Saturday, November 28, 2009

Jack Black & Circumcision in Antiquity


Circumcision 'humor' if you will: a movie scene from Year One:


While the above video clip is merely Hollywood humor, we would encourage anyone who believes they are circumcising their baby boy for religious reasons to dive into the subject further.

"Cutting the Blessing" among the Hebrews in antiquity was done in a MUCH different fashion than in modern U.S. culture where we amputate the entire prepuce organ. Hebrews and early Jews made a very tiny slit in the tip of the prepuce to allow for mere drops of blood to be shed as the blood sacrifice of the covenant.

The Hebrew words used for this practice in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) are "namal" and "muwl." Namal means 'to clip' - like one would clip the tips of your fingernails. Muwl means 'to curtail, to blunt.' Neither of these words mean "to cut," "to amputate," "to remove," "to cut off," etc. There were very different Hebrew words with clearly understood meanings representing 'the cutting off' or 'the removal of' something. The difference was plainly obviously to those practicing and writing about the practice at the time.

At this time in antiquity, we could not possibly amputate the prepuce organ (as circumcision is done today) and expect the child to live! Even in the 21st century we suffer from a 1-in-3 rate of complications due to prepuce amputation. At this early time in human history, babies would have hemorrhaged from the complete cutting off of the prepuce, and in rare cases when they lived through the blood loss, they would have died of surgical site infection and disease (something we commonly find today despite our sterile environments and understanding of wound infection).


Side Note: I have been working recently on a compilation of paintings from antiquity representing Jesus as a baby. Jesus (born to Jewish parents) would likely have been 'circumcised' on his 8th day of life. Again, this means a tiny slit would have been made in the end of his prepuce to allow for the shedding drops of blood as a part of the covenant his parents had with YHVH (Yahweh). When we (with our modern, Western eyes and presumptions about circumcision) pour over these paintings of a naked baby Jesus, it would appear that he was always painted as INTACT. Why? Because the prepuce was NOT removed. It was not amputated. It was never 'cut off'.


Ancient peoples never dreamed of doing away with a God-created organ that was so useful, so important. The prepuce was regarded with such honor that it was thee organ seen as being most GOD-LIKE. Hence the reason it was the organ 'slit' for the blood letting as a sign that "YHVH is the one I follow"...not my own 'god-like' member.

When Jews in antiquity wanted to exercise in the gymnasium (often done in the nude) they had to appear intact. Greeks only allowed intact men to participate in activities there and the rules were strictly adhered to. To do so, Jewish men regularly pulled the prepuce down over the glans (head) of the penis, before going in. There were even little devices made to cover the scar from the slit in the prepuce end so that no one would be the wiser as to their 'circumcision'. None of this would have been possible if the entire prepuce were removed.

There is a lot more to be said on this topic. Completing graduate studies in Human Sexuality, I found it necessary to also complete a corresponding degree in Religion because (as shocking as it may sound) the two subjects go together SO much of the time... We frequently must understand one in order to fully understand the other. When it comes to issues of circumcision in antiquity this is most certainly the case.

Much more recently in American history, we started the prepuce amputation practice in an effort to curtail masturbation among boys and cut down on men's sexual exploits (especially among soldiers overseas during war times). It was in our post-WWII drive to circumcise all boys and men that we first introduced 'circumcision' to the mass society as we now know it today. Even Americans at that time KNEW that removing the prepuce would take away a man's most sensitive and sexual organ.

It is empowering to find that many of the most outspoken intactivists today are Jewish men and women. At the same time, many Jews today are opting instead for a Brit Shalom in place of cutting their perfectly born sons.

Links to articles and information on Judaism and circumcision can be found here.
Books on the subject include:
Marked in Your Flesh: Circumcision from Ancient Judea to Modern America
Circumcision: A History of the World's Most Controversial Surgery
Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective
Covenant of Blood: Circumcision and Gender in Rabbinic Judaism



On a related note - if you are Christian, you will find that circumcision is fully against what early Christians taught. Jesus followers, the New Testament, and the early Christian Church were unquestionably opposed to genital cutting in any form. It is Jesus who is the 'New Covenant' between God and his people, and participation in the Old Covenant (by shedding the blood of your newborn, for example) is to deny Christ's existence, authority, and power by grace in salvation.

