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Commandments, Statutes, Circumcision

The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that the Law of Sinai requiring all Jewish males to undergo circumcision eight days after birth was ridiculous and weird. Even today, the Web hosts dozens of websites that harshly criticize it, even equating it with the utterly unrelated horror known, misleadingly, as "female circumcision."

On this subject, it's worth noting that Christianity declared New Year's Day, January 1st, a very holy day worth celebrating, eight days after Christmas Eve, as "the Anniversary of the Circumcision of Our Lord."

Recently, science has proved that this despised rite, this supposed "male genital mutilation," radically reduces the transmission of dangerous diseases. And huge numbers of boys and men, particularly in Africa, have been literally lining up to have the operation performed - an operation which, though practically painless for newborns (the nervous system isn't well-developed at that age), can be extremely painful for older males.

[Go to The Circumcision Song (click here) to hear some musical - rap music - persuasion on the subject from Africa.]

As the Torah says:

Deuteronomy 4:1     "Hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments which I teach you, for you to do them, that you may live. . . 4:6 for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, that shall hear all these statutes, and say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. 4:7  for what nation is there so great, that has God so near unto them. . .   4:8     And what nation is there so great, that has statutes and judgments so righteous as all this Law, which I set before you this day. . . .

"Statutes" in Torah are Commandments whose reasons for being aren't completely clear to us. We don't know exactly why God commands the people of Israel not to eat pork, for instance. We don't know exactly why He wants Israel to eat matzah (unleavened bread) on Pesach/Passover.

On the other hand, the reasoning behind His laws, such as the Noahide laws, is fairly plain. The Noahide laws against murder and stealing all make perfect sense to us, for instance. Similarly, everyone should know better than to eat flesh which has been torn from a warm blooded living animal. As for the Noahide laws against sexual immorality - against acts like adultery, incest, bestiality, or male homosexual practices - the Torah itself tells us why they're forbidden. In fact, the Torah provides a value: such acts are all abominable; they are perverse, they are abominations. (Leviticus 18)

In other words, the Noahide laws all make sense to us, or at least they should. So do the Torah's many "judgments," the prophecies and all the obviously wise laws of gentleness and justice. But it's different with the Torah's statutes. Nothing about them is obvious. Nevertheless, the Torah promises, the time will come when the nations of the world come to appreciate the goodness even of the statutes. And, in fact, something very like that just happened recently. Scientific studies produced a major policy change in Africa last month.

Ever since the time of Abraham, the performance of male circumcision - the cutting of the foreskin of the male reproductive organ - has been denounced as a kind of grotesque "male genital mutilation." You can Google those words on the Internet if you want to see people still at it. Their term for it is MGM. How they hate it! A cruel, degraded, superstitious Jewish practice, they call it.

Now science shows that circumcision drastically reduces the chances of a man receiving or transmitting venereal diseases - HIV in particular, the virus that causes AIDS. To the great discomfiture of the anti-circumcision crusaders - the "male genital mutilation" MGM crusaders - women all across Africa are telling their husbands and boyfriends to get circumcised. And clinics all across the continent, which used to refuse to do them, are earnestly performing the procedure on men who have been lining up to get it.

That's the way it is with all the Torah's statutes. People will attack them with everything they've got; enemies, often in the name of "higher ideals," may - and often do, in Israel's long history - try to remove them completely from the world. It doesn't matter. Sooner or later, the righteousness in all of them comes out.

By Michael Dallen

From the December, 2006 Covenant Connection (Volume 2, Issue 4):






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