The History Of Jewish Circumcision, Part 1

Haredim decry those of us concerned about the dangers of metzitza b’peh, the sucking of the blood of the open circumcision wound done by many mohels during brit milah (the circumcision rite), as “attackers” seeking to stop circumcision all together. Under the banner “We will not change!,” haredim claim the details of the rite date to at least the time of Moses, without change. But is this so?

Apparently not – Ivan G. Marcus writes:

When the age of baptism was changed from adulthood to infancy, a new form of adult sponsorship developed. Since an infant could not perform the rite alone or present himself or herself to an adult, the institution of godparents at infant baptism was introduced in the early Middle Ages to perform that function. The presence of Christian godparents at baptism eventually influenced the Jewish circumcision ceremony, which introduced the concept of a godparent called a syndekos, a Byzantine Greek term that marks the approximate time of the innovation in the early Middle Ages. In later Ashkenazic Europe, two addition grandparents were added, whose names were taken from the parallel German Christian terms for co-parents, Gevatter and Gevatterin. All three terms eventually entered Yiddish as Sandek, Kefatter and Kefatterin; along with Elijah’s chair, they remain integral parts of the circumcision ritual to this day.

[Ivan G. Marcus, Rituals of Childhood: Jewish Acculturation in Medieval Europe, Yale University Press, 1996, p.107]

The difficulty with modern haredi theology lies primarily in its ahistorocity. Like so much else in Judaism, brit milah has changed – evolved, if you will – adapted to the times and the needs of Jews. It is the haredi world’s refusal to allow this process that most endangers Judaism today. Unfortunately, in this specific case it endangers Jewish babies, as well.

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Filed under Circumcision Controversy, History

5 responses to “The History Of Jewish Circumcision, Part 1

  1. Yochanan Lavie

    The modern Karaites say that any medical circumcision is okay (See When did a mohel become necessary? If my memory is correct, Tziporah circumcized her sons.

  2. Nigritude Ultramarine

    >When did a mohel become necessary?

    A mohel is not necessary.

  3. Anonymous

    so when your son had a bris, you jus tlet the doctor do it? i highly doubt it, if you have so many issues with the way brit mila is done by mainstream Judaism, why did you do it that way?

  4. Nigritude Ultramarine

    so when your son had a bris, you jus tlet the doctor do it?

    No, you get someone who has בקיאות in מילה. That could be practically anyone, not just someone who makes a living doing it. I have a cousin, who after study with a rabbi, did the מילה on one of his own sons.

  5. Nigritude Ultramarine

    if you have so many issues….

    No need to get personal now.

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