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The Covenant of Circumcision

New Perspectives on an Ancient Jewish Rite

According to Jewish law, the ritual practice of circumcising male infants signals the male child’s entry into the covenant his forefather Abraham made with God. Circumcision, now a common medical procedure for male infants in the United States, has come under increased scrutiny in recent years. Some medical professionals have challenged its purported health benefits, ethicists have raised concerns about the degree of pain involved, and Jewish feminists have questioned the implications of a covenantal rite centered on the male genitals. The sixteen essays in this volume, by exploring the history, cultural interpretations, and contemporary significance of circumcision from a Jewish perspective, make a major contribution to the informed discussion of current issues and controversies. Framed by Elizabeth Wyner Mark’s introduction and section prologues, the volume is divided into three distinct sections. “Reading the Texts,” a series of richly conceptualized essays, places circumcision in contexts ranging from patriarchal narrative to psychoanalysis and kabbalistic esotericism. “Cultural Markings” offers a chronological look at attitudes toward circumcision in Europe during the Roman Empire through the early twentieth century. “Contemporary Voices,” the most intimate section, delves into recent debates about circumcision in the United States, Hungary, and Israel and provides three different rabbinic perspectives. An imaginative epilogue bringing together the voices of rabbis and scholars with opposing views concludes this remarkable volume.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements xi Reading the Texts 1 Crossing the Gender Divide: Public Ceremonies, Private Parts, Mixed Feelings xiii Wounds, Vows, Emanations: A Phallic Trope in the Patriarchal Narrative 3 Foreskin Sacrifice: Zipporah’s Ritual and the Bloody Bridegroom 18 A Brief History of Jewish Circumcision Blood 30 The Cut of Wholeness: Psychoanalytic Interpretations of Biblical Circumcision 443 Circumcision, Secrecy, and the Veiling of the Veil: Phallomorphic Exporsure and Kabbalistic Esotericism 58 Cultural Markings 71 Circumcision and Castration under Roman Law in the Early Empire 75 Brit Milah: A Study of Change in Custom 87 Depicting the Ambiguous Wound: Circumcision in Medieval Art 98 Circumcision and Baptism: The Development of a Jewish Ritual in Christian Europe 114 Christian Travelers to the Circumcision: Early Modern Representations 128 Circumcision and Modern Jewish Life: A German Case Study, 1843-1914 142 Contemporary Voices Circumscribed Circumcision: The Motivations and Identities of Israeli Parents Who Choose Not to Circumcize Their Sons 161 Circumcision in Hungary after the Shoah 177 Three Rabbinic Perspectives A Plea for Inclusion 188 A Covenant Above Reason 194 Noam’s Bris 197 Epilogue: A Medley of Women’s Voices 201 Notes 205 Contributors 245 Index 247

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