The Foreskin and Circumcision in Literature
In most of these books, those quoted below, circumcision is a plot point, and the issue is only whether or not a character is circumcised, and why. The treatment varies widely, depending on whether the culture is circumcising or intact.
Horse Heaven and 3001, on other pages, deal with sexual consequences of intactness and circumcision respectively, in very different ways, and Tales of the City with growing up intact.
- by Sam Lipsyte
Indeed, The Ask isn’t really a Jewish novel, but there are, throughout its pages, tinges of the Jewish experience. For one thing, Milo routinely kvetches over his decision to not have his son circumcised.
Meanwhile, his son, Bernie, has his own obsession—more age-appropriate—with the extra tubing. “Do superheroes have foreskins?” he asks his dad. “Does Goliath have a foreskin?” Lipsyte, as is his talent, turns a meaningful family moment into comedy just in time: “Not for long,” Milo answers. “Not when David’s done with him.” When Bernie asks who David is, Milo tells him, “A foreskin collector.”
The Millions, September 9, 2010
by Edward St Aubyn
Eleanor tells Mary of a particularly upsetting incident, when a drunken David circumcised his infant son as Eleanor and others looked on, too scared to do anything. “They knew this was no operation, it was an attack by a furious old man on his son’s genitals; but like the chorus in a play, they could only comment and wail, without being able to stop him.” A scandalised Mary wonders how a mother could let this happen, but concludes that her mother-in-law “could never have protected anyone else when she was so entranced by her own vulnerability, so desperate to be saved.”
"How could an infant express himself before he had a self to express, or the words to express what he didn't yet have? Only the dumb language of injury and illness was abundantly available. There was screaming, of course, if it was allowed."
[Fictional Eleanor is reminiscent of real-life Dina Lucas Relles in this essay.]
Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer's Life
- by Michael Greenberg
In one essay, he explores what he regards as the unnecessary business of circumcision, particularly regarding his own sons: “My brother was unimpressed. To him, I am the worst traitor: a non-believer who was brought up to believe.”
The Telegraph, March 13, 2010
...like you'd crop a ear or scorch a brand...
- by Annie Proulx
... He stood up, said you bet he'd like to see Jack's room, recalled one of Jack's stories about this old man. Jack was dick-clipped and the old man was not; it
bothered the son, who had discovered the anatomical disconformity
during a hard scene. He had been about three or four, he said, always
late getting to the toilet, struggling with buttons, the seat, the
height of the thing, and often as not left the surroundings sprinkled
down. The old man blew up about it and this one time worked into a
"Christ, he licked the stuffin out a me, knocked me down
on the bathroom floor, whipped me with his belt. I thought he was killin me. Then he says, 'You want a know what it's like with piss all over the place? I'll learn you,' and he pulls it out and lets go all over me, soaked me, then he throws a towel at me and makes me mop up the floor, take my clothes off and warsh them in the bathtub, warsh out the towel, I'm bawlin and blubberin. But while he was hosin me down I seen he had some extra material that I was missin. I seen they'd cut me different like you'd crop a ear or scorch a brand. No way to get it right with him after that."
First published in the New Yorker, October 13, 1997
This story gets it right, that when a circumcised boy discovers what he is missing - especially something his father has - he is traumatised. In a circumcising society he may take comfort from being the same as his peers, but for many this only delays the shock and loss.
"Brokeback Mountain" has been made into a film starring Jake Gyllenhaal as Jack Twist and Heath Ledger as Ennis Del Mar. The above sequence is not in the film.
The Captain and Thomasine
- by Don Floyd
Grew up a girl, became a soldier, dressed as a woman, defended herself in stunning Jamestown court case.
The Thomas/Thomasine Hall case of 1629 was about America’s first known intersexual, her struggle for identity in a male-female world and her choice to dress as a woman despite the efforts of settlers in Jamestown to force her to dress as a man. Magistrate Nathaniel Basse ruled that she could dress as a woman, but the settlers took their case to the Virginia governor. Thomasine Hall testified that she was christened as a girl and raised as a girl, that she considered herself a girl in childhood and a woman in adulthood. The governor had something else in mind. He did not rule that Hall must dress as a man, but something far worse.
- by György Dalos
György Dalos lives in Berlin, but in his books he regularly returns to his homeland, Hungary. He was born in Budapest in 1943.
His novel "The Circumcision," which first appeared in German (Die Beschneidung. Eine Geschichte) in 1997, is about a boy named Robi and his experiences with growing up. Robi's biggest problem is the fact that he missed out on the Jewish ritual of circumcision, which is normally performed on boys when they are eight days old. It never happened because there was no time for it, since Robi was born in an air-raid shelter in Budapest during a period of regular bombings.
From the publisher:
Twelve-year-old Robi Singer and best friend Gabor Blum are the only boys in their class who have yet to be circumcised. Robi is worried.
What if the knife should slip? What will the others think in the showers? Will he find a wife? Is there plastic surgery to fix damage of this sort?
Should he have the circumcision? Everyone has an opinion—from his teachers to his eccentric grandmother and hypochondriac mother—the final decision is Robi’s.
Claudius the God
- by Robert Graves
Purported autobiography of the Roman Emperor Claudius (10 BCE - 54 CE)
[Herod Agrippa's] was not a drama in the purest classical tradition, although his life was finally cut off in classical tragic style by the conventional divine vengeance for the conventional Greek sin of arrogance - no, there were too many un-Greek elements in it. For instance, the God who inflicted the vengeance on him was not one of the urbane OIympian community: he was perhaps the oddest deity that you would find anywhere in my extensive dominions, or out of them, for that matter, a God of whom no image is in existence, whose name his devout worshippers are forbidden to pronounce (though in his honour they clip their foreskins and practise many other curious and barbarous rites), and who is said to live alone, at
Jerusalem, in an ancient cedar chest lined with badger-skins dyed blue and to refuse to have anything to do with any other deities in the world or even to acknowledge the existence of such.
Not being a recognized religion (the better sort of Jews repudate it strongly), the cult [Christianity] falls under the regulations against drinking-clubs and sodalities; and is of the dangerous sort that grows the stronger by prohibition. The chief article in the faith is the absolute equality of man with man in the sight of the Jewish God with whom this Joshua [or Jesus as his Greek followers call him] is now practically identified - and of God's granting everlasting bliss to sinners on the single condition of their repentance and acknowledgement of his supremacy to all other Gods. Anyone can be enrolled in the cult, irrespective class, race, or character, so people join who cannot hope for admittance to the legitimate mysteries of Isis, Cybele, Apollo, the rest, either because they have never had the necessary social standing, or because they have lost it by some disgrace or crime. At first an initiate had to submit to circumcision, but even this ritual preliminary has now been waived because the sect has broken away so completely from orthodox Judaism that a mere sprinkling of water and the naming of the Messiah is the only initiatory ceremony.
... this will help you become a real mensch
- by Dario Sulzman
Albee's parents have separated, his Bar Mitzvah is approaching,
and his now-Orthodox father has changed his mind
about a concession he made before Albee was born....
“How come you’re not circumcised?” Francis asked.
“I don’t really know. He said that my mother didn’t want it.” They had stopped the game, the subject was too complex to discuss while simultaneously playing. “He offered me money. Can you believe that?”
“Geez. So it’s like you get to have two Bar Mitzvahs.”
Read the whole story online
Cutting for Stone
- by Abraham Verghese
Novel about conjoined twins whose mother dies giving them birth in Ethiopia, surgically separated soon after and their subesequent lives.
The probationer broke the ensuing silence. She was trying to anticipate,
so she opened a circumcision tray and pulled on gloves. The one thing
Matron allowed her to do without supervision was to use the foreskin
But instead of praising her, Hema pounced on her.
“My goodness, girl,
don’t you think these children have had quite enough? They’re preemies!
They are not out of danger. Want them to be chip-cock Charlies on top of
all this? ... And you? What have you been doing all the time, eh? You
should’ve been worrying about their swallowing ends, not their watering
- (Noida, UP, India: Random House India, 2009) p.107
Diaries, Sunday 24 December, 1911
- by Franz Kafka
This morning my nephew's circumcision. A short, bow-legged man, Austerlitz, who already has 2,800 circumcisions behind him, carried the thing out very skillfully. It is an operation made more difficult by the fact that the boy, instead of lying on a table, lies on his grandfather's lap, and by the fact that the person performing the operation, instead of paying close attention, must whisper prayers. First the boy is prevented from moving by wrappings which leave only his member free, then the surface to be operated on is defined precisely by putting on a perforated metal disc, then the operation is performed with what is almost an ordinary knife, a sort of fish knife. One sees blood and raw flesh, the moule [mohel] bustles about briefly with his long-nailed, trembling fingers and pulls skin from some place or other over the wound like the finger of a glove. At once everything is all right, the child has scarcely cried. Now there remains only a short prayer during which the moule drinks some wine and with his fingers, not yet entirely unbloody, carries some wine to the child's lips. Those present pray: “As he has now achieved the covenant, so may he achieve knowledge of the Torah, a happy marriage, and the performance of good deeds.”
