Chapter

Were Jewish Women Ever Circumcised?

Shaye J. D. Cohen

in Why Aren't Jewish Women Circumcised?

Published by University of California Press

Published in print September 2005 | ISBN: 9780520212503
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520920491 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520212503.003.0002
Were Jewish Women Ever Circumcised?

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This chapter discusses female circumcision and analyses whether it was practiced in Jewish communities. Some cultures of the world practice female circumcision or female genital mutilation. The circumcision of women is first attested in Egypt in the Hellenistic period. The earliest evidence is a papyrus document from 163 bce, a petition written in Greek by an Egyptian monk at the temple of Serapis in Memphis. The document shows that the circumcision of women just before marriage was an established custom, at least in Memphis (middle Egypt), not later than the middle of the second century bce. However, female circumcision was unknown in the ancient Near East in general and unknown to ancient Israel in particular. There is no evidence anywhere that any Jewish community has ever practiced female circumcision. The Jewish philosopher Philo describes it saying that men need to be circumcised because they need to have both their lust checked and their pride diminished, and these desirable goals are achieved through circumcision.

Keywords: female circumcision; Philo; female genital mutilation; Egypt; Jewish women

Chapter.  4694 words. 

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies

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