More links to articles and information on Christianity and Circumcision can be found here.

Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon is the Jewish filmmaker (with an Orthodox Rabbi father) of the highly informative documentary, "CUT: Slicing Through the Myths of Circumcision". (Watch/Buy Here). After researching this topic and studying with some of the ‘experts’ in the fields of human sexuality, health, religion, and history, Ungar-Sargon concluded, “Circumcision was always a cure in search of a disease. When you look through history, you see that whatever the scary disease of the generation was, that was the one that circumcision would help prevent. So in the early 20th century it was syphilis, a scary disease that there was no cure for then. Later, it was cancer. Then UTIs, and now HIV.” As a Jewish man, strong in his faith, Ungar-Sargon chose not to cut his son.

Male circumcision as we know it, and female circumcision in the United States actually share a very similar history. All the myths we now toss around concerning MGM (male genital mutilation), we once held about FGM (female genital mutilation).

I wholeheartedly agree with what others (including Ungar-Sargon) have stated — genital cutting and the amputation of a healthy, functioning body organ from a non-consenting human being is a severe violation of human rights. If we did such a thing to a dog, we would be charged with animal abuse. And what we do to babies due to our own ignorance is certainly more criminal than that. This is not a subject that can be taken lightly or ignored any longer.

As far as having the religious freedom and choice to genitally cut our sons - we (in the United States) have outlawed, through the 1996 FGM Bill, any mutilation of baby girls for religious or non-religious reasons. It would therefor follow that the MGM Bill would be a logical and ethical item to pass in order to grant boys equal protection under law as girls. No human being is less valuable, or less deserving of basic human rights, simply because they were born with a larger prepuce organ... (oh, did I mention that girls have one too?!)

22 comments:

  1. Wow! you are constantly educating me! it is so shocking to me, as i learn, that circumcision is still legal, anywhere in the world! why did the jews give up their own true customs to take up this barbarous amputation. why do christians go against their own sacred text. mind-boggling, i just don't know what to say.

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  2. Wonderful piece!! PRECISELY why we recently wrote this piece on not circumcising our son: http://girliegirlarmy.com/blog/20091020/to-circumcise-or-not-to-circumcise-that-is-the-question/#comment-4546

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  3. Do you have any information on when/why they started taking the whole thing off? I'd be very interested to find out.

    My husband was asking a few days ago why God would want them to remove the foreskin if it's so beneficial- I said, "he didn't- it was very different back then!"

    I'll send him the link to this article.

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  4. When I first re-posted your "baptism not circumcision" articled on FB, my Jewish brother-in-law left a comment that simply said, "I'm pretty sure Jesus was circumcised." I respectfully challenged him on the issue of circ and how OT circumcision differed greatly from modern circumcision. (And also sought to educate him on the issue of pain and purpose of the foreskin, etc.) I was curious as to when Jews began amputating the entire foreskin, and he said it was in the early AD period and was done to "preserve the race of Jews from Roman domination." Any further insight you can share on the historical accuracy of this?

    If what he said was true, then imo, the Jewish population completely disregarded God's commands to them in the Torah and took matters into their own hands. This is not an anti-semitic statement, as I have Jewish friends and relatives. But rather I say this out of concern for the direction their religion went after they made the decision to amputate male foreskins.

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  5. During the second world war, when the Nazis were exterminating the Jews, desperate Jewish mothers were looking for doctors to reconstruct a foreskin for their sons out of tissue on the inside of the leg/arm. I can't even imagine the terror of knowing that a useless operation had been performed and now, if I didn't find a way to undo it, my son might die.

    I've just done a BlogTalkRadio program where Jeannine Parvati Baker describes the pressure put upon her in the late 1960s to have a bris for her son. She refused.
    http://www.blogtalkradio.com/waterbirthinwoman

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  6. My cousin is a Christian and due in August with a boy, yet she told me she is circumcising her son on the 8th day just like in the OT. My husband took to the challenge by trying to explain everything that you just wrote in this post and my cousin contradicted herself so many times it was unreal.

    I know her real reason is because she thinks it's cleaner because she told me that my son will soon smell like "rotten dairy". I'm not going to waste my time trying to changer her mind and unfortunately her ignorance is at the cost of her perfect newborn boy. It's so sad.

