1. Religion & Spirituality

Your suggestion is on its way!

An email with a link to:


was emailed to:

Thanks for sharing About.com with others!

Most Emailed Articles

The Bible and Suicide

<Back to Last Page >     <Glossary Index>

 Related Terms
• ritual
• Judaism


The word circumcision means literally "cutting around" and its practice is ancient, although it is not practiced in all cultures. It can, however, be found among the ancient Hebrews, Egyptians, Polynesians, and among various tribes in the Americas. Circumcision, normally part of a ritual, involves the removal of the foreskin either of a man or of a boy. Usually this occurs as part of some sort of initiation or rite of passage.

Why it originally developed is unknown, by various explanations have suggested motives such as hygiene and attempts to create outward marks of tribal affiliation.

In the West, circumcision is associated with Judaism and is, within Judaism, regarded as among the most important of the 613 commandments given by God. It is through circumcision (known as berit milah in Hebrew) that God marks the Jews as his chosen people, preferred above all others. It is so important that is must always be performed on the eighth day after birth, even if that day is a Sabbath when all other work is expressly forbidden.

Jewish Circumcision is performed by a specially designated person known as a mohel and the child is placed momentarily in a chair which is actually set aside for the prophet Elijah because it is traditionally believed that Elijah attends every circumcision ceremony, watching over it. The act of circumcision, however, takes place while the child is in the lap of the sandek or godfather.

Circumcision is also practiced in Islam, even though there is no command to do it in the Qur'an. However, it was already a widely accepted cultural practice and so was later declared to be an justified by the Sunna.

Also Known As: none

Alternate Spellings: none

Common Misspellings: none

Related Resources:

What is Theism?
What is the difference between monotheism and monolatry? Between pantheism and panentheism? How about between animism and shamanism? Or theism and deism? What the heck is henotheism? For that matter, what is and is not a religion?

What is Religion?
A system of human beliefs, ideals and practices which is harder to define than it may at first appear.

<Back to Last Page >     <Glossary Index>
  1. About.com
  2. Religion & Spirituality
  3. Agnosticism & Atheism

©2017 About.com. All rights reserved.