by James E. Peron, Ed.D.
Available at http://www.cirp.org/library/history/peron2/
CIRCUMCISION: THEN AND NOW
By: James E. Peron, Ed.D.
Milah: Symbolic Circumcision of Covenant
The original Biblical circumcision of Abraham’s time was a relatively minor ritual circumcision procedure in which only the redundant end of the foreskin extending beyond the tip of the glans was removed. This was called “Milah”. It is from this term that the Jewish Religious Covenant circumcision ritual Bris Milah or Brith Milah got its name.
Following “Milah”, a penis so circumcised would still contain a considerable portion of the foreskin and the penis would have continued to go through its natural development since most of the foreskin would have remained intact. Protection of the glans would still have occurred. The foreskin would not be stripped back off the glans and would naturally separate from the glans gradually as the child matures, much as it would had the child not been circumcised. The sensitive frenulum would not have been disturbed or moved, and the foreskin remaining would continue to cover and protect a substantial portion of the glans, especially when flaccid, and the glans would appear as uncircumcised. There would be minimal loss of sensitivity or intended protection.
This type circumcision continued throughout the ages and during the time of Christ. The circumcision of Christ would have been this type circumcision as referred to in the bible. Indeed, biblical reference to circumcision is strictly this form of circumcision. It continued into the New Testament. It has been argued that Michelangelo’s David should show David as Circumcised. Interestingly, Michelangelo presented David precisely as he should have appeared following an infant “Milah” circumcision. His glans is essentially covered with only the tip of the glans showing.
Changes to the Ritual Circumcision Procedure:
No other feature was added to the religious ritual until about 140 AD when a second step to the ritual circumcision procedure was introduced.
Periah: The laying bare of the glans
After performing “milah”, the cutting back of the end of the infant’s foreskin, a second step, periah was then performed. Periah consists of tearing and stripping back the remaining inner mucosal lining of the foreskin from the glans and then, by use of a sharp finger nail or implement, removing all of the inner mucosal tissue, including the excising and removal of the frenulum from the underside of the glans. The objective was to insure that no part of the remaining penile skin would rest against the glans corona. If any shreds of the mucosal foreskin tissue remained, or rejoined to the underside of the glans, the child was to be re-circumcised.
This is a much more radical form of circumcision. It was dictated by man, and is not the biblical commanded circumcision rite. Its introduction has a bizarre history. The rabbinate sought to put an end to the practice of youths desiring to appear uncircumcised by stretching the remainding foreskin for social economic benefits and for sports competitions. By introducing the painful and debilitating “Periah” they would obliterate the foreskin completely such that proper circumcised Jew could not disguise “the seal of the covenant”. From this point in Jewish history, the male’s glans is directly affected by the circumcision procedure, and the denuded glans and traumatized infant will heal with considerable nerve damage and loss of sensitivity. Again, it is important to note that this is not the Covenant circumcision of Abraham defined in the Bible.
Metzitzeh: (Mezzizza/Mizizah) The sucking of blood from the wound
During the Talmudic period (500-625 A.D.), a third step was added to the Orthodox circumcision ritual. It was not universally adopted by all Jewish groups, but became a practice of the more Orthodox groups. This third step was called “Metzitzah”. During “Metzitzah”, the mohel takes the now badly bleeding penis into his mouth and sucks the blood from the wounded pant. This was most probably adopted to collapse the major blood vessels to stem bleeding and to extract any induced bacteria from the wound and blood system. In effect, it often introduced infection, such as tuberculosis and venereal diseases, with very serious and tragic consequence, as reported throughout history. More modern day mohels use a glass tube placed over the infant’s penis for suction of the blood when performing metzitzah. In many Jewish ritual circumcisions this step of Metzitzah has been eliminated.
The introduction of Routine Infant Circumcision:
Routine Infant Circumcision was introduced during the late 1800’s and throughout the 1900’s on the pretext that it offered health and hygiene benefits, would stop the habit of masturbation, and proffered an endless list of presumed cures for a variety of ailments and diseases. As mother’s opted to use physicians to give birth in hospitals or clinics, rather than using a midwife for home birth, the practice of routine circumcision of male infants blossomed and became nearly universal.
As one would expect, many of those experienced in the procedure were Jewish physicians and mohels. They taught new physicians to perform the surgical procedure as was practiced by Jewish ritual circumcision procedures. This meant that most infants underwent a fairly radical complete form of circumcision. What was performed was the Jewish “Milah” followed by “Periah”, with most if not all of the foreskin being removed and the frenulum either severely damaged or completely removed. This remains the routine infant circumcision procedure to this day. Many males throughout these past decades have suffered the lasting physical, psychological, and sexual dysfunctional consequences of routine circumcision, which they did not choose.
*Mr. Peron is a medical research writer, educator lecturer, and founder of the Childbirth Education Foundation. He has devoted over thirty years researching the subject of routine infant circumcision. He is regarded internationally as an authority on this subject. He has written extensively for major childbirth, childcare, and parenting publications on this and other newborn care and parenting issues.