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  7. Please add FREE BRIS facebook group to resources or Jewish parents looking for alternative ceremonies that they can perform at home themselves without needing to search out supportive rabbis etc who are generally not in smaller cities!!!

    Sometimes this (like trying to find a homebirth midwife) makes the decision harder and people just go ahead and do the whole bris not knowing they have alternatives. The ceremony is FREE for anyone who wants it and is beautiful.

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  8. http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=141962229156708

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  9. Thank you for your excellent FB group, TrustBirthAugusta. It has been linked on the Judaism & Circumcision Resources page (linked above in this article) for some time now and I do hope it serves as an encouragement to many.

    http://www.drmomma.org/2009/06/circumcision-jewish-fathers-making.html

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  10. This was fantastic!!! Linking everywhere...

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  11. so really, we should not even call modern day circumcision, "circumcision" because it is really just an amputation of the foreskin and not even close to an actual circumcision.

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  12. "mezizah -- Hebrew term for the third step in the Jewish circumcision ritual, in which the mohel applies his mouth to the freshly circumcised infant's penis and sucks up the first drops of blood.

    Yes this is all part of this circumcision ritual.......hello!!!!!Sorry this is a bit beyond bizarre for me

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  13. Thanks for the information!

    I'm still very confused on the topic myself & soaking up everything I read.

    My husband is circumcised & we circumcised our son. I would imagine that my husband's parents did it out of the fact that it was "norm" at the time... but WE did it because I lived thru a terrible experience with my intact nephew, who was hospitalized for weeks with infections ravaging his body. I can still recall the Dr. stating that the kidney, bladder & urinary tract infections were all due to the fact that he was uncircumcised. I was 16 at the time & it had a profound impact on me.

    I would like to read more from mothers who have had 1 son circumcised, but decided against it for following sons. Even though we only have 1 son now, I can't help but think that if we were to have more it would be hard decision to make...

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    1. I do not want to be rude but what kind of doctors do you have in America? A physician in Sweden that would argue that lack of circumcision leads to kidney, bladder and urinary infection would certainly be warned by Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare and if that kind of nonsense would continue, he may lose his license. In Sweden circumcision is very rare and before the massive immigration from Muslim and African third world countries circumcision did practically not exist, other than for medical reasons, but even that was or rather is quite rare. This “infections”, that is not mere than rashes can be cured with ointment.The only group before 1975 (when the massive immigration begun) that practiced it was Swedish Jews (between 0, 1-0, 2 percent of the population) and among them only 40 percent practices it. What I know (and I wrote my B.A thesis in social psychology about circumcision) has never existed in Sweden or any Nordic country among the indigenous people. Among ethnic Swedish men it is non-existent if it not needed for an acute medical purpose.

      If we look at facts

      The Swedish general Health Care is better than the American. Sweden is ranked 9th (overall 80, 9 years) in the statistics over life expectancy. United States is ranked 36th (overall 78, 3) on that ranking which is on the same place as Cuba. Sweden is ranked 8th among men and United States is ranked 35th. From United States to the top there are only two countries that practices circumcision and it is Israel and UAE.

      When it comes to STD: s Sweden and the rest of Western Europe that also do not practice circumcision have less prevalence’s of such deceases then America. Sweden has 00.10 in HIV prevalence among the population and the united States have 00.60. There are 6 times more HIV-cases per capita then in Sweden. Israel, a first world country, has a prevalence of HIV at 3.33 which is among the highest numbers in the world. Large parts of Sub-Saharan Africa seem to have less HIV then Israel and then circumcision is done on 100 percent of the boys. Now, you can discuss the methodology behind the numbers but one thing is clear – circumcision is no cure for STD: s like American doctors and this bogus UN-report stated. I do not thing we will save Africa from HIV by circumcise the male population. What need to be done is that the people there practices safe sex.