Today when I heard the moule's assistant say the grace after meals and those present, aside from the two grandfathers, spent the time in dreams or boredom with a complete lack of understanding of the prayer, I saw Western European Judaism before me in a transition whose end is clearly unpredictable and about which those most closely affected are not concerned, but, like all people truly in transition, bear what is imposed upon them. It is so indisputable that these religious forms which have reached their final end have merely a historical character, even as they are practiced today, that only a short time was needed this very morning to interest the people present in the obsolete custom of circumcision and its half-sung prayers by describing it to them as something out of history.
The Finkler Question
- by Howard Jacobson
2010 Man Booker Prize winner
A novel exploring the convoluted question of what it is to be Jewish.
Julian Treslove, underachieving broadcaster/actor, is obsessed by Jewishness, especially that of his old schoolmate Sam Finkler (He thinks of Jews as Finklers, hence the title). Finkler, a successful philosopher and popular writer, is now quite anti-Zionist, but his late wife, Tyler, was a convert. Treslove had an affair with Tyler. Now he is with Hephzibah, niece of their old teacher, Libor.
Today he didn't want her [Tyler] to go home, back to Sam's bed, back to Sam's penis. Was Sam now ashamed of his penis, too? Treslove wondered.
He had flaunted his circumcision at school. 'Women love it,' he'd told Treslove in the shower room.
'I'm not. It's true.'
'How do you know?'
'I've read. It gives them greater satisfaction. With one of these beauties you can go for ever.'
Treslove read up about it himself. 'You don't get the pleasure I get,' he told his friend. 'You've lost the most sensitive part.'
'It might be sensitive but it's horrible. No woman will want to touch yours. So what's the sensitivity worth? Unless you want to spend the rest of your life being sensitive with yourself.'
'You 'll never experience what I experience.'
'With that thing you'll never experience anything.'
And now? Did Finkler's Jewish shame extend to his Jewish dick? Or was his dick the one part of him to enjoy exclusion from the slur? Could an ASHamed Jew go on giving women greater satisfaclion than an unashamed Gentile, Palestine or no Palestine?
That's if there'd ever been a grain of truth in any of it. You never knew with Jews what was a joke and what wasn't, and Finkler wasn't even a Jew who joked much. Treslove longed for Tyler to tell him, solve the mystery once and for all. Did women have a preference? She was in the best position to make the comparison. Yes or no? Could her Shmuelly go forever? Was her willingness to look at her husband's penis but not her lover's attributable to the foreskin and the foreskin alone? Was Treslove uncut too ugly to look at? Had the Jews got that one right at least?
It would explain, wouldn't it, why she fiddled with him the way she did, behind his back. Was she unconsciously trying to screw off his prepuce?
He didn't ask her. Didn't have the courage. And in all likelihood didn't want to hear the answer. Besides, Tyler wasn't well enough to be questioned.
You take your opportunity when you have it. Treslove was never given another.
It was more history he wanted. In the history of ideas sense. And the knack of thinking Jewishly. For this Hephzibah recommended Moses Maimonides' The Guide for the Perplexed. She hadn't read it herself, but she knew it to be a highly regarded text of the twelfth century, and since Treslove owned himself to be perplexed and in need of a guide, she didn't see how he could do any better.
'You're sure you don't just want me out of your hair?' he checked, once he'd seen the contents page and the size of the print. It looked like one of those books which you started as a child and finished in an old persons' home lying in a bed next to Libor's Hebrew teacher.
'Look, as far as I'm concerned you're perfect as you are,' she told him.'I love you perplexed. This is what you keep saying you want.'
'You sure you love me perplexed?'
'I adore you perplexed.'
'What about uncircumcised?'
It was a subject to which he frequently returned.
'How often must I tell you,' Hephzibah told him. 'All that's immaterial to me.'
'Well, it isn't exactly immaterial to me, Hep.'
He offered to talk to someone. It was never too late. She wouldn't hear of it.
'It would be barbaric,' she said.
'And if we have a son?'
'We aren't planning to have a son.'
'But if we do?'
'That would be different.'
'Ah, so what would be good for him, would not be good for me. Already, there are competing criteria of maleness in this house.'
'What's maleness got to do with it?'
'That's my question.'
'Will, go and get yourself an answer from some higher authority. Read Moses Maimonides.'
He stumbled blindly from one chapter to another. 'Of the divine Names composed of Four[, ]Twelve and Forty-two Letters', 'Seven Methods by which the Philosophers sought to Prove the Eternity of the Universe', 'Examination of a passage from Pirke di-Rabbi Eliezer in reference to Creation'.
And then he got on to circumcision and found himself galvanised into thought.
'As regards circumcision,' Maimonides had written, 'I think that one of its objects is to limit sexual intercourse.'
He read it again.
'As regards circumcision, I think that one of its objects is to limit sexual intercourse.'
And then again.
But we don't have to follow him through every reading.
As a matter of course he read every sentence of Maimonides a minimum of three times, but that was to seek clarity. Here was no obfuscation in need of conscientious penetration. Circumcision, Moses Maimonides argued, 'counteracts excesssive lust', 'weakens the power of sexual excitement' and 'sometimes lessens the natural enjoyment'.
Such a claim merited reading and rereading simply for itself. And indeed for himself, if he was ever to get to the bottom of who Finklers were and what they really wanted.
Among the many thoughts that crowded into Treslove's mind was this one: did it mean he'd been having a better time than Finkler - Sam Finkler himself - all along? At school Finkler had boasted of his circumcision. 'With one of these beauties you can go for ever,' he had said. And Treslove had countered with what he'd read, and with what made perfect sense to him, that Finkler had lost the most feeling part of himself. A verdict in which Moses Maimonides unequivocally concurred. Not only had Finkler lost the most feeling part of himself, it had been taken from him precisely in order that he should not feel what Treslove felt.
A great sadness, on behalf of Tyler, suddenly welled up in him. He had enjoyed her more than Finkler had. No question of it. He had the wherewithal to enjoy her more with.
But did it follow from that that she had enjoyed him more than she had enjoyed Finkler? He had not thought so at the time. 'No woman will want to touch yours,' Finkler had warned him at school, and Tyler's apparent reluctance to look at him. seemed to bear that out. But was it a reluctance or was it a kind of holy dread? Did she fear to look upon what gave her so much pleasure? Had he been a godhead to her?
For what gave him more pleasure must surely have given her more pleasure too. A man made reluctant by his circumcision would logically communicate that reluctance to his partner. The 'weakened power of sexual excitement' had to work both ways. What counteracted 'excessive lust' in the one had to counteract 'excessive lust' in the other, else there was no point in it. Why maim the man to limit sexual intercourse if the woman went on demanding it as fervently as ever?
Indeed, Maimonides said as much. 'It is hard for a woman, with whom an uncircumcised had sexual intercourse, to separate from him.' Women had not found it hard to separate from Treslove, but that could have been attributable to other causes. And initially he had always done reasonably well - 'If you think I'm going to let you fuck me on our first date you've got another think coming,' they had said to him, letting him fuck them on their first date - which suggested it was what they later discovered about him as a person that was the problem, not the prepuce.
He felt possessed of a thrilling power he had never known was his. He was the uncircumcised. From whom women found it hard to separate.
Physically hard to separate, did Maimonides mean, in that the uncircumcised somehow knotted inside the woman like a dog? Or emotionally, in that the uncircumcised's untiring lustfulness besotted her?
Both, he decided.
[Yet if Treslove is intact, he must know the first supposition to be nonsense. The usual reading is that he gives her so much pleasure she does not want to leave him.]
He was the uncircumcised, and he had spoken. Both.
In retrospect, he fell in love with Tyler all over again, knowing now that she must have loved him more than she could ever admit. And had been afraid to look upon that which made her wanton.
Poor Tyler. Besotted with him. Or at least besotted with his dick. And poor him for missing out on that exquisite knowledge at the time.
If only he'd known.
If only he'd known, what then? He wasn't sure. Just if only he'd known.
But it wasn't all regret. He was also excited by this discovery of his own erotic power. Lucky Hephzibah at least.
Unless his untiring lustfulness both wearied and disgusted her. And as a matter of ethno-religious principle she would have preferred him snipped.
[Treslove's perception of his own foreskin and its effects is strangely abstract. An intact man can feel his own foreskin, and whenever he thinks about it, he is conscious of what it is feeling. To think about getting circumcised creates an almost physical sensation of pain. Treslove experiences none of this. His references to his own foreskin have an unreal quality, like a 19th century Deaf girls's story about a dream she had had about being able to hear - in which the "sounds" she described were more like wisps of coloured fog. What do they always say? "Write about what you know."]
