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A fairly accurate, but incomplete INDEX of Posts & good overview of this blog READ SOME REASONS TO REJECT ORTHODOX JUDAISM my April 2014 post or click link above. Highlighted words lead to other posts almost all in my blog. Born into an Orthodox Jewish family (1950's) and went to Orthodox Yeshiva from kindergarten thru High School plus some Beis Medrash.Became an agnostic in my 20's and an atheist later on. My blog will discuss the arguments for god and Orthodox Judaism and will provide counter arguments. I no longer take comments. My blog uses academic sources, the Torah, Talmud and commentators to justify my assertions. The posts get updated. INDEX OF POSTS SEE MAY 2017 or click link above.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Dangers of Circumcision as found in the Talmud

My prior Circumcision  post briefly mentioned the dangers of circumcision and more.

This post will briefly cite medical opinion and the Talmud itself documenting the dangers of the procedure.  

The medical opinion is for modern medicine. The point I am making through out this post is that in ancient times without adequate medical knowledge, tools,  antibiotics, ... circumcision had significantly higher rates of death and illness. It was a dangerous procedure. And there are severe complications occurring today ! 

Medical Opinion

From 'Circumcision of Infant Males' by The Royal Australasian College of Physicians September 2010 Paediatrics & Child Health Division

"Most complications of circumcision are minor, but some can be severe. The overall reported rate of complications after circumcision is variable, but depending on the situation
in which it is performed and the precise definition of complication, the complication rate is generally believed to be between one and four percent"

"Infant circumcision without analgesia is unacceptable practice in Australia and New Zealand." 

"Some of the risks of circumcision are low in frequency but high in impact (death, loss of penis); others are higher in frequency but much lower in impact (infection, which can be treated quickly and effectively, with no lasting ill-effects)."

{ETA 2/19/2014 In ancient Israel circumcision was performed with flint knifes.  Anesthesia, antibiotics and pain killers were probably non existent or not too effective even if any were used.}  

The Talmud

Shabbath 134a

"Abaye also said: Mother told me, If an infant is too red, so that the blood is not yet absorbed in him,28 we must wait until his blood is absorbed and then circumcise him. If he is green, so that he is
deficient in blood,29 we must wait until he is full-blooded and then circumcise him. For it was taught, R. Nathan said: I once visited the Sea-towns,30 and a woman came before me who had circumcised her first son and he had died and her second son and he had died; the third she brought before me. Seeing that he was [too] red I said to her, Wait until his blood is absorbed. So she waited until his blood was absorbed and [then] circumcised hini and he lived; and they called him Nathan the Babylonian after my name. On another occasion I visited the Province of Cappadocia,31 and a woman came before me who had circumcised her first son and he had died and her second son and he had died; the third she brought before me. Seeing that he was green, I examined hini and saw no covenant blood32 in him. I said to her, Wait until he is full-blooded; she waited and [then] circumcised him and he lived, and they called him Nathan the Babylonian, after my name."

The commentary notes:

“(28) Into his limbs, but it is still so the under-surface of the skin. This makes circumcision dangerous.
(29) Lit., the blood has not yet fallen into him’.
(30) Tyre, etc.
(31) A district of Asia Minor.
(32) The blood which circumcision causes to flow is so designated. Thus circumcision would be physically dangerous,
and furthermore even if performed it would be inadequate, as covenant blood is required.”

So by careful observation and probably  loss of infants some of our ancestors developed some rudimenatry medical knowledge when circumcision may be dangerous and fortunately some infants may have been spared a gruesome death.  

{ETA 2/18/2014 There is a minor typo in the above Soncino year 5771 edition regarding the word 'hini', which should have been 'him'.} 

Yevamoth 64b

"For it was taught: If she circumcised her first child and he died,25 and a second one who also died,25 she must not circumcise
her third child; so Rabbi. R. Simeon b. Gamaliel, however, said: She circumcises the third, but must not circumcise the fourth child. But, surely, the reverse was taught;26 now which of these is the
latter?27 — Come and hear what R. Hiyya b. Abba stated in the name of R. Johanan: It once happened with four sisters at Sepphoris that when the first had circumcised her child he died; when
the second [circumcised her child] he also died, and when the third [circumcised her child] he also died. The fourth came before R. Simeon b. Gamaliel who told her, ‘You must not circumcise [the
child]’ .28 But is it not possible that if the third sister had come he would also have told her the same!...."

"In the case of circumcision, one can well understand [why the operation is dangerous with some children and not with others] since the members of one family may bleed profusely46 while those of another family may bleed little;...."

These paragraphs establish Jewish infants were dying from circumcision and the operation was dangerous.

Gittin 57b

Updated thru 11/25/2014

"R. Joshua b. Levi said: [The verse, ‘Yea, for thy sake we are killed all the day long’] can be applied to circumcision, which has been appointed for the eighth [day]."

Levi is referring to the first part of  Psalms 44: 23 Nay, but for Thy sake are we killed all the day; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.

Per Levi our infants were at risk from dying and some were dying  from circumcision.

{ETA 11/25/2014 Regarding Gitten 57b - Rashi and the Maharsha both say there is an increased risk of death to the infant from the circumcision.} 


Sanhedrin 110b

"It has been said: An infant — from when may he enter the future world?....R. Nahman b. Isaac said: From its circumcision, for it is written, I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up; while I suffer thy terrors I am distracted.32"

Rabina says from circumcision our infants could die.

Avodah Zarah 27a

"We must therefore say that they differ in the case of an Israelite whose brothers died in consequence of circumcision, so that he was not circumcised."

When there were deaths in a family from circumcision a brother need not be circumcised.

PESOCHIM - 69a

"Rabbah said: According to the words of R. 
Eliezer,22 [if there is] a healthy infant,23 one 
may heat water for him to strengthen him24 
and to circumcise him on the Sabbath, since 
it is fit for him. [If there is] a sickly infant,25 
one may not heat hot water for him to 
strengthen him and to circumcise him, since 
it is not fit for him.26 

Said Raba: But if he is healthy, why does he 
need hot water to strengthen him? Rather, 
said Raba, all are regarded as invalids in 
respect to circumcision: both in the case of a 
strong infant or a sickly infant...."

Raba explains a danger of circumcision for any infant.

Also see this post Circumcision and Miamonides

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