      I read somewhere that circumcision has become more “popular” in Europe but that is in fact not true. The rising numbers of circumcisions can almost fully be explained by immigration from countries were circumcision is practiced. In Sweden, the council for pediatricians has refused to do non-medical circumcisions on boys. In Sweden (as the rest of Europe) the medical care is universal and paid by taxes it have become a quite heated debate. It has been mainly Jewish, African and Muslim identity political groups, politicians on the left and media that have accused atheists, medical doctors and liberals for being “neo-Nazis”. It is quite hilarious to live in a country where common sense and reasonable arguments has been erased on the altar of “tolerance”.

      Mark B.

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    2. It sounds like the boy probably has/had reflux in the kidney. Not something caused by having a foreskin.

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  14. The Christ child is always depicted with a covered glans. I noticed this fact before I knew what circumcision meant. Why did I look like the Christ child in that tender department, and very much unlike all the males in my family, school, Scout troop, etc?

    Is this because the Old Masters knew what you wrote above, or is it simply because they had never seen a circumcised penis in their entire lives? Keep in mind that locker rooms with showers did not become a part of the male experience until the 1870s. Before then, Jewish and Christian men never saw each other naked. To this day, a large majority of the human race has never seen a circumcised penis in their lives.

    The vast majority of week old infants have a prepuce that has not separated from the glans. Hence to remove the entire prepuce at that age is a surgical challenge, albeit mohels have risen to this challenge for nearly 2000 years. It is quite possible that in Biblical times, circumcision only removed the overhang, which is easy to cut off. The risk of injury is not high if the mohel employs a metal slit shield like the one's still in use today. We do not know what the resulting appearance of the penis would have been over the life cycle.

    I have read a blog post by an American woman who went to a nude beach in Kiev, and discovered there that even in a noncircumcising culture, the amount of glans exposure varies all over the map. So glans exposure does not equate with circ. The problem in the classical gymnasium was that men exercised and competed in the nude. The ancient Greeks had a proper penis esthetic: small with a long foreskin. Moreover, to expose any part of the glans in public was deemed obscene. So much so that men were supposed to exercise wearing a leather lanyard tied so as to prevent the foreskin from retracting during exercise.

    Apparently, Jewish men often could not meet this standard and so attempted primitive forms of foreskin restoration. When rabbis learned about this, bris evolved into the form we know today. When late 19th century doctors and parents decided that routine circ was a good thing, it was decided to imitate Jewish circ. I agree with Gollaher, Darby, and others,
    when they argue that an important reason for the removing all foreskin, was that mothers thought that boyhood masturbation was a moral horror, and further believed that a boy lacking all foreskin was unlikely to masturbate. Nobody dared in those days ask Jewish men if they masturbated in boyhood!

    This belief that indecent exposure for men requires exposing the glans still prevails in some traditional cultures. A silent belief of this sort seems to have guided our fine art tradition down through the centuries. The male nude is never depicted circumcised except on occasion in North America after WWII. Artists are in tune with progressive causes, and anyone exhibiting today male nudes lacking foreskins would be criticised for it.

    You should have cited Leonard Glick's book more often.

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  15. while I agree that they likely didn't remove the whole foreskin because of how likely it would kill the baby. I still, as a critical thinker feel compelled to point out that those are Renaissance era paintings. those artists would have never seen jesus.

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  16. It is how they were depicting him to be - what critical thinkers at the time were portraying upon the body of Jesus, as well as reflective of the norms within culture. They were more in touch with Jewish tradition in antiquity than we are today in the U.S.

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  17. Renaissance-era paintings also show Jesus as an attractive, long-haired white man. Scripture says he looked like a run-of-the-mill Jewish man. So I wouldn't read too much into that. They painted what they were familiar with (who is that blonde European kid in those pictures up there?).

    While I do agree that ancient circumcision was probably less drastic than what modern Americans are familiar with, I do not buy the argument that circumcision was always just a little gash in the foreskin. It may have been done that way at some point in history, BUT Exodus 4 records that Zipporah circumcised her son with a flint and threw the foreskin at Moses. If nothing was cut off, what is it that she is supposed to have thrown? Also, I Samuel records that King required 100 Philistine foreskins from David as a dowry for Michal, and that David brought the foreskins to King Saul (not a vial of all the blood from the gentle little foreskin slits).