He rang Finkler.
'You ever read Moses Maimonides?' he asked.
'Is that the purpose of your call?'
'That and to enquire how you are.'
'I've been better, thank you.'
'And Moses Maimonides?'
'I guess he's been better too. But have I read him? Of course, I count him as among my inspirations.'
'I didn't think you found Jewish thought inspiring.'
'Then you think wrong. He teaches how to make abstruse thought available to the intelligent layman. He is all along saying more than he appears to say. We plough the same furrow, he and I.'
Oh yeah, Treslove thought - Guide for the Perplexed and John Duns Scotus and Self-Esteem: a Manual jor the Menstruating.
But what he said was, 'So what do you reckon to what he says about circumcision?'
Finkler laughed. 'Why don't you just come right out with it, Julian? Hephzibah wants you to have it done - yes? Well, I wouldn't stand in her way. But between ourselves - ha! - I think you might be a wee bit old. As I recall, Maimonides warns against it past the eighth day. So that's you out. Just.'
'No, Hephzibah does not want me to have it done. She loves me as I am. Why would she not? Maimonides says circumcision limits sexual intercourse. I impose no limits myself.'
'I am pleased to hear it. But is this about you or Moses Maimonides?'
'It's not about me. I simply wonder what you, as a philosopher who ploughs the same furrow, think about Maimonides' theory.'
'That circumcision is to put a brake on sex? Well, it certainly exists to make us afraid, and making us afraid of sex is part of it.'
'You always told me Jews enjoyed sex inordinately.'
'Did I? That must have been a long time ago. But if you're asking me whether circumcision as a means of inhibiting the sexual impulse is specifically Jewish, I would say not. Anthropologically speaking, it isn't primarily about sex anyway, except in so far as all mitiation ceremonies are about sex. It's about cutting the apron strings. What is Jewish is interpreting the circumcision rite in the way Maimonides does. It's he - the medieval Jewish philosopher - who would wish us to be more restrained and imagines circurncision as the instrument. But I have to tell you it has never worked on me.'
'Not ever that I recall. And I think 1 would recall it. But I do know someone who believes himself to have been cheated of pleasure, and is in the process of having the operation reversed.'
'You can have it reversed?'
'Some people think so. Read Alvin Poliakov's blog. You can find it at something like www.ifnotnowwhen.com. Alternatively I can fix you up with an introduction. He's perfectly affable, wants to talk about nothing else, and might even show you his dick if you ask him nicely. Apparently it's progressing. He's halfway to not being a Jew any more.'
'He's one of your ASHamed Jews, presumably.'
'Sure is. You don't get more ashamed than that.'
'You're not ashamed of yours, then?'
'You think I should be?'
'Just asking. You carried it with pride at school.'
'I was probably trying to rile you. I just carry it, Julian. I am a widower. Being circumcised or not does not figure high among my concerns right now.'
'Don't be. I'm pleased for you that your life is dickcentric at the
'I'm only speaking philosophically, Sam.'
'I know you are, Julian. I expect nothing less of you.'
Treslove remembered one more question before he rang off. 'As a matter of interest,' he asked, 'are your boys circumcised?'
'Ask them,' Finkler said, putting down the phone.
He had more conversational joy with Libor.
Libor was now walking with a stick. 'It's come to this,' he said.
'It suits you,' Treslove said. 'It suggests old Bohemia. You should get one with a blade in the handle.'
'To protect myself against the anti Semites? '
'Why you? I'm the one who gets attacked.'
'Then you get a stick with a blade in it.'
'Speaking of which,' Treslove said, 'where do you stand on circurncision?'
'Uncomfortably,' Libor said.
'Has it been a problem to you?'
'It would have been a problem to me had it been a problem to Malkie. But she never said anything. Should she have?'
'It hasn't stopped you enjoying sex?'
'I think what you carry around would have stopped me enjoying sex. Don't get me wrong - on you I'm sure it looks wonderful, but on me it wouldn't have looked so good. Aesthetically I have nothing to complain about. I look the way I'm supposed to look. Or I did. It is aesthetics we're talking?'
'No, not really. I've been reading that circumcision reduces sexual excitation. I'm canvassing opinion.'
'Well, it will certainly reduce yours if you decide to have it done at your age. As for me, I have never known any different. And I've never thought to complain. To be candid with you, I wouldn't have wanted to be any more sexually excited than I've been. It's been plenty, thank you. In fact, more than enough. Does that answer your question?'
'Yes, I suppose it does.'
'You only suppose it does?'
He saw Treslove looking at him narrowly, 'I know what you're thinking,' he said.
'What am I thinking?'
'You're thinking I protest too loudly. Had I not been circumcised,
you're thinking, I wouldn't have found it so easy to resist Marlene Dietrich. You're too polite to say so but you're wondering whether it was only God's covenant with Abraham that kept me away from the Hun.'
'Well, you have always claimed you were the most faithful of husbands, despite facing temptations most men can't begin to I comprehend .. .'
'And you're asking if it was having a desensitised penis that kept me faithful?'
'I would never put it so grossly, Libor.'
'Except that you just have.'
Strange, how well you can come to feel you know a person, Treslove thought, from a name, a word, and a few photographs of his penis.
But then Treslove could afford to be generous: he had what Alvin Poliakov, epispasmist, had wanted all his life - a foreskin.
Epispamos, Treslove learned from Alvin Poliakov's blog, is foreskin restoration. Except, as Alvin Poliakov explains, you cannot restore a foreskin. Once it's gone, it's gone. But it is not beyond the ingenuity of man to conjure up a faux foreskin in its place. This, Alvin Poliakov sits in front of a camera every day to prove.
For interest's sake, and by way of a break from Maimonides, and what with Hephzibah being out often at the moment, attending to problems with the museum, Treslove watches him.
Alvin Poliakov, son of a depressed Hebrew teacher, bachelor, bodybuilder, one-time radio engineer and inventor, founder member of ASHamed Jews, begins his morning by tugging at the loose skin on his penis, easing a little more skin up the shaft. He does this for two hours, breaks for mid-morning tea and a chocolate digestive biscuit, and then begins again. It is a slow, slow process. In the afternoon he takes measurements, collates the morning's data and writes his blog.
'I speak,' he confides to his readers, 'for the millions of mutilated Jews the world over, who feel what I have felt all my life. But not only for Jews, because there are millions of Gentiles out there who have been circumcised under the erroneous medical assumption that you are better without a foreskin than with.'
He doesn't say, the Jews misleading the world again, but only an uncomplaining fool, happy to be unforeskinned, could miss the implication.
Alvin Poliakov writes the way cinema newsreel announcers of th 1940s spoke, as though mistrustful of the technology and so shouting to be heard.
'Ever since the dawn of civilisation,' he says, 'men have sought to restore what was stolen from them, in violation of their human rights, before they were old enough to have a say in the matter. What has driven them to do this is a sense of incompletion, a consciousness of something as disabling as amputation.'
He cites the anguish of Jews in classical Greek and Roman society, longing to assimilate and strut their stuff but unable to go to the baths and show other men their penises, for fear of encountering mockery. (How many Jewish men actually wanted to do this? Treslove wonders.) This has led many desperate Jews to seek a remedy in surgery, often with tragic consequences. (Treslove shudders.) The only proven method of restoring an at best passable simulacrum of a foreskin is the one the blogger himself practises.
Do not hope for too much. But do not settle for too little. This is Alvin Poliakov's philosophy:
As for the methodology
Every morning Alvin Poliakov photographs his penis from various angles with a view to posting the photographs on the Web later in the afternoon, along with diagrammatic details of the procedures he has followed in the course of the day - the construction of cardboard collars, the application of tape, the lubrication of sore skin, the hours spent slumped forward on his wooden chair coaxing the skin downward, ever downward, and the system of weights he has devised using copper jewellery, keys from a children's xylophone, and a pair of small brass candlesticks, which, he earnestly explains, can be bought cheaply from any good market or shop selling Indian knick-knacks.
[In fact, restoration takes a few minutes every day.]
Like a monk of self-denial he sits, shaven-headed, pumped-up and muscled, with his head between his knees, a snake charmer who knows the snake will not show himself for years, that's if he shows himself at all. There is no lubricity in the procedure. Whatever sex there once was in Alvin Poliakov's head has long since vanished in the service of the tapes, the adhesives, the collars and the weights. It was because he felt cheated of pleasure that Alvin Poliakov embarked on this course, but pleasure is not the issue any longer. Jews are the issue.
