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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 and Islam, and as such is most common in Muslim countries and Israel. In addition to religious reasons circumcision is widely practiced all over the world for health, hygiene and aesthetic reasons. Circumcision is quite common in some predominantly Christian countries such as the United States, the Philippines, South Korea, Ethiopia, Kenya and West Africa, and is also widely practiced among Christians from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, and North Africa as well as among Mormons Christians. Circumcision was practiced by some Native American tribes and is also common in several African countries and tribal groups. It is less common in Europe and Latin America, though practiced in the large Muslim population in India and among some Indian Christians, depending on region and family background. Circumcision for medical reasons is quite widely performed in China and Japan, being the largest single medical procedure performed in both countries, but religious circumcision in each is comparatively rare, and largely confined to Muslim communities. Hodges argues that in Ancient Greece the foreskin was valued and that Greek and Roman attempts to abolish ritual circumcision were prompted by humanitarian concerns.
Male circumcision practised 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 practised by Jews and Muslims and some Christians, who constitute the Abrahamic religions. Some rabbinical sources indicate that even before the covenant of Abraham, the aposthia of Shem may have been an inspiration for circumcision; though the aposthia of Shem is not specifically mentioned in the Genesis text.
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.
There are numerous references to circumcision in the Jewish 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, spiritual excision from the people (Genesis 17:10-14, 21:4; Lev 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 (Josh 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 Book of Samuel (1 Sam 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 one better: "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 Sam 18:25)
"Uncircumcised" is used in conjunction with tame (unpure) for heathen (Isa 52:1). The word 'arel' (uncircumcised) is also employed for "impermeable" (Lev. 26:41, "their uncircumcised hearts"; compare Jer. 9:25; Ezek. xliv. 7, 9); it is also applied to the first three years' fruit of a tree, which is forbidden (Lev 19:23).
However, the Israelites born in the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt apparently did not carry out the practice of circumcision. According to Josh 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 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 Bible. Deut 10:16 says: "Circumcise the foreskin of your heart," (also quoted in Jer 4:4, New JPS translates as: "Cut away, therefore, the thickening about your hearts") along with Jer 6:10: To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? behold their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken: ... (New JPS translates: "Their ears are blocked"). Some[who?] interpret this as giving the rite a spiritual meaning; circumcision as a physical act being enjoined nowhere in the book. Jer 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 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)
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 (other than the inherent threat to health and life that results from carrying out a circumcision of a baby). Jews do not believe that non-Jews are obligated to follow this commandment; only Noahide laws apply to non-Jews.
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 Greek polytheistic 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 King Antiochus 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). His anti-circumcision law is considered by many, to be one of the main causes of the Jewish Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135).
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 named 'priah'(Hebrew: פריעה), 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 'priah' 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 priah 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 circumcision consists of three procedures, the first being the cutting 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.
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 AD, 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.(Shab. 137a)
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 of Tarsus 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 lots of food and aid to the people of Jerusalem.
On the other hand, the emperor Hadrian (117-138) forbade circumcision. His successor Antoninus Pius (138-161) upheld the decree, but around 140 included an exemption for Jews who circumcised their sons, though not their servants, slaves, or converts. Even before that, in 95 AD, 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 Godfearers, who were gentiles who shared religious ideas with Jews, to one degree or another, but were afraid 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 Paul of Tarsus 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. 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 important it may be, 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 is "Karet", 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).
The Deuterocanon/Biblical Apocrypha reveal the cultural clash between Jews and Greeks, and between Judaizers and Hellenizers. Greeks valued the foreskin, and when they took part in athletic sports, they did it in the nude . However, they insisted that the glans remained covered, and they did not approve of the Jewish custom of circumcision. The Books of the Maccabees reveal that some Jewish men chose to undergo epispasm, 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 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.
Though many 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).
In the upshot, the Jewish Zealots defeated the Greeks and they retained the right to circumcise.
The Book of Jubilees, part of the Bible of the Ethiopian Orthodox, 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".
The Jewish Encyclopedia in the article "Gentiles", section "Gentiles May Not Be Taught the Torah", states:
|“||R. Emden (), in a remarkable apology for Christianity contained 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.||”|
Today, most Christian denominations are neutral about biblical male circumcision, neither requiring it nor forbidding it. Circumcision was controversial during the period of Early Christianity (before 325) and the first Church Council in Jerusalem (c.50) declared that circumcision was not necessary for new gentile converts (a record of the council is found in Acts 15). But it is customary among the Coptic, Ethiopian, and Eritrean Orthodox Churches, and also 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. 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 Luke 2:21, according to the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 15, the leaders of the Christian 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. Paul of Tarsus, 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 Rom 3:1–2, hence the topic of Paul of Tarsus 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 Galatian Christians who advocated circumcision of turning from the Spirit to the flesh. And in Gal 3:3 says "Are you so foolish, that, whereas you began in the Spirit, you would now be made perfect by the flesh?" He accused circumcision advocates of wanting to make a good showing in the flesh Gal 6:12 and of glorying or boasting of the flesh Gal 6:13. Some believe Paul wrote the entire book of Galatians attacking circumcision and requiring the keeping of Jewish law by Christians,[who?] saying in chapter five: "If ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing."
