circumcision, when practiced as a rite, has its foundations in the Bible, in the Abrahamic covenant, such as ), thus it is commonly observed by the Abrahamic religions.

The penalty of non-observance was "karet", excision from the people (). Non-Israelites had to undergo circumcision before they could be allowed to take part in the feast of Passover () The name "arelim" (uncircumcised) became an opprobrious term, denoting the Philistines and other non-Israelites (, "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 (), and the "Circumcision at Gilgal" of , New JPS translates as: "Cut away, therefore, the thickening about your hearts") along with )

In Judaism

Judaism teaches that the Bible was transmitted in parallel with an oral tradition, known as the oral law. Jewish practices and beliefs, thus, are based on reading the Bible through the perspective of the oral law; see the entries on the Mishnah, Talmud and rabbinic literature.

According to 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.] Some have quoted the "hadith" to argue that the requirement of circumcision is based on the covenant with Abraham. [, ; there was never, however, a prohibition of circumcision, and it is practiced by Coptic Christians." [ "circumcision"] , The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2001-05.] . Some Christian churches in South Africa oppose circumcision, viewing it as a pagan ritual, while others, including the Nomiya church in Kenya [Mattson CL, Bailey RC, Muga R, Poulussen R, Onyango T (2005) Acceptability of male circumcision and predictors of circumcision preference among men and women in Nyanza province Kenya. AIDS Care 17:182–194.] , require circumcision for membership. Some participants in focus group discussions in Zambia and Malawi said that Christians should practice circumcision because Jesus was circumcised and the Bible teaches the practice.

While Jesus' circumcision was recorded as having been performed in accordance with Torah requirements in . Paul argued that circumcision no longer meant the physical, but a spiritual practice ()."] . Paul was circumcised when he was "called." He added: "Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised.", and went on to argue that circumcision didn't matter: "Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God's commands is what counts." (. Some believe Paul wrote the entire book of Galatians attacking circumcision and requiring the keeping of Jewish law by Christians,), and he was in the very act of observing the Mosaic ritual when he was arrested at Jerusalem (). Some Biblical scholars think that the Epistle of Titus, generally attributed to Paul, may state that circumcision should be discouraged among Christians ( 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 ] This decision was based on the belief that baptism had superseded circumcision (]

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. [Father John J. Dietzen. [ The Morality of Circumcision.] "The Tablet", Brooklyn, N.Y., 30 October 2004, p. 33. "Note:The Circumcision Information and Resource Pages (CIRP) opposes infant circumcision and may editorialize articles with highlights or commentary."] John Paul Slosar and Daniel O'Brien counter that the while the therapeutic benefits of neonatal circumcision are inconclusive, recent findings that circumcision may prevent disease puts this 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), [cite web |url= |title=Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, Fourth Edition |accessdate=2008-04-11 |author= |year=2001 |work= |publisher=U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops |quote= 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.] have also been interpreted to support and rejectcite journal |last=Fadel |first=P. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=2003 |month= |title=Respect for bodily integrity: a Catholic perspective on circumcision in Catholic hospitals |journal=American Journal of Bioethics |volume=3 |issue=2 |pages=W9 |pmid=12859800 |url= |accessdate= |quote=|doi=10.1162/152651603766436379 ] the practice of circumcision. These arguments represent the conscience of the individual writers, and not the official stance of the Roman Catholic Church.

=Other faiths and traditions=
Bahá'ís do not have any particular tradition or rituals regarding male circumcision, but view female circumcision as mutilation. [cite web
url =
title = When your patient is a Baha'i
accessdate = 2007-01-30
publisher = National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of New Zealand
quote = Bahá'ís are not advised on a particular course of action in respect to circumcision of males; circumcision of females is considered mutilation.