As an accompaniment to the photographs and the diagrams, Alvin Poliakov appends a daily portion of tirade against the Jewish religion in whose anti-service, so to speak, he now expends his energies. The crime of sexual mutilation, he argues, is just one more of the countless offences against humanity to be laid at the gates of the Jews. Every day he publishes the name of another Jewish child, just come into th world, whose integrity has been compromised and whose rights t a full complement of sexual activities have been tragically curtailed.
Where these names come from, Treslove cannot imagine. Have they been lifted from the births and deaths pages of Jewish newspapers? It is impossible to imagine that the guilty parents would have given them to him. In which case isn't Alvin Poliakov himself guilty of stealing from the child what the child is too young to give freely.
Or has he just made them up?
Imperturbable, for he cannot hear Treslove's objections and would not heed them if he could, Alvin Poliakov, breathing like an athlete coaxes the skin of his penis into a foreskin. Every evening he believes he can see one coming, but every morning it is as though he must start again. Except for those nights when he attends meetings ASHamed Jews, he does not leave the house. An elderly sister do the shopping for him. She has recently converted to Catholicism. It not clear whether she is aware of how her brother passes his days, but he is not a man to keep his causes to himself. And she must wonder what he is doing on his wooden chair, tugging at his penis. Though it is possible she misinterprets.
He listens to the radio, noting how rarely the sufferings of mutilated Jews, or Gentiles mutilated as proxy Jews, are referred to. Th the BBC has a pro-Jewish bias he does not have the slightest doubt. Why else is there so little heard from those whose lives have been destroyed by Zionists and circumcision?
He wrote an afternoon play about one such life himself. But the BBC, though it thanked him for it, has not put it on. Censorship.
This barbarous ritual, Alvin Poliakov maintains, is analogous to cutting off young men's hair before enrolling them in the military and serves an identical function. It is to destroy individuality and subjugate every man to the tyranny of the group, whether religious or military. There is irrefutably, therefore, in Alvin Poliakov's view, a direct link between the Jewish ritual of circumcision and Zionist slaughter. The helpless Jewish baby and the unarmed Palestinian become one in the innocent blood that Jews do not scruple to take from both.
While he is sitting with his head between his knees, Alvin Poliakov thinks up dedications to the victims of Zionist brutality. He likes to post a new dedication whenever he can, above the latest photograph of his brutalised penis, thereby hammering home the connection. On the day Treslove decides he won't continue any longer with the blog, the dedication above Alvin Poliakov's penis, from which weights of assorted sizes and materials hang, reads: To the mutilated of Shatila, Nebateya, Sabra, Gaza. Your struggle is my struggle.
'Put it this way,' Treslove said, describing the blog to Hephzibah who had declined his offer to email her the link, 'if you were a Palestinian -'
'Absolutely. With friends like him ...'
'But not just that. It's the appropriation-'
'And in such a trivial cause.'
'Not trivial to him, though, clearly.'
'No, but all other questions aside, aren't Muslims circumcised anyway?'
'As far I know they are,' she said, turning away, not wishing to encourage him in this new interest.
[This is, of course, a grotesque parody of any foreskin restorer. Like the great majority of circumcised men, the great majority of restoring men are not Jewish. None is on record as making any link between circumcision and Zionism.]
- by Irvine Walsh
author of "Trainspotting"
Novel about four hard-living Edinburgh youths, written first-person in a thick Scottish dialect. In a chapter called "Foreskin", they tease one (Terry) because he has a long foreskin. One (Gally) says "It'd be the likes ay me thit wid've been up the road tae Dachau. Me wi this circumcision job." He describes how he was having sex when his foreskin got trapped behind his glans:
-- It goat so fuckin tight it just went ping! Gally elaborates. -- Up like a fuckin Venetian blind. Ah wis in agony. Ah thoat it wis jist the burst Durex wrapped roond thair at first, bit it wis way too sair. Then ah realised that it wis ma fuckin foreskin! Aye, like a fuckin broken roller blind wrapped roond the bit whair the shaft meets the bell end, cuttin oaf the blood supply ay blood. Ma bell end went blue, then black. The Brook sister phoned the ambulance, they took ays up tae the hoaspital: emergency circumcision job.
(He didn't have to: see paraphimosis.)
The Dachau remark implies that apart from medical emergencies like his, only Jews circumcise.
Pay 'em money to cut off the world's cock
Lady Chatterley's Lover
- by D. H. Lawrence
The gamekeeper, Mellors, is talking to Constance Chatterley in his hut
"...the Tommies are getting just as priggish and half-balled and narrow-gutted [as the English middle classes]. It's the fate of mankind, to go that way.'
`The common people too, the working people?'
`All the lot. Their spunk is gone dead. Motor-cars and cinemas and aeroplanes suck that last bit out of them. I tell you, every generation breeds a more rabbity generation, with india rubber tubing for guts and tin legs and tin faces. Tin people! It's all a steady sort of bolshevism just killing off the human thing, and worshipping the mechanical thing. Money, money, money! All the modern lot get their real kick out of killing the old human feeling out of man, making mincemeat of the old Adam and the old Eve. They're all alike. The world is all alike: kill off the human reality, a quid for every foreskin, two quid for each pair of balls. What is cunt but machine-fucking! - It's all alike. Pay 'em money to cut off the world's cock. Pay money, money, money to them that will take spunk out of mankind, and leave 'em all little twiddling machines.'
In 1928, class-based circumcision was starting to become frequent in England.
- by Stephen King
Lisey is reminiscing about her dead husband.
"She liked how his skin felt under her hand, too. Forehead or foreskin, both were good."
...I feel a sharp pull. Then a burning, the knife ... I scream, ...
Live From Golgotha
- by Gore Vidal (1992)
As an old Bishop, Saint Timothy is called on to re-write the Gospels after a hacker from the future has erased the originals.
In the beginning was the nightmare, and the knife was with Saint Paul, and the circumcision was a Jewish notion and definitely not mine.
I am Timothy, son of Eunice the Jewess and George the Greek. I am fifteen. I am in the kitchen of my family's home in Lystra. I am lying stark naked on a wooden table. I have golden hyacinthine curls and cornflower-blue, forget-me-not eyes and the largest dick in our part of Asia Minor.
The nightmare always begins the way that it did in actual life. I am surrounded by Jews except for my father, George, and Saint, as I called Saul of Tarsus,
Little did I realize when I became a Christian and met Saint and his friends, that my body-specifically, my whang-was to be a battleground between two warring factions within the infant Christian Church.
... although the Jerusalem Jews liked the money that Saint kept sending back to headquarters, they still couldn't, in their heart of hearts, stomach the Gentiles, and so they refused to eat at the same table with us, since our huge uncut cocks were always on their minds. Finally, things came to a head when Saint took a shine to a young convert and stud named Titus and took him down to Jerusalem for a long weekend of fun. After having drunk too much Babylonian beer, Titus took a leak up against the wall of Fort Antonia, where the Roman troops were stationed. As luck would have it, his snakelike foreskin was duly noted with horror by some loitering Jews, who reported to the rabbinate the presence of a Gentile on the premises a stone's throw from the Temple. The central office then leaned on James, an employee of the Temple, and James told Saint that in the future those goyim who became converted to Jesus must be circumcised. That tore it.
Finally, Saint suggested to John Mark that he undergo a public circumcision in order to convince Jerusalem that Saint was in no way an apostate or self-hating Jew. John Mark split, leaving an opening not only in Saint's office staff but sack, too. As an all-Greek Greek boy who wanted to see the world, I figured that Saint's fussing around with my bod was a small price to pay, or so I thought when I signed on. It wasn't as if there wasn't plenty of me left over for the girls of Lystra. Also, as secretary and gofer, I was pretty good, if not in John Mark's league. The work was never dull. And what a learning experience!
Then came the shock. Saint was denounced by the pillars of the church in Jerusalem: He ate with goyim. He christened goyim. He was having carnal knowledge of a teenage Greek with two centimeters of rose-velvety foreskin, me. This last was only whispered, but it would have been quite enough to get Saint stoned to death by a quorum of Jews anywhere on earth if James were to give the word.
That explains why I am in the nightmare that I can never get out of once it starts.
... The dream's always the same. I am on my back. The room is chilly. I have goose bumps. All around me are Jews, wearing funny hats. Saint stands beside the table, my joint resting lightly in his hand. Needless to say, between the cold and the approaching mutilation, my fabled weenie has shrunk considerably.
"Let it be reported by all who presently bear witness that Timothy, our youthful brother in Christ, has now, of his own free will, undertaken to join the elect of the elect through the act of circumcision."
... I can hear Saint's deep voice as he says, "Mohel, do thy business!"
A rough hand seizes my organ of generation. I feel a sharp pull. Then a burning, the knife ... I scream, and wake up.
... I am as mad as I must have been back then at what had been done to me just so Saint could stay in good with the Jerusalem pillars of salt of the church. Historically, as well as theologically, he should have made a clean break with the Jews then and there, using the preservation of my perfect dong as a perfect pretext.
