The circumcision decision

The Evolution of Routine Infant Circumcision

The routine infant circumcision practiced in America today is quite different from the circumcision practiced by society thousands of years ago, says Miriam Pollack, author of "Circumcision: A Jewish Feminist Perspective."

Prior to the time of Hellenic and later Roman influence, Pollack says Jewish circumcision consisted of cutting off that part of the foreskin, which extended beyond the glans, leaving much of the foreskin intact. When Jewish men competed nude in Greek-style athletic competitions, however, they were routinely ridiculed for their mutilated genitalia.

"To the Greeks, exposing the glans was a sign of vulgarity, and cutting the body in order to please God was unthinkable," Pollack writes. "Hadrian outlawed circumcision as well as castration, and circumcision became a signal for persecution. Many Jews tried to hide their circumcisions in order to assimilate into Greek culture or later, to elude persecution by the Romans."

As a result, Jewish men became intent on hiding their circumcisions through various methods of stretching or tying their remaining foreskins. But in 140 AD, Pollack says, the rabbis demanded that in order for a circumcision to meet the standard of Jewish law, radical circumcision, or periah must be performed. Periah consists of the complete stripping and shearing of the foreskin.

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