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From the Archive /
Birth and Circumcision

Robin Markel

Yuval Group


In the Torah there are three cases in which the circumcision is sanctified by a sign symbolizing it: The rainbow, the sign that: I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. (Genesis 9:15), the Sabbath: Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant (Exodus 31:16) and the circumcision:  I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. (Genesis 17:7-12)

The circumcision ceremony, a sign on the body of man at the start of his life, symbolizes the entry of the infant into the Jewish people, and its thousand generations. The circumcision differentiates him from the Gentiles, and accepts him as a member of the people and the congregation as a whole person, according to the words of the Sages in the Mishnah: Rabbi says: Great is circumcision, for despite all the commandments that Abraham did, he was not called complete until he was circumcised, as it says Walk before Me and be complete.” (Nedarim 3:10)

Circumcision prepares man for his inheritance, like the Children of Israel before their entry into the Land of Canaan with Joshua: And after the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed. Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the place has been called Gilgal to this day. (Joshua 5:8-9)

From this day onwards the life of the infant is interwoven with the lives of the people with its historical memory, the national fate, his responsibility to the world, in his lamentations, in his joy, and in his deeds as a covenant of the universe.

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