In that silent smoky hall you could have heard an unweighted pin drop or the loosest foreskin slide back.
- p 32
"The presence," said James, "of non-Jews is very distressing to many members of our congregation, particularly at table where we are entirely kosher, and often dairy. That is why the two tables have been a compromise that the brethren can live with." James was staring with disgust at my
hyacinthine golden curls and cornflower-blue eyes, the perfect Gentile youth so hated by every proper, self-loving Jew. "Barely," he added.
"Timothy has been circumcised," said Saint, intuiting James's revulsion. "Timmy, show Brother James your ..."
"Not in the dining room," said James, looking ill.
- pp 106-7
Saint was very grim. "Am I to be tried by the Sanhedrin, Stephen?"
"No. By us. The Jesists, as they call us at the Temple."
"What is the charge?"
"In general, infidelity to the Torah. Specifically, at Ephesus, you told a Jew that since he followed Jesus he need not circumcise his son."
Saint laughed. "There is no truth in that. To the contrary, I have even gone so far as to insist that many of the Gentiles close to me undergo circumcision. Timothy, show him your member."
James was appalled. "Please. Not in front of the yentas."
- p 111
[Nero']s eyes focused on my mutilated whang.
"Jew boy?" Nero's eyes narrowed.
"No, a Christian," I squeaked. "I just had this done because it was too tight..."
"Phimosis!" Nero was now all smiles. "It could happen to anyone. Did you know that there is an epidemic of phimosis ... in Britain? Don't you love it?" ..."
- p 160
See also Myra Breckenridge
...for the longest time I harbored
this absurd vision of doctors, gathered in secrecy ...
- by James Brown (1994)
Bobby, aged 16, is having a shower when he sees his father's penis.
His penis seemed enormous in comparison and the hood of skin over its tip remained, while mine
had been removed at birth, which according to my father had been a horrible mistake.
wanted it done. If I'd had my say I would have spared you the pain. Circumcision," he said,
"it's mutilation. A conspiracy, Bobby, on the part of the American Medical Association in the
name of public hygiene. A crock of shit is what it is. All they care about is making that first
quick buck off every little pecker in the world. Ain't no reason in hell for it except simple
greed at your expense."
His theory stuck me as eccentric, and yet for the longest time I harbored
this absurd vision of doctors, gathered in secrecy for the express purpose of deciding the fate of
my precious foreskin and those of our nation's male population. I pictured the scalpel, the
blood, and though I couldn't recall the pain I knew how sensitive I was down there and could
imagine it intensely
enough. My father further contended that my loss, in terms of future sexual pleasure, was of
greater consequence than I'd unfortunately ever know.
"The head gets numb without the skin and after a while you can't feel much, like a callus," he
said, "on your hand. It gets toughened from use."
I could not, of course, ever make the
comparison, and I didn't see how he could, given that he hadn't suffered my fate, but I hoped,
regardless of the contradiction, that someday I'd have the opportunity to put his theory to the
However, this may not be as pro-intact as it may appear, primarily because Bobby's father is
considered to be a nasty piece of work. Perhaps this obsession with circumcision is just another sign of his "eccentricity".
Later, Bobby gets to have sex:
My father's earlier contention regarding the loss of my foreskin, and how it would have a numbing
or deadening effect on my future sexual pleasure, proved highly inaccurate.
And what is he comparing it with?
The Measure of his Grief
- by Lisa Braver Moss
In Berkeley, at his father's shiva, a Jewish doctor experiences
a sharp groin pain for which he can find no explanation.
So begins a series of events that will find Dr. Sandy Waldman
ratling against the one Jewish tradition that's still observed
even in the most iconociastic of towns and among the most
assimilated of Jews: circumcision,
In her beautifully written debut novel, Lisa Braver Moss interweaves Sandy's story with that of his wife, Ruth — who will lose patience as Sandy lives and breathes the circumcision
controversy — and their colege-aged daughter, Amy, feisty yet
fragile, who's contacted by her incarcerated birth father just as
she's trying to sort out her future.
Sandy—visionary, neurotic, buffoonish, brilliant -- deepens his understanding of Judaism
even as he's jeopardizing both marriage and career with his anti-circumcision activism. When he discovers evidence that the tissue lost to circurncision is highly erogenous, it's not a huge ieap for him to join the men worldwide who are engaged in the astonishing process of foreskin "restoration."
Thought provoking, witty and highly original, The Measure of his Grief is the memorable tale of a man wko risks everything to be true to himself — yet refuses to turn his back on his heritage.
"You don't have to be Jewish to be concerned about circumcision, and you don't have to be Jewish to appreciate The Measure of His Grief - a thoughtful, nuanced, and wryly funny portrait of Berkeley and the foibles of its denizens."
- Liza Dalby, Berkeley author
"Finally - an intelligent questioning of Jewish circumcision, in a terrific, entertaining and very original story you won't forget. A must-read!"
- Dr Dean Edell
Hotink Press, 2010
I am sure Moses is roasting in hell...
- Gore Vidal (1968)
... Also the Old Testament injunction not to look upon the father’s nakedness is the core to a puritanism which finds unbearable the thought that the male in himself might possess an intrinsic attractiveness, either aesthetically or sensually. In fact, they hate the male body and ritually tear the penis in order to remind the man that his sex is so unlovely. ...
In Chapter Nineteen, Myra goes to an orgy at which are two of the five members of a band called the Four Skins.
Chapter Twenty Two
Just as expected, seventy-two per cent of the male students are circumcised. At Clem's party I had been reminded of the promiscuous way in which American doctors circumcise males in childhood, a practice I highly disapprove of, agreeing with that publisher who is forever advertising in the New York Times Book Review a work which proves that circumcision is necessary for only a very few men. For the rest it constitutes, in the advertiser’s phrase, “a rape of the penis.” Until the Forties, only the upper or educated classes were circumcised in America. The real people were spared this humiliation. But during the affluent postwar years the operation became standard procedure, making money for doctors as well as allowing the American mother to mutilate her son in order that he might never forget her early power over him. Today only the poor Boston Irish, the Midwestern Poles and the Appalachian Southerners can be counted upon to be complete.
Myron never forgave Gertrude for her circumcision of him. In fact, he once denounced her in my presence for it. She defended herself by saying that the doctor had recommended it on hygienic grounds -which of course does not hold water since most foreskins are easily manipulated and kept clean. What is truly sinister is that with the foreskin’s removal, up to fifty percent of sensation in the glans penis is reduced . . . a condition no doubt as pleasing to the puritan American mother as it is to her co-conspirator, the puritan Jewish doctor who delights in being able to mutilate the goyim in the same vivid way that his religion (and mother!) mutilated him.
[Myra/Vidal fails to note the loss of sensation from the foreskin itself.]
I had once had the subject out with Dr Montag, who granted me every single point and yet, finally, turned dentist and confessed, 'Whenever I hear the word "smegma", I become physically ill.' I am sure Moses is roasting in hell, along with Gertrude Percey Breckinridge.
I was not able to find Rusty's medical report and so do not know whether or not he had been circumcised. I hope not for I prefer the penis intact... in order that it be raped, not by impersonal surgery but by me!
[The last 13 words are missing from the UK paperback edition, which carries this note: "Wanting in every way to adapt to the high moral climate that currently envolops the British Isles, the author has allowed certain excisions to be made in the American text."]
Chapter Twenty Nine
Myra is giving Rusty, a student, a "physical examination" in the film school's infirmary.
'Oh, here's a question we forgot.' I was incredibly sunny. 'Have you been circumcised?'
The foot he was holding on his knee slid to the floor. Quickly he pressed his thighs together, wadded up his shirt, and covered the beleagured lap. 'Why, no, ma'am. I never was.'
'So few Polish boys are, I'm told.' I made a check on the chart.
'Oh, sure!' He was beet-red. ...
She insists on examining his penis.
... the grail was in my hand at last, smooth, warm, soft.
The humiliation was complete. There was nothing that he could say.
'Now then, let's see how free the foreskin is.' I slid the skin forward, then back. He shuddered. 'Now, you do it a few times.'
To his relief, I let him go. Clumsily he took himself in one hand as though never before had he touched this strange object, so beloved of Mary-Ann. He gave a few halfhearted tugs to the skin, looking for all the world like a child frightened in the act of masturbating. ...
