People who hate religion in general, or Islam and Judaism in particular, often attack circumcision as a cruel, barbaric ritual lacking any positive outcome. Others attack circumcision for hidden political reasons of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
And some attack circumcision on secular humane grounds as a needless, cruel procedure. For example, in September 2011 the Dutch Medical Association discouraged the practice of circumcision, calling it a “painful and harmful ritual.” (This advice as we shall soon see, was unwise medically.)
So it is good news for Jews and Muslims that on October 1. 2015 PACE-The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe nullified its earlier recommendation that European countries ban ritual circumcision, when it passed (73-6) a resolution on religious freedom.
PACE did not reverse its earlier recommendation due to recent scientific discoveries which explained the health benefit of circumcision; but due to the active political pressure of an alliance of Jewish and Muslim organizations.
Yet in the last two decades several major medical studies have shown the positive effect of circumcision; and this led the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to support male circumcision procedures for male newborns and teenagers in the US, according to federal guidelines released 12/2/2014.
Clinical trials and observational studies have found that men who are circumcised are less likely than their uncircumcised peers to acquire sexually transmitted infections during vaginal sex. Being circumcised reduced the risk of infection with HIV from a female sexual partner by 50% to 60%. It also reduced the risk of getting genital herpes by up to 45% and of getting cancer-causing strains of human papilloma virus (HPV) by 30%.
Studies have also found that sex with circumcised men is safer for women. They are less likely to become infected with HPV, bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis, the CDC guidelines state.
The CDC also states that the risk of adverse events from circumcision is low, and that minor bleeding and inflammation are the biggest problems. The CDC also says minor complications arise in less than one-half of 1% of newborns and about 5% of adults. So being uncircumcised is unhealthy and unwise for all males.
As I stated above Muslims and Jews do not circumcise their children for medical health reasons. For Jews and Muslims ritual circumcision is a sign of communal loyalty and acceptance of God’s will. Christianity, Islam and Judaism all teach that circumcision was already practiced by Prophet Abraham, who is revered by Christians, Jews and Muslims to this day.
Christians do not believe circumcision is still a required observance. But, even during Medieval times, Christian governments never prohibited ritual circumcision for Jews and Muslims living under their rule. Equally, Jews and Muslims never tried to force Christians to circumcise their children.
Only pagan governments like the Greeks and the Romans, or anti-religious secular governments like Communist Russia, have done this.
These governments are led by people who believe that their own humanistic, rational philosophy is on a much higher level than what has been taught by traditional religions, which they do not believe in.
For Jews, the ritual dates back to God’s covenant with Abraham. The Torah declares:
(Genesis 17:7) “I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you…
(17:8-11) “And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God. God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.
(17:12) “You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old,”
Jews have observed this commandment for almost 4,000 years. More than once, attempts to prevent Jews from circumcising their sons led to resistance. In 132 CE a revolt was started by Simon bar Kochba, when the Roman Emperor Hadrian forbade circumcision.
For Muslims, circumcision is connected to Allah commanding Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to follow the religion of Ibrahim (peace be upon him). When Allah says (Qur’an 16:123) “Then We inspired you: ‘Follow the religion of Ibrahim, the upright in Faith’.” And part of the religion of Ibrahim is, as is evident from the verses cited above, to practice circumcision.
Abraham was an old man when he circumcised himself, thus becoming a good example that one is never to old to do God’s will. As a Hadith says: Prophet Muhammad said: ” Prophet Ibrahim circumcised himself when he was eighty years old and he circumcised himself with an axe.” (Related by Bukhari, Muslim & Ahmad.)
Prophet Muhammad himself selected the 7th day after birth to circumcise his own grandsons: Abdullah Ibn Jabir and Aisha both said: “The Prophet (peace be upon him) performed the Aqiqah of al-Hasan and al-Hussein (the prophets grandsons) circumcising them on the 7th day. Day.(Related in al-Bayhaq & Tabarani)
Another Hadith also demonstrates further the importance of male circumcision: The Prophet told a man who had just embraced Islam, “Remove the hairs from the time of disbelief from you and get yourself circumcised.” (Related by Ahmad and Abu Dawud)
Thus, for Jews circumcision is a sign of the covenant that God made with Abraham and his sons Ishmael and Isaac and their descendants for future generations. For Muslims it is a sign of their close connection to Abraham, which is also celebrated each year at the annual Hajj ceremonies.
For both Muslims and Jews, ritual circumcision is a sign that one who submits to God’s commandments and covenant cannot expect a life without some pain and suffering. But when endured for the right reasons, duty to God’s commandments always leads eventually to great spiritual, and even physical benefits. This is true wisdom.
Rabbi Maller’s web site is: rabbimaller.com