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    1. While infant genital cutting did not typically involve more than a slit (for blood drops of the sacrifice) it was common practice at this time in antiquity to amputate the foreskin entirely from those who were defeated at war, or as a sign of complete conquer, utter defeat. (If the foreskin was entirely removed, it is unlikely the individual would be living...) If an army was slain, the foreskin of men would be amputated (along with the occasional head) and brought to the king or ruler of the winning party. This is the reason for the 1 Samuel dowry. In the Exodus passage, Zipporah is likely mimicking this common practice at the time - to show complete surrender to God - the 'ultimate winner of this battle.' She probably did not amputate the entire foreskin (which would easily lead to death of her infant) but may have sliced off the very end skin (i.e. taken more than the common slit) in order to brush some blood on Moses' penis. In Hebrew the word that is translated to 'feet' in English actually means 'genitals' and some Biblical scholars say that Zipporah here was trying to trick God by placing blood from her infant son (no matter how much or how little was cut - there was enough blood to smear) on an intact Moses (who did not wish to have his own member cut). Children were expendable, adult men, not so much.

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  18. I'm pretty sure Jesus appears intact b/c that was the norm of the artists NOT b/c they had any insight over 1,000 years later into how his penis looked.

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  19. a penis is 100% natural if it was natural to remove your foreskin than 1 in 2 people would be born without it. but their not. all people are born with it. and ignorent people who say "the boy will never remember it" or "its cleaner and safer" is so stupid! many boys who were circumcised have been known to suffer from severe stress disorder as well as insecurity. i honestly swere hand on my heart let god strike me down with an arrow to my head. if my parents ever circumcised me as a baby i would never forgive them. think if you plan to have a baby and its a boy when he poops (i gained this knowledge from an experienced mother) where does all the poop go? not in the back thats for sure. when he wears a diaper it goes everywhere! without his little foreskin to protect his urinary hole wheres the poop gona go? all inside him thats were! which leads to what? bladder infection! now the doctors gotta stick a little set of claws you see guys pick garbage off the street with inside his peepee hole and give him some antiseptic as well as remove any poop inside there too. the same process is used if a doctor finds a lump in your bladder.
    as well as it being unhygienic. think about it. you wouldn't circumcise your friend?dog?cat? neighbour? colleage? why the hell would you do it to your son! if you love your neighbours you definately would love your flesh and blood why would you go through 9 months of agony just to remove 2 weeks of hard work and growth in a mere 9 days?!
    the second that little sucker pops out of there his nerves kick in right away. in fact babys will experience pain most likely at 6 months present (in my opinion) so unless your willing to shove a knife inside of you to circumcise him before he's born so you know he won't feel pain don't do this to him! Theres a reason its uncommon in Europe because we respect our bodies and other peoples bodies alot more than western people. that's why so few policemen have guns because we aren't so willing to remove a person from this planet. if Americans lived more like europeon's i bet life would be alot better. And what shocked me is some woman told me pope Benedict was circumcised. it shocked me from head to toe. i checked it up online. he wasn't in fact out of all the popes ever existed about 3-4 were ever circumcised.
    stop with this idea "make him look like his dad" "shows he can experience pain"
    no boy wants to be just like his dad he wants to be original. and if they say "babys wont feel pain£ and then that same person says "it shows he can experience pain" need i argue? one five letter word. idiot!
    on top of all that doctors do the worst of the worst to babies they give them anesthetic. bad enough strapping him to a table and stabbing his cock anesthetic is very dangerous to give to a new born baby. plus some boys have gained surgical scars on their penises from circ's.
    and i can't imagine being born and a week later getting stabbed is a nice way to start off your life!
    Greece people admired foreskins and the longer your foreskin was the better chance you would get a nicer woman
    on top of all that your foreskin produces small amounts of lubricant which aid intercourse
    not to mention masturbation
    if your dad priest local father figure ever tells you masturbating is wrong give him the finger
    masturbation has been known to make your sperm stronger (as well as your cock!) which makes it easier to have a baby so when in doubt give yourself a quicky
    by constantly getting erections it makes your penis more flexiable and stronger plus circumcised boys struggle to masturbate and often do it less often
    plus without a foreskin its very difficult to do masturbation as the traditional method is to pull the foreskin back and forth up the penis
    leave your john thomas alone he is perfect the way he was meant to be keep knifes away from him and he will give you a good time!

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