She proceeds to rape him with a dildo.
but in 1968, this was far ahead of its time - concerning circumcision. The feminist revolution had barely begun and rape (especially of a man) could still be treated lightly. See also Live From Golgotha
The Naked Lunch
- William Burroughs
Hassan's Rumpus Room. Gilt and red plush. Rococco bar backed by pink shell. The air is cloyed with a sweet evil substance like decayed honey. Men and women in evening dress sip pousse-cafés through alabaster tubes. A Near East Mugwump sits naked on a bar stool covered in pink silk. He licks warm honey from a crystal goblet with a long black tongue. His genitals are perfectly formed -circumcised cock, black shiny pubic hairs. His lips are thin and purple-blue like the lips of a penis, his eyes blank with insect calm. The Mugwump has no liver, maintaining himself exclusively on sweets. The Mugwump pushes a slender blond youth to a couch and strips him expertly.
Implying that a "perfectly-formed" penis - even on a biarre fictional monster (with a razor-sharp beak of black bone) - is circumcised.
"Mr. Anker," he said, "I'm appealing to you as one Razor Back to another," and he pulled out his Razor Back card, a memo of his lush-rolling youth.
The Clerk looked at the card suspiciously: "You don't look like a bone feed mast-fed Razor Back to me... What do you think about the Jews...?"
"Well, Mr Anker, you know yourself all a Jew wants to do is doodle a Christian girl... One of these days we'll cut the rest of it off."
So in spite of the earlier reference, Jews are still perceived as being defined by circumcision.
No Time Like The Present
- Nadine Gordimer
"Gordimer addresses many subjects, from the chemical compounds for making bombs to the circumcision practices of various groups."
- review in the Wichita Eagle April 22, 2012
- Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt
Joseph is a Jewish boy in Nazi-occupied Belgium, being hidden in an orphanage by a priest.
So the non-Jewish boys won't be able to identify the Jews in their midst, Father Pons institutes a schedule for weekly showers. Explaining the invisible scheme, the older boy, Rudy, explains to Joseph that non-Jews aren't circumcised. "Once again I was attributed some special status I didn't know about," says Joseph. "As if being Jewish wasn't enough! Because of some scrap of skin no one could see, I was condemned to staying Jewish."
The absurdity of the situation leads Joseph to peek at his classmates' penises in the toilet thus discovering that Christians do indeed "have a bit of skin at the end, all drawn together and wrinkly". Even more confusing is the fact that his gentile friends shake their willies afterwards!
Fortunately, Rudy is on hand to explain: "They're shaking off the drips before putting it back in. It's harder for them to stay clean than it is for us. If they're not careful they can get loads of germs which smell and make it sore."
Review by Rob Minshull in ABC, March 30, 2012
The Obama Identity: A Novel (Or Is It?)
- Edward Klein and John LeBoutillier
A ceremony of removing Obama's foreskin is described as having "cleansed Barry of his impure American ideas." Later in the novel a KGB agent uses the evidence of this foreskin to blackmail Obama not to take military action against Iran. (p. 173-7, 308)
The self-published novel is thoroughly panned.
...like freezing cream
lifting the paper cap on the old-time milk bottles...
Rabbit at Rest
- by John Updike
Harry Angstrom, nicknamed "Rabbit", a man in his late fifties, notes that his
four-year-old grandson, Roy, is circumcised:
Rabbit wonders what his own life would have been like if he had been
circumcised. The issue comes up now and then in the newspapers. Some say
the foreskin is like an eyelid; without it the constantly exposed glans
becomes less sensitive, it gets thick-skinned and dull rubbing against
cloth all the time. A letter he once read in a skin magazine was from a
guy who got circumcised in midlife and found his sexual pleasure and
responsiveness went so far down his circumcised life was hardly worth
living. If Harry had been less responsive he might have been a more
dependable person, not so crazy to have his eye down there opened. Getting
a hard-on you can feel the foreskin sweetly tug back, like freezing cream
lifting the paper cap on the old-time milk bottles. From the numb look of
his prick Roy will be a solid citizen.
From the knowing reference to feeling the foreskin "sweetly tug back," we may conclude Updike was intact.
Men are not capable of such love ...
The Red Tent
- by Anita Diamant
Dinah (Gen 34) tells her own story.
Leah, wife of Jacob, has just given birth to Reuben:
As Jacob walked away from his first meeting with his son, his happiness seemed to evaporate. His head sank to his chest as he contemplated what had to be done next. According to the custom of his family, the boy had to be circumcised, and there was no one to do it but him. Jacob would not let Laban touch the baby, much less take a knife to him. He knew of no other man in the village or nearby hills who knew how, much less why he would do this to his firstborn son. It would have to be him.
Jacob had seen his father cut the foreskins from his bondsmen's baby boys, and he had not looked away or even winced when it was done. But he had never done this himself, nor, he now realized, had he watched carefully enough how his father had dressed the wound. And, of course, he had never cared so much for any baby in his life.
It had to be done, though, and he began the preparations, which Zilpah watched and reported to Leah, who was sick at the prospect of having her baby, her prize, put on the altar of the bamah and mutilated. For that's what she considered it. The flap of skin on the penis meant nothing to her. Indeed, now that she had seen the look of an uncircumcised man, she preferred the look of Jacob's sex - exposed, clean, audacious even - to the tiny shroud her son wore on his member, which was the source of many silly and crude jokes in the red tent. Once, Leah threatened to take a bit of charred wood and draw a face upon Reuben's sex, so that when Jacob retracted the foreskin, he would drop his knife in wonder. The women rolled around on the mats, holding their sides, laughing about the tender equipment that men carried between their legs.
But after a few days, the joking stopped, and Leah cried so long and so hard over the boy at her breast that the dark curls on his head were salted with tears. Still, she did not object to the custom of her husband's father. Jacob had survived this, she told her sisters again and again, mostly to reassure herself. Isaac had been circumcised, and Abram before him. Nevertheless, the thought of her baby in pain and in danger made the new mother tremble, and the realization that Jacob had no experience at the task put her in a frenzy of worry. Zilpah watched and saw that Jacob was not at ease about the ritual either. Every night, he sat on the bamah with his knife and sharpened it on the altar. From sunset till moonrise three nights running, until the edge was perfect, he honed and polished the blade until it could cut a hair from his head with the slightest motion of his wrist. He asked Adah to make small bandages, woven of new wool taken from I he first shearing of the firstborn lamb of the season. He sent word to Leah, inquiring whether she had any of the midwife's unguents to aid in healing.
On the seventh night after Reuben's birth, Jacob sat up, silently watching the sky, until sunrise. He poured lrbations and sang to the god of his fathers. He poured libations over the asherah, too, and opened his hands before her. Zilpah watched all of this and afterward stopped referring to Jacob as 'that new man' and began to call him by his name.
At dawn of the eighth day after his son's birth, Jacob killed a kid and burned it on the altar. He washed his hands, rubbing them red with straw, as though he had handled a corpse. And then he walked to the red tent .uid asked that the women give him Reuben, the son of Leah.
He called for Laban to follow him, and the two men walked alone to the bamah, where Jacob undressed the baby, whose eyes were open, and placed him on the altar. Jacob sighed a loud, long sigh as he stripped the boy, and then he signaled Laban to grab the baby's legs. At this, Reuben began to wail. Jacob took the knife in his hands and knotted his brow.
'There were tears in his eyes,' said Zilpah. 'He took the baby's sex in his hands and pulled the skin up tightly, holding it between the two long fingers of his left hand. With his right hand, he cut, with a quick, sure stroke, as though it was an old custom of his, as though he knew what he was doing,' she said.
Reuben howled, and Jacob dropped the knife.
Quickly, he bound the wound with Adah's bandage, and swaddled the baby, badly, the way men do. He carried his son back to the women, whispering into Reuben's perfect ear words that no one else could hear.
The red tent, which had been quiet during the baby's absence, now burst into activity. Leah dressed the wound with the cumin oil that Inna had left for her own birth wounds. Adah swaddled Reuben properly and gave him back to his mother, where he took her breast with relief and then slept.
The baby healed quickly ...
Leah and Jacob's last child, Dinah, has slept with a Canaanite, Shalem, son of Hamor:
My father spoke first, and without ceremony. I come for our daughter,' he said. 'We will agree to marriage, but I doubt if our terms will suit you, for they are severe.'
Hamor replied, his earlier warmth for the man blasted by the insulting lack of hospitality. 'My son loves the girl,' the king said. 'He will do anything for her, and I will do what my son wishes. Name your terms, Jacob. Shechem will fulfill them so that your children and children will bring forth new generations upon the land.'
But when Jacob named the price for his daughter Hamor paled. 'What form of barbarity is this?' he asked 'Who do you think you are, shepherd, to demand the blood of my son's manhood, and mine, and that of my kinsmen and subjects? You are mad from too much sun, too many years in the wilderness. Do you want the girl back, such as she is? You must think very little of this daughter to make such sport of her future.'
But Shalem stepped forward and put his hand on his father's arm. 'I agree to the demands,' he said to Jacob's face. 'Here and now, if you like. I will honor the custom of my wife's family, and I will order my slaves and their sons to follow me. I know my father speaks out of fear for me and in loyalty to his men, who would suffer. But for me, there is no question. I hear and obey.'