The Druze have no male circumcision in their religion, [cite web
url =
title = Who Are the Druze?
accessdate = 2007-01-30
date = February 17, 2005
work = SEMP Biot #176
publisher = Suburban Emergency Management Project
] although, according to one source, it is practiced among those living in urban areas or outside the Middle East, mainly for hygienic reasons. []

There is no specific reference to male circumcision in the Hindu holy books [] , and Hindus in India generally do not practice circumcision. []

Sikh male infants are not circumcised. [cite web
url =
title = Guidelines for health Care Providers Interacting with Patients of the Sikh Religion and their Families
accessdate = 2007-05-01
publisher =Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council
month=November | year=2000|format=PDF

Circumcision in South Korea is largely the result of American cultural and military influence following the Korean War. The origin of circumcision in the Philippines is uncertain. One newspaper article speculates that it is due to the influence of western colonizers. [cite news
first = Rommel G.
last = Rebollido
url =
title = Passage to manhood
work = General Santos
publisher = Sun Star Publishing, Inc.
date = March 21, 2005
accessdate = 2006-07-01
language =
] However, Antonio de Morga's seventeenth century "History of the Philippine Islands", speculates that it is due to Islamic influence. [cite book
last = de Morga
first = Antonio
others = Translated by Alfonso de Salvio, Norman F. Hall, and James Alexander Robertson
title = History of the Philippine Islands
origyear = 1609
url =
accessdate = 2006-07-01
year = 1907
id = LCCN|unk82|0|42869
chapter = 11
chapterurl =
quote = 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 West Africa infant circumcision may have had tribal 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. [Ajuwon et al., "Indigenous surgical practices in rural southwestern Nigeria: Implications for disease," Health Educ. Res..1995; 10: 379-384 Health Educ. Res..1995; 10: 379-384 Retrieved 3 October 2006] 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. [cite web
title = "PNG circumcision campaign hopes to halt HIV,"
publisher = ABC Radio Australia citing the "Papua New Guinea Post-Courier"
url =
format = htm
date = 2007-02-08, 14:21:13,

Circumcision is part of initiation rites in some African, Pacific Islander, and Australian aboriginal traditions in areas such as Arnhem Land, [cite paper
author = Aaron David Samuel Corn
title = Ngukurr Crying: Male Youth in a Remote Indigenous Community
version = Working Paper Series No. 2
publisher = University of Wollongong
year = 2001
url =
format = PDF
accessdate = 2006-10-18
] where the practice was introduced by Makassan traders from Sulawesi in the Indonesian Archipelago. [cite web
url =
title = Migration and Trade
accessdate = 2006-10-18
publisher = Green Turtle Dreaming
quote = In exchange for turtles and trepang the Makassans introduced tobacco, the practice of circumcision and knowledge to build sea-going canoes.
] Circumcision ceremonies among certain Australian aboriginal societies are noted for their painful nature, including subincision for some aboriginal peoples in the Western Desert. [cite journal
last = Jones
first = IH
year = 1969
month = June
title = Subincision among Australian western desert Aborigines
journal = British Journal of Medical Psychology
volume = 42
issue = 2
pages = 183–190
doi =
id = ISSN|0007-1129 PMID 5783777
] In the Pacific, ritual circumcision is nearly universal in the Melanesian islands of Fiji and Vanuatu; [cite web
url =
title = Recent Guest Speaker, March 15, Professor Roger Short
accessdate = 2006-07-01
year = 2006
publisher = Australian AIDS Fund Incorporated
] participation in the traditional land diving on Pentecost Island is reserved for those who have been circumcised. [cite web
url =
title = Weird & Wonderful
accessdate = 2006-07-01
publisher = United Travel
] 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. [cite web
url =
title = Circumcision amongst the Dogon
accessdate = 2006-09-03
year = 2006
publisher = The Non-European Components of European Patrimony (NECEP) Database
] In many West African traditional societies circumcision has become medicalised and is simply performed in infancy without ado or any particular conscious cultural significance Fact|date=July 2007. 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. [cite journal
last = Agberia
first = John Tokpabere
year = 2006
title = Aesthetics and Rituals of the Opha Ceremony among the Urhobo People
journal = Journal of Asian and African Studies
volume = 41
issue = 3
pages = 249–260
doi = 10.1177/0021909606063880
url =
format = PDF
accessdate = 2006-10-18
] For Nilotic peoples, such as the 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. [cite web
url =
title = Masai of Kenya
accessdate = 2007-04-06
quote = 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 (ilmurran) 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.

ee also

*Brit milah
*Sex in the Bible
*Murder in the Bible
*History of male circumcision
*Old Testament#Christian view of the Law


2. Leonard B. Glick. Marked in Your Flesh: Circumcision from Ancient Judea to Modern America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. (ISBN 0-19-517674-X)

External links

* [ Jewish Encyclopedia: Circumcision]
* [ Catholic Encyclopedia: Circumcision]
* [ Gentiles and Circumcision]

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