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), though 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.
In the Gospel of John 7:23 Jesus is reported as giving this response to those who criticized him for healing on 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?"
The Greek Orthodox Church celebrates 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 the Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran churches it has been replaced by other commemorations.
There are strands of study and research (see P Whelan, F Grewel  and E Douglas) which show that certain foreskin conditions (paraphimosis and frenulum breve) when left unacknowledged, and therefore untreated, cause psychosexual problems - especially when mixed with courtship and other individual and environmental factors from childhood - wracking with self-doubt, and leading ultimately to psychosis. Once having successfully overcome the condition(s), however, the effect of the traumas can recur on the birth of a son, and later. This is a dangerous situation and liable to cause much confusion and disturbance, or worse, and provides an explanation of the story of Abraham, covenant of circumcision and the binding of Isaac, i.e. psychosis and foreskin management intention and, ultimately, the saving nature of faith. The conclusions in Acts 15, when logically interpreted (see E Douglas), raises understanding of these adverse anatomical conditions: paraphimosis (symptom: strangling the head of the penis); and slender frenulum breve (symptom: blood from rupture of frenulum blood vessels), and advises avoidance of them. It raises awareness of the issues but carefully refrains from being prescriptive as to the means of management. This allows room for modern methods of management, e.g. frenuloplasty. The psychological effects of these conditions, while little understood, are real, and are visible in literature and art.
Historically, the Roman Catholic Church denounced religious circumcision for its members in the Cantate Domino, written during the 11th Council of Florence in 1442. 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. The Church currently maintains a neutral position on the practice of non-religious circumcision, and has never addressed the issue of infant circumcision specifically.
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. 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 Roman 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, but not in the Qur'an. Some fiqh scholars state that circumcision is recommended (sunnah), others that it is obligatory. Some have quoted the hadith to argue that the requirement of circumcision is based on the covenant with Abraham.
The timing of Muslim circumcision varies. Turkish, Balkan, rural Egyptians and Central and South Asian Muslims typically circumcise boys between the ages of six and eleven. Traditionally, Turkish circumcisions are celebrated with sweets and the Sünnet Düğünü, or "Circumcision Feast/Celebration," and performed rarely with no anesthetic. It is considered a very important celebration in man's life as a passage to manhood. Many parents of children born in hospitals now choose to have their sons circumcised in the hospital setting, a few days after birth. In Pakistan, Muslims may be circumcised at all ages from the newborn period to adulthood, though the medical profession has encouraged medical circumcisions in the first week after birth to reduce complications: "Circumcision is performed by barbers, medical technicians, quacks and doctors including paediatric surgeon[s] [and as] yet there is no consensus for the best age and method." In Iran, Dr. Paula Drew states that “circumcision, which formerly celebrated the onset of manhood, has for many years now been more customarily performed at the age of 5 or 6 for children born at home, and at two days old for those born in a medical setting.…By puberty, all Muslim Iranian boys must be circumcised if they are to participate fully in religious activities.” Kamyar et al. describe circumcision as an "obligatory custom" and note that it is not necessary for the circumciser 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 who are descended from certain ancient emigrants from Egypt, 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 16-20 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. New non-surgical technologies, like Prepex, have been introduced to decrease the number of deaths and injuries caused by circumcision practices during initiation ceremonies (and those caused during circumcision for HIV prevention).
Bahá'ís do not have any particular tradition or rituals regarding male circumcision, but view female circumcision as mutilation. 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.
Circumcision in South Korea is largely the result of American cultural and military influence following the Korean War.
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. 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 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. 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.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901–1906. The rabbinic literature and Converts to Judaism are sections are an evolution of the corresponding article which gives the following Bibliography:
Pocock, Specimen Historiœ Arabum, pp. 319 et seq.; Millo, Histoire du Mahométisme, p. 350; Hoffmann, Beschneidung, in Ersch and Gruber, Encyc.; Steinschneider, Die Beschneidung der Araber und Muhammedaner, in Glassberg, Die Beschneidung; Jolly, Etude Critique du Manuel Opératoire des Musulmans et des Israélites, Paris, 1899.