The terms were agreed to that evening. Jacob I accepted four laden donkeys for a bride-price. Shalem and Hamor would go under the knife in three days, as would the men of Shechem, noble and slave alike. All of the healthy men found within the walls of the city on that same morning would also accept the mark of Jacob upon them, and Hamor promised that every son born within the city from that time forth would be circumcised on the eighth day, as was the custom among the sons of Abram. Hamor also pledged that the god of Jacob would be worshiped in his temple, and the king went so far as to call him Elohim, the one god of the many gods.
Hamor put his hand under Jacob's thigh and Jacob touched the king as well, and my betrothal was sealed without a smile or satisfaction.
That same night, Shalem slipped away from his father's tent and back into our bed with the news. 'You are a married woman now and not merely a ruined girl,' he whispered, waking me before the first light of morning.
I kissed him and pushed him away. 'Well then, now that I am wed and you may not put me aside, I may tell you that my head aches and I cannot receive my lord at this moment,' I said, gathering my robe about my shoulders, and feigning a great yawn even as I slipped my hand between my husband's legs. 'You know, my lord, that women only submit to the caresses of their husbands - they do not enjoy the rough use of their bodies.'
Shalem laughed and pulled me down on the bed, and we made love with great tenderness that morning. It was a reunion after what had been our longest parting since that day he found me in the market and led me to his bed, which we had made ours.
We slept late into the day, and only after we had eaten did he tell me my father's demand. I grew cold and my stomach turned. In my mind's eye, I saw my beloved in agonies of pain, saw the knife cut too deep, the wound fester, and Shalem dying in my arms. I burst into tears like a little child.
Shalem made light of it all. 'It is nothing,' he said. 'A flesh wound. And I hear that afterward, my pleasure of you will be even greater than it is now. So prepare yourself, woman. I will be upon you night and day.
But I did not smile. I shivered with a cold that entered my bones and would not leave.
Re-nefer tried to reassure me, too. She was not displeased at the bargain her husband had struck. 'In Egypt,' she said, 'they take boys for circumcision when their voices change. It is a merry enough time - they chase the boys and catch them, and afterward, they are petted and fed on every sweet and savory thing they ask for. Rest assured, they all survive.
'We will have my guard do the deed,' she said. 'Nehesi has dispatched many a foreskin. I can care for the pain, and you will help me, little midwife.' She rattled and on about how easy it would be, and then whispered, with a knowing leer, 'Do you not find the male memmber more attractive without its hood?' But I found nothing amusing about Shalem's test, and I did I did not return my mother-in-law's smile.
The three days passed. I clung to my husband like a wild thing those nights, and tears ran down my face even as I reached greater pleasures than before. My husband licked the water from my cheeks and ran his salty tongue the length of my body. 'I will tease you about this when our first son is born,' he whispered, as I lay on his chest, still shaking with cold.
The appointed hour arrived. Shalem left me at dawn. I stayed in bed, pretending to sleep, watching him wash and dress through closed eyes. He leaned down to kiss me, but I did not turn my face up to meet his lips.
I lay there alone, counting my hatred. I hated my father for asking such a terrible price. I hated my husband and his father for agreeing to pay it. I hated my mother-in-law for smoothing the way. I hated myself most for being the cause of it all.
I lay on the bed, huddled beneath blankets, shivering with anger and fear and unrecognized foreboding, until he was brought back to me.
It was done in the king's antechamber. Shalem was first, and then his father, Hamor. Nehesi said that neither king nor prince cried out. Ashnan's little son followed, and wailed, but the little one did not suffer long, since he had a full breast to console him. The men of the household and the few poor souls who had not disappeared to the countryside outside the walls were not so lucky. They felt the knife keenly, and many screamed as though they were murdered. Their cries pierced the air throughout the morning, but ceased by noon.
It turned into an unmercifully hot day. There was no breeze or cloud, and even within the thick walls of the palace the air was damp and heavy. The recovering men sweated through their clothing and soaked the be where they slept.
Hamor, who uttered no sound when he was cut, fainted in pain, and when he woke put a knife between his teeth to keep from screaming. My Shalem suffered too, though not as badly. He was younger and the salve seemed to ease him, but for him too, the only complete remedy was sleep. I dosed him with a sleeping draft, and whenever he roused, he was thick-headed and weary, slack-jawed and dazed. I bathed my beloved's face as he slept his drugged sleep and washed his sweating back with the softest touch I could muster. I did my best not to weep so my face would be fresh when he awoke, but as the day Wore on the tears came in spite of my efforts. By nightfall, I was exhausted, and I slept by my husband's side swathed in blankets against the icy winds of my fears, even as Shalem slept naked in the heat.
In the night, I woke once to feel Shalem caressing my cheek. When he saw my eyes open, he managed a wincing smile and said, 'Soon this will be nothing but a dream and our embraces will be sweeter than ever.' ...
Dinah's brothers kill Shalem and his family, and she flees to Egypt to bear his son:
At the start of his fourth month, the family gathered in the great room where Nakht-re sat among his assistants. The women assembled along the walls as the men clustered around the baby and placed the tools of the scribe into his little hands. His fingers curled around new reed brushes, and he grasped a circular dish upon which his inks were mixed. He waved a scrap of papyrus in both hands like a fan, which delighted Nakht-re, who declared him born to the profession. So was my son welcomed into the world of men.
Only then did I remember the eighth day, when newborn boys of my family were circumcised and first-time mothers cowered in the red tent while the older women reassured them. My heart broke in two pieces, half mourning that the god of my father would not recognize this boy, nor would my brother Joseph or even his grandmothers. And yet I was fiercely proud that my son's sex would remain whole, for why should he bear a scar that recalled the death of his own father? Why should he sacrifice his foreskin to a god in whose name I was widowed and my son orphaned?
Dinah's son, Bar-Shalem, but known as Re-mose, grows up and leaves home for several years to study.
The house was In an uproar. Re-mose was back!
... It was the cook who told me to hurry and see my son, who had come home to recover.
'Recover?' I asked her, suddenly cold with fear. 'Has he been ill?'
'Oh, no,' she said with a broad grin. 'He comes home to heal from the circumcision and to celebrate his manhood in high style. I'll be working from dawn till midnight all this week,' she said and pinched my cheek.
I heard nothing past the word 'circumcision.' My head rang and my heart pounded as I rushed into the great hall where Re-mose was arrayed on a litter near Nakht-re's chair. He looked up at me and smiled easily, without a trace of pain in his face, which was now a different face altogether.
It had been nearly five years since he left me, and the little boy was now a young man....
I asked if he suffered, and he waved the question away. 'I have no pain,' he said. 'They give you wine laced with the juice of poppies before they draw knife, and afterward too,' he said. 'But that all happened a week ago, and I am quite recovered. ...
Dinah, now famous as a midwife, is summoned to Thebes to deliver the son of the vizier, Zaphenat Paneh-ah. A woman attending her, Shery, tells her his story.
'And yesterday,' she grumbled, speaking to herself by that point, 'this madman demanded that his son be circumcised. Not when he is at manhood's door and able to withstand such a thing. Not like civilized people, but now. Immediately! Can you imagine wanting to do that to a tiny baby? It only goes to prove that a born barbarian does not change. As-naat screamed and carried on like a gutted cat at the order. And I can't blame her there. '
'Joseph,' I whispered, in horror and disbelief.
Shery had told Re-rnose of our conversation and repeated the word I had spoken before falling back into a fevered darkness of mind. Thus my son took 'Joseph' into his mouth and, unannounced, went into the great hall, where the vizier of Egypt sat alone, whispering comfort to his firstborn son, who had been circumcised earlier that day.
Dinah returns to her family incognito, where Gera, daughter of Benjamin, retells her story.
'The king brought Jacob a handsome bride-price with his own hands, but it wasn't enough for Simon and Levi. They claimed that their sister had been kidnapped and raped, and that the family honor was demeaned. They put up such a noise that the king, bowing to his son's great passion for Leah's daughter, doubled the brideprice.
'Still my uncles were not satisfied. They claimed it was a plot of the Canaanites to take what was Jacob's and make it Hamor's. So Levi and Simon tried to undo the marriage by demanding that the Shechemites give up their foreskins and become Jacobites.
'Now comes the part of this story that makes me think it is nothing more than a tale that girls tell each other. The prince submitted to the knife! He and his father and all the men in the city! My cousins say this is impossible, because men are not capable of such love.
'In the story, though, the prince agreed. He and the men of the city were circumcised.' Gera lowered her voice, setting a dark tone for the sorrowful ending.
While not ostensibly pro-circumcision, this exports several 20th-century American misconceptions to the ancient Middle East:
- the newborn's foreskin is retractable;
- circumcision causes trivial pain for infants
- but serious pain for adults;
- women prefer for the circumcised appearance;
- circumcising improves sex.
