“To cut a body part off a little tiny baby in cold blood, you have to [suppress] a lot of your natural instincts,” said Georganne Chapin, executive director of Intact America, a four-year-old organization opposing infant circumcision.
Like asking about religion
Another obstacle, of course, is millennia of tradition. Circumcision is one of the oldest known surgical procedures. Egyptian wall paintings dating to 2300 B.C. depict adult circumcision ceremonies. Aboriginal Australians, Aztecs and Mayans practiced some form of genital cutting. Such traditions have uncertain origins or meanings, but at times appeared to be a rite of passage, test of bravery or sign of endurance, according to a 2007 report by the World Health Organization and UNAIDS.
“It’s like asking the question ‘Where does religion come from?’ . . . There are a lot of different myths around it,” said David L. Gollaher, a medical historian and author of “Circumcision: A History of the World’s Most Controversial Surgery.”
An estimated 30 percent of men are circumcised around the globe today, according to the report. That includes North Sudanese boys circumcised at age 8 (using a cord and a knife) before they can enter school as well as 2-day-old American-born boys clipped at the hospital using a clamp — sometimes compared to a “cigar cutter” — and some local anesthetic.
Though most Americans are aware of circumcision’s Jewish roots, worldwide fewer than 1 percent of circumcised men are Jews. Muslims, who make up more than a fifth of the world’s population, account for two-thirds of circumcisions. Islamic circumcision rituals vary widely by region and sect, but Jews adhere to a specific tradition, whereby a boy is circumcised by a specially trained mohel on the eighth day of life.
The practice is rooted in a deal struck between God and Abraham described in the Book of Genesis: “This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee: Every man child among you shall be circumcised.”
The Baby Jesus’s circumcision is recorded in the Bible and depicted in medieval and Renaissance art. And although Christianity did not widely embrace the practice, some European churches have claimed to possess the “Holy Foreskin,” a relic credited with miraculous powers. Pilgrims traveled to the northern Italian town of Calcata to pay tribute to one of these relics as recently as 1983, when it was reportedly stolen.