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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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< Q21.1.1 TOC Q21.1.3 >

Question 21.1.2:
Entering the Covenant: Why are Jewish boys circumcised?


The rite of circumcision is one of the most ancient practices of Judaism. The commandment to circumcise male children was given to Abraham in the Torah (Genesis 17:7-14) [English translation from 1917 JPS Tanach]:

And G-d said unto Abraham: 'And as for thee, thou shalt keep My covenant, thou, and thy seed after thee throughout their generations. This is My covenant, which ye shall keep, between Me and you and thy seed after thee: every male among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of a covenant betwixt Me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every male throughout your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any foreigner, that is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised; and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that should shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken My covenant.

It is repeated in the Torah in Leviticus 12:3, and has remained throughout history as one of the most important commandments. It has already led to martyrdom in Maccabean times (I Macc. 1:48,60).

Circumcision is (in general) a common denominator among movements: Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Orthodox--all circumcise their male children and require male converts to undergo some form of circumcision.

Furthermore, faith is the only reason that Jews should circumcise their male children. In Moreh Nevuchim (Guide for the Pereplexed), chapter 49, the Rambam says: "No one, however, should circumcise himself or his son for any other reason than pure faith; for circumcision is not like an incision on the leg or a burn on the arm, but a very difficult operation."

Current medical fashions play no role in circumcision, as it is a religous rite to Jews. Thus, it is pointless to attempt to argue for or against circumcision from a basis of medical need.

As said in the Reform Responsa addressing circumcision: "Circumcision remains for us an essential sign of the covenant. We have affirmed it since the days of Abraham, our Father, and continue to affirm it".

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

[Got Questions?]Hopefully, the FAQ will provide the answer to your questions. If it doesn't, please drop Email to The FAQ maintainer will endeavor to direct your query to an appropriate individual that can answer it. If you would like to be part of the group to which the maintainer directs questions, please drop a note to the FAQ maintainer at

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