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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Maimonides on the Reasons For Circumcising

There is one reason why we circumcise our sons: Because it is a mitzvah in the Torah.

We don't do it because Abraham did it. He certainly set a precedent and we follow his example. But
as the Rambam (Maimonides) explains in his commentary to the Mishnah Hullin at the end of Chapter 7, EVERY MITZVAH STEMS FROM WHAT MOSES TAUGHT AT SINAI BASED ON GOD'S COMMAND.
פירוש המשנה לרמב"ם מסכת חולין פרק ז 
[ו] לדעת ר' יהודה האוכל כזית מגיד הנשה של בהמה טמאה חייב שתי מלקיות משום בהמה טמאה ומשום גיד הנשה. ואין הלכה כר' יהודה. ושים לבך לכלל הגדול הזה המובא במשנה זו והוא אמרם מסיני נאסר, והוא, שאתה צריך לדעת שכל מה שאנו נזהרים ממנו או עושים אותו היום אין אנו עושים זאת אלא מפני צווי ה' על ידי משה, לא מפני שה' צוה בכך לנביאים שקדמוהו, דוגמא לכך, אין אנו אוכלים אבר מן החי לא מפני שה' אסר על בני נח אבר מן החי, אלא מפני שמשה אסר עלינו אבר מן החי במה שנצטווה בסיני שישאר אבר מן החי אסור. וכן אין אנו מלים בגלל שאברהם מל את עצמו ואנשי ביתו, אלא מפני שה' צונו על ידי משה להמול כמו שמל אברהם עליו השלום, וכן גיד הנשה אין אנו נמשכים בו אחרי אסור יעקב אבינו אלא צווי משה רבינו, הלא תראה אמרם שש מאות ושלש עשרה מצות נאמרו לו למשה בסיני, וכל אלה מכלל המצות. 

Translation of the two bolded statements:
"You must know that everything we are careful about or do today, we only do it because of a commandment of God [delivered] through the hand of Moshe."
"And we do not circumcise because Abraham circumcised himself and the men of his household. But because God commanded us, through Moshe's hand, to circumcise, just as Avraham, Peace upon him, circumcised..."

So Maimonides makes it quite clear that we have a mitzvah to circumcise. And that the only reason we do so is because of the mitzvah.  

This is an important set up to the next posting, which will specifically target the Jews who are anti-circumcision, who like to take a quote of Maimonides out of context to argue why we should not circumcise.

They do not listen to anything else Maimonides says. They don't read Maimonides at all. And they don't understand what Maimonides writes. But they champion him as the anti-circumcision advocate because of something he wrote, when applying such a moniker to him could not be any further from the truth - stay tuned... for part II


  1. I've enjoyed this entry and the second installment as well, and have learned a lot.

    I do have one qualm though.

    Why do you continue to use the word "anti-circumcision"? These people are not necessarily against circumcision, which is what your phrase implies. These people are only against circumcision when it is performed on minors without medical necessity. There is a huge difference that is very important to see. They are called "genital integrity activists," or sometimes just "intactivists." The circumcision itself is not significant, it's about removing healthy, normal, natural, functioning tissue from a human being. That applies to both male and female genitals, and any part of the male and female genitals, not just the prepuce, another important element that is lost by using "anti-circumcision." Do they usually talk about ending the excising of the male prepuce(for minors and non-consenting adults)? Yes. But they also spend considerable time fighting the exact same for females. I just hope that's not lost on you.

  2. Thank you. I use the term because I believe the "intactivist" argument is a straw-man for the real agenda, which is anti-circumcision.
    The female issue is not one I address because no religion truly advocates it. It is a custom in some (Arab/African/Muslim?) communities but not mandated. I do think FGM is a horrific practice. But male circumcision is viewed very differently even in the medical world - it has its supporters and those who believe it to be unnecessary except in certain circumstances. But for the most part the medical community has accepted it as a normative practice (of sorts).
    Male circumcision in Judaism is mandated on infants, as a mark of the Covenant. Intactivists don't like it. So they shouldn't circumcise their sons. But they should leave Jews alone. Our sons don't need their protection. And using Maimonides to bolster their argument is disingenuous.


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