Circumcision is the surgical removal of the foreskin from the penis and is practiced by Jews, Muslims, and Coptic Christians. Circumcision was practiced by Egyptians in antiquity and is now prevalent among many African tribes. Among Jews, circumcision is performed on the 8th day after birth and is also required of male proselytes as an integral part of the conversion procedure. If circumcision is delayed for any serious medical consideration, 7 full days must elapse subsequent to the complete recovery of the child before circumcision may be performed.
As recorded in Genesis 17:11, circumcision is a sign of the covenant entered into between God and Abraham. Rabbinic literature is replete with additional suggestions concerning the symbolism represented in the rite of circumcision. Of particular significance is the concept that removal of the foreskin, which constitutes a physical obstruction, is symbolic of the removal of the spiritual barrier which may separate the heart of man from God. An indication of the central role of circumcision in Judaism is the fact that, although letting of blood is generally forbidden on the Sabbath, circumcision is performed on the 8th day even when it occurs on the Sabbath. It is significant to note that there is no rabbinic source indicating that the purpose of circumcision is avoidance of disease or promotion of health.
In Jewish teaching, circumcision is incumbent not only upon Jews but also upon all descendants of Abraham. Since circumcision is not discussed in the Koran, it is probably that tradition that gave rise to the practice among Muslims. Jewish tradition requires excision of the foreskin and exposure of the corona for all males of Abrahamic descent and, for Jews, removal of the underlying mucus membrane covering the glans as well. Jewish practice also requires that blood flow freely from the wound and employs suction in order to guarantee free flow of blood. For this reason, surgical procedures involving use of a clamp designed to cause necrosis and subsequent sloughing off of the tissue is not sanctioned. Talmudic sources indicate that the requirement for suction of blood is designed to prevent endangerment of the child, that is, the flow of blood cleanses the wound and prevents infection. Some rabbinic authorities permit laser surgery for the circumcision of hemophiliacs.
The attitude of the medical profession toward circumcision has had a checkered history. Circumcision is historically the only example of a prophylactic surgical procedure. Alleged medical benefits include a decrease in the incidence of urinary tract infection and resultant kidney disease, lower susceptibility to sexually transmitted diseases, as well as a lower rate both of cancer of the penis and of cervical cancer in sexual partners. Circumcision among non-Jews in Western countries was uncommon until late in the 19th century, when it became increasingly popular as a health measure. The circumcision rate in the United States reached a height of more than 80% in the post–World War II years. The rate declined subsequent to the finding of the American Academy of Pediatrics in the 1970s that “there is no absolute medical indication for routine circumcision of the newborn.” Strident opposition to circumcision then developed in some circles on the grounds that the procedure constitutes an unwarranted trauma inflicted upon the newborn. In 1989, a task force of that organization found that the procedure did indeed yield some medical benefit. In a 1999 statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics found circumcision to be a significant factor in preventing urinary tract infection but did not find grounds to warrant a recommendation for routine circumcision. Recent studies indicate that circumcised males may have a diminished risk of contracting syphilis and human immunodeficiency virus infection.
Reference: Circumcision Information and Resource Pages, http://www.cirp.org/