Most Jews regard circumcision as a given. For the devout, it’s the fulfilment of a divine commandment, an act of faith. For many others, regardless of their beliefs, circumcision remains a powerful statement among the Jewish people.
Jewish thinkers throughout the ages have reflected on the benefits. Moses Maimondes felt it kept sexual desire in check, binding married couples together while keeping men focused on Torah study. Philo of Alexandria, writing in mid-first century C.E., felt circumcision had been handed down from wise ancestors and conferred hygienic advantages for desert dwellers, as well as moral and procreative benefits.
Today Jews cite many reasons for keeping the tradition: it’s the right thing for Jews to do; it’s a tribal marking; it’s viewed as healthier and generally more appealing. But for some, infant circumcision presents insurmountable moral, ethical, and spiritual difficulties. Within the Jewish “tent,” there’s a diversity of experience with regard to this ancient tradition.
The following are some Jewish laws, values, and expressions that non-circumcising Jews have connected with their stance:
- It’s forbidden to cause pain to living creatures.
- Man is never nearer the divine than in his compassionate moments.
- We must bring our spiritual intent (kavanah) to all commandments.
- What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.
- Loving kindness (chesed) and compassion are core ethical virtues.
- All humankind is made in the likeness of God.
- All of the Torah’s paths are peace (shalom).
- Let justice pierce the mountain.
- Judaism affirms the sanctity of human life.
- One is not obligated to undergo a dangerous treatment.
- Harmony between spouses has special importance.
- Human dignity may trump biblical law.
- It is our responsibility to repair the world (tikkun olam).
- Jewish law can change as we learn more.