Style choices in relation to Religious Beliefs

Last updated: 07 March 2014, 13:26 UTC

Style preferences in Judaism

Clipart signifying Judiasm (8227 bytes)
In pre-Christian times, Jewish circumcision rituals produced a moderately high and loose style. Even in the absence of direct evidence we can deduce this from the method used, the traditional Jewish Shield. The circumcision ceremony associated with the use of this device and the naming ceremony that takes place on the same occasion together constitute the true Bris Milah; it is incorrect to regard the term Bris Milah as just a description of the circumcision style.

Sometime during the first or second century AD, a more radical style began to be used. Called Bris Periah, it was designed to frustrate techniques of foreskin restoration that had become popular with Jewish youth of the day. Explanations of the reason for these restoration attempts vary, but centre mainly on expedient denial of their racial, religious and cultural origins in the face of anti-semitism. The rebellion was not based upon any moral objection to infant circumcision, nor upon a belief that circumcision had reduced the quality of their sexual experience.

This rejection of one of the fundamental tenets of the faith upset the rabbis, who had the mohelim devise an 'unrestorable' circumcision akin to what we term the Low and Tight style. Nowadays this more radical style is more often associated with use of a Gomco Clamp in a hospital setting but occasionally it will be found performed as part of a religious ceremony.

Traditional Bris (44,521 bytes)

A traditional Jewish Bris

In the absence of medical contra-indications, traditional Jewish circumcision takes place on the eighth day of a boy’s life. When done at this age it is difficult to predict the effect on the frenulum. Thus amongst adults one might expect variations even within a group who were, as infants, circumcised by the same mohel.

Style preferences in Islam

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It may come as a surprise to many readers that circumcision is not directly stipulated as a strict requirement of Islam. Only the Five Pillars of the Faith are obligations common to all sects of the religion, these being the Profession of Faith, Daily Prayer, the Giving of Alms, fasting at Ramadan and Hajj, the Pilgrimage to Mecca. Indirectly, though, this does lead to a requirement for circumcision. A male can only complete the Hajj if circumcised; thus it is the obligation to perform Hajj that creates in Islam an obligation to be circumcised.

In any event, it is the case that the Prophet Mohammed laid down further rules for Moslem men one of which was circumcision. These additional rules rate as standards to which a pious man should conform but they are not compulsory, merely advisable. There is no known record of the style of circumcision being specified by the Prophet, neither was any age for circumcision ever laid down.

In the centuries following the life of Mohammed, Western civilisation was passing through what is termed the "Dark Ages", a time when much early science and virtually the whole of mathematics would have been lost had it not been for the scholars of Islam acting as custodians of the world’s knowledge. They did not merely preserve knowledge but also expanded it, the University at Cordoba in Moorish Spain being a well-known example of their achievements.

It was during this era of scholarly Islam that pre-pubertal circumcision became the Islamic norm. It seems reasonable to presume that empirical observation led to the conclusion that circumcision is easier to perform on a boy than on a man, this in turn leading to the age at which Islamic circumcisions now take place.

Generally speaking, modern Islamic circumcision is neither fully High nor fully Low in style, it is substantially loose and it retains the frenulum. The age norm being sometime between five years and the onset of puberty, the outcome with respect to the frenulum is predictable.

Typical circumcision scene in Malaysia (40,684 bytes)

A typical circumcision scene in Malaysia.
Image © 2010 Star Publications (M) Bhd.

Islamic circumcisions are either matter-of-fact medical events or something accompanied by a social gathering, done in public in a location such as a village hall. It is certainly true that they sometimes take place in mosques, the surgery being done by Imams. But there is no accompanying religious ritual on the scale of the Jewish Bris. Given this relatively secular approach, style choice may be amenable to change in the light of new medical knowledge, to an extent not found amongst Jews.

Style preferences in other faiths and in Atheism

No other religions are known to CIRCLIST as having a religious obligation to circumcise, although it is the norm (for example) amongst Egyptian Coptic Christians. Thus there appear to be no other social groups where the style of circumcision is a function of religious belief.

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