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Zimmermann, F. (1951). Origin and Significance of the Jewish Rite of Circumcision. Psychoanal. Rev., 38:103-112.

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(1951). Psychoanalytic Review, 38(2):103-112

Original Articles

Origin and Significance of the Jewish Rite of Circumcision

Frank Zimmermann, Ph.D.

With the Jewish people, the rite of circumcision is of cardinal importance. The operation is performed without deviation on the eighth day of the child's birth (comp. Lev. 12:3). If the eighth day should fall on the Sabbath, or even on the most solemn day of the year as the Day of Atonement, the rite is nonetheless performed, as if to indicate that it takes precedence over any other institution or observance. The term applied to the rite is berít miláh “the covenant of the circumcision,” again highlighting its importance, because berít is significantly and frequently used in covenant relationship of Israel with Yahweh. This paper will discuss the bearing of certain psychoanalytic and anthropological conclusions on the origin and significance of the Jewish rite of circumcision.

Reduced to its simplest elements, the procedure of Jewish circumcision in practice, as of today in orthodox Jewish circles, may be described as follows:

First of all, it is obligatory on the father to perform the circumcision himself. [Comp. Talmud Babli, Kiddushin 29a “It is obligatory on the father to circumcise his son.” In modern days, it is the practice of the father to assign this function to an experienced lay leader called mohel “circumciser” who performs as the father's agent in the matter. If the father has the experience, he is still obligated to do the circumcision himself. For the discussion in this paper, we shall use the term “father” in his original role as circumciser.]

1.   He seizes the prepuce with thumb and index finger of one hand and with a sharp knife in the other cuts off the foreskin with one quick stroke.

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