...he'd be perfect...
- by Petronius
A man called Habinnas is speaking about one of his slaves who has just been singing in an attempt to entertain the guests at a dinner organised by Trimalchio:
"He's desperately clever, really. He's a cobbler, a cook, a confectioner - a man that can turn his hand to anything. But he's got two faults; if he didn't have them he'd be perfect - he's circumcised and he snores. I don't mind him being cross-eyed - so is Venus. That's why he's never quiet and his eyes are hardly ever still. I bought him for twelve hundred sesterces [a low price]."
Translated by John Sullivan, Penguin (1965)
Apparently the slave is also a sexual plaything of Habinnas, which may indicate why his being circumcised is a fault.
...seven year old children just should not know...
- by Augusten Burroughs
Max Andrews has inadvertently let his penis appear out of a bathrobe on national television. Howard Toast, executive producer of the Sellevision Retail Broadcasting Network is berating Max:
Howard's normally placid, waspy features contorted with frustration. A vein on his temple pulsed. "Max, the other hosts weren't naked under their bathrobes. It's just - well, there's no excuse - seven-year-old-children and their mothers just should not know that you're uncircumcised."
While "that you're uncircumcised" here could be taken as just a token for "too much information" there is clearly an undertone that it would be less of an affront if Max had been circumcised. Unstated but implied: "The foreskin is disgusting".
...so that they shan't feel...
The Subtle Knife
- second in the fantasy trilogy "His Dark Materials"
by Philip Pullman
Like J.R.R. Tolkien, Pullman places his tales in a vaguely British setting, with some
Christian undertones. However, unlike the Tolkien, the Pullman trilogy has definite
anti-clerical messages. In Book 1, "Northern Lights", filmed as "The Golden Compass" the evil Magisterium is performing "intercision" on children in the north - cutting them apart from their souls or "daemons", which are in the form of animals. In Book 2, he goes into more detail:
The Queen of the Witches, Ruta Skadi, is addressing a Witches' Council:
You know only the north; I have traveled in the south lands. There are churches there, believe me, that cut their children too, as the people of Bolvangar did - not in the same way, but just as horribly. They cut their sexual organs, yes, both boys and girls; they cut them with knives so that they shan't feel. That is what the church does, and every church is the same: control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling...
The Subtle Knife, pp. 44-5 Ballantine Pocket Book edition (p. 50 Yearling edition)
A detailed analysis of the "intercision" theme's relationship to circumcision is at the History of Circumcision website.
... the secret, still haunting wars between the races of the circumcised and the uncircumcised.
- by Stephen Spender
Semi-autobiographical, written when the poet was only 19.
[English Paul and German Joachim are washing themselves, naked, in their Cologne hotel room in 1929.]
Joachm turned round, away from the mirror, and said in his American drawl, smiling, but with unusual slowness as he looked Paul up and down: 'Well I guess that you and Ernst have one thing in common.'
Horribly embarrassed, Paul asked: 'What?'
'Well, I'm sure you must realise,' said Joachim, watching him all the time -
Paul could not go on standing there, being looked at. Trembling, he sat down on the edge of his bed. Then he said in a voice that he tried to make sound detached, scientific, indifferent -
'In England, being circumcised doesn't mean being Jewish.'
'What does it mean then?'
'Oh, I suppose it is done for medical reasons.'
Joachim stated: 'Unless it was absolutely essential for medical reasons no German parents would let their son be circumcised.'
'Because they would not wish his school-mates to think he was a Jew.'
In the same choking, scientifically indifferent voice, Paul provided information -
'In England, boys from upper-middle-class parents tend to be circumcised. Not boys of the lower class.'
Oh. Why is that?' asked Joachim, with his usual wide-eyed amazement at the English.
'I don't know I suppose because the doctors of the poor don't think the parents can afford such luxuries.' He tried to laugh.
He wanted to dress, but he feared that if he did so Joachim would think he was hiding that mutilation which he had in common with Ernst. He resisted an impulse to bury his face, scarlet with embarrassment, in his hands. Suddenly, trembling, he was overwhelmed by the sense of those primitive rites which still divided whole peoples - white skins, black skins - into tribes: cutting across nationhood with connections far more primitive, going back to eras when foreskins were cut off with flints. Under their clothes men concealed the marks which revealed which side they were on in the secret, still haunting wars between the races of the circumcised and the uncircumcised. He thought of the Old Testament.
...their pierced nasal septums
bearing pig's tusks had seemed the height of bizarre, outrageous and
Throwim Way Leg
- by Tim Flannery
One day after having a swim with his Miyanmin companions, they were lying
stretched out on the pebble beach.
As this conversation progressed, Deyfu leaned close to me and asked in a
whisper why I was so different from them.
Startled by the question, I began to grope for explanations about my
relative large size and white skin.Deyfu cut short this tangled speech by
pointing between his legs and saying,"No, hia" (Not that, here!).
At once the point of the question became apparent- I was circumcised while
they were not. Mustering my finest Pidgin, I expounded "Ol tumbuna bilong
mi i save rausim laplap bilong kok bilong pikinini man" which translalates
roughly as "My ancestors developed the habit of cutting off the little
skirt of skin that grows at the end of their children's willies".
Deyfu looked at me solemnly for a moment or two, then tried to translate
this explanation for his eagerly waiting clansmen. After a few words he
fell to the ground, choking and writhing.
He was in a paroxysms of laughter!
As he spurted the words out, all our companions fell about helplessly in a
similiar manner. For a long time, no-one could look at me without becoming
hysterical again, and it was at least twenty minutes before the mirth
While all this was going on I began to reflect upon my attitude towards
the Miyanmin and their body decorations; their pierced nasal septums
bearing pig's tusks had seemed the height of bizarre, outrageous and
primitive fashion. Until this moment, I never considered that they could
conceivably view me in the same way.
*Toromwe Lek in standard Tok Pisin
- by Joshua Cohen
At the center of 'Witz' is Benjamin Israelian, the sole survivor of a
virulent global plague that quickly kills off nearly everyone of Jewish
extraction... After the plague, Ben is exploited for financial gain by
quasi-governmental forces intent on marketing this new messiah to the
masses. As a savior, Ben's only power seems to lie in constantly
shedding, then regenerating, his foreskin, but that doesn't stop the goy
hordes from slavishly adopting the tenets of Judaism for their own. It
seems that there are none more zealous than the converted....
- Time Out New York
... my brothers and I weren't so strange after all.
Fearless Memoir: Worlds Fair
- by James Stack
The space below each showerhead was occupied, so a line of naked men had formed. I got in it. So far there were about six of us waiting our turns and trying not to watch the other men shower. It was so bizarre. Most of the people in the room were adults. They were tall, short, skinny, fat, bald, knock-kneed, bow-legged, pimply, with warts, scars, scabs, scratches, and bruises. They had skin that was fair, sunburned, tanned, dry, oily, with hair that was blond, red, brown, gray and black. They stood on white, super-skinny legs supporting big bellies; had fat asses or no asses; were hairy or hairless. They had big nuts, tiny nuts, nuts that hung almost to their knees; had little button dicks, long skinny dicks, short fat dicks, long fat dicks, curved dicks, hairy dicks and plucked-chicken dicks. Some were circumcised and others were not, like me.
All the boys I knew at school were circumcised. The only uncircumcised penises I'd ever seen were my brothers' and cousins'. But there was the time one of Daddy's friends, Rod Miller (who worked at Smith-Outz Drug Store behind the prescription counter), had babysat. I was in the bathtub when Daddy and Momma were leaving, and Daddy brought him into the bathroom and told me he was going to give me my bath. I was around four and considered too young to bathe myself. I started to make a fuss and rolled over on my stomach. Daddy told me not to worry; he wanted me to feel okay about not being circumcised. So he asked this man to show me his penis, which was uncircumcised like mine.
It seemed odd to me that we were different from Daddy. I once asked Momma why. She told me that when Daddy had joined the army they had circumcised him, and had cut off too much of his foreskin. Ouch! Momma said it was still painful for him, and she didn't want it to be painful for us. When I asked how it was painful now, she told me that when Daddy got an erection it hurt him. Shit. I guess Momma had done us a favor. She also told me it was more enjoyable for both the man and woman when the man was uncircumcised. I had no idea if this was like the time she'd told me my freckles were kisses from the fairies, but I figured I'd find out - until one day I'd realized I never would know because I'd never have sex circumcised. Either way, I knew it hadn't stopped Daddy.
It dawned on me in the campsite shower room that my brothers and I weren't so strange after all. At least half the men and boys in there were like we were. The others were like Daddy...
- Books about circumcision, or with significant references to it
- Circumcision in movies
- Circumcision on TV