circumcision

/serr'keuhm sizh"euhn/, n.
1. an act, instance, or the rite of circumcising.
2. clitoridectomy.
3. spiritual purification.
4. (cap.) a church festival in honor of the circumcision of Jesus, observed on January 1.
[1125-75; ME < LL circumcision- (s. of circumcisio), equiv. to L circumcis(us) (see CIRCUMCISE) + -ion- -ION]

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Cutting away of all or part of the foreskin (prepuce) of the penis.

The practice is known in many cultures. It is performed either shortly after birth (e.g., among Muslims and Jews), within a few years of birth, or at puberty. For Jews it represents the fulfillment of the covenant between God and Abraham (Genesis 17:10–14). That Christians were not obliged to be circumcised was first recorded biblically in Acts 15. Evidence regarding the purported medical benefits of circumcision (e.g., reduced risk of cancer) is inconclusive, and the practice persists mainly for cultural reasons. See also clitoridectomy.

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▪ religious ritual
      the operation of cutting away all or part of the foreskin (prepuce) of the penis. The origin of the practice is unknown, although the widespread distribution of circumcision as a ritual suggests great antiquity. Circumcision is generally viewed by anthropologists (anthropology) as a practice through which various aspects of social identity are inscribed upon the human body, such as gender (gender identity), purity (purification rite), or social or sexual maturity.

      While most scholars agree on these generalities, the specific timing, meanings, and rites associated with circumcision have varied greatly over time and space. In ancient Egypt (Egypt, ancient), boys were generally circumcised between ages 6 and 12. Among Ethiopians, Jews (Judaism), some Muslims, and some other groups, the operation is performed shortly after birth or perhaps a few years after birth. Some Arab groups traditionally perform the operation immediately before marriage. Among most other peoples who practice it ritually, circumcision is performed at puberty as a passage rite.

      In many cultures, circumcision is also regarded as being of profound religious significance. In Judaism, for instance, it represents the fulfillment of the covenant between God and Abraham (Genesis 17:10–27), the first divine command of the Pentateuch—that every male child shall be circumcised. That Christians (Christianity) were not obliged to be circumcised was first recorded biblically in Acts 15.

      Medically, the operation consists of the cutting of the foreskin to allow its free retraction behind the glans penis (the conical head). The foreskin consists of a double layer of skin that, without circumcision, more or less completely covers the glans penis. Under the inner layer of foreskin there are situated a number of glands that secrete a cheeselike substance called smegma. Accumulation of smegma beneath the foreskin may result in great discomfort and may serve as the source of a rather penetrating odour if cleanliness and hygiene are not observed.

      In Western countries, circumcision became increasingly common during the 19th century because the medical establishment defined it as a hygienic procedure. By the closing decades of the 20th century, it had generally fallen out of favour except in cases of medical or religious necessity. The United States proved to be the exception to this trend; in the early 21st century most boys there continued to be circumcised shortly after birth, at least in cases where there were no compelling reasons for delay. A U.S. countercircumcision movement gained credence in 1971 when the American Academy of Pediatrics found that there was “no absolute medical indication for routine circumcision.”

      Advocates of circumcision cite studies indicating that circumcised men have a lower incidence of AIDS, syphilis, and other sexually transmitted diseases (sexually transmitted disease) than uncircumcised men. In addition, their female partners have a lower risk of cervical cancer. In 2007 the World Health Organization (WHO) reviewed several studies of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in men living in Africa and found that male circumcision reduced their risk of heterosexually acquired infection by significant amounts (ranging from 48 to more than 60 percent). The resulting WHO report recommended that circumcision become a standard tool within comprehensive programs for the prevention of HIV, but also cautioned that:

Men and women who consider male circumcision as an HIV preventive method must continue to use other forms of protection such as male and female condoms, delaying sexual debut and reducing the number of sexual partners.

      Researchers have issued two important cautionary statements about these findings. First, their results are specific to heterosexual activity, and circumcision may not be protective for those engaging in homosexual intimacy. Second, the opposite findings apply to the practice sometimes known as female circumcision, also called female genital cutting (FGC), which is more likely to increase the rate of HIV transmission than to reduce it.

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Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • CIRCUMCISION — (Heb. בְּרִית מִילָה, berit milah; covenant of circumcision ), the operation of removing part or all of the foreskin which covers the glans of the penis. Circumcision dates back to prehistoric times and together with the trepanning of the skull… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Circumcision — • The Hebrew word, like the Greek (peritome), and the Latin (circumcisio), signifies a cutting and, specifically, the removal of the prepuce, or foreskin, from the penis Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Circumcision     Circu …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Circumcision — Cir cum*cision, n. [L. circumcisio.] 1. The act of cutting off the prepuce or foreskin of males, or the internal labia of females. [1913 Webster] Note: The circumcision of males is practiced as a religious rite by the Jews, Mohammedans, etc.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Circumcision — Circumcision, die Beschneidung; Circumcisi, Beschnittene, christl. Sekte aus dem 12. Jahrh., besonders in Oberitalien, die jüdische Satzungen mit dem Christenthume vereinigen wollte …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

  • circumcision — (n.) late 12c., from L. circumcisionem (nom. circumcisio), noun of action from pp. stem of circumcidere to cut around, from circum around (see CIRCUM (Cf. circum )) + caedere to cut (see CIDE (Cf. cide)) …   Etymology dictionary

  • circumcision — [sʉr΄kəm sizh′ən] n. [ME circumcisioun < LL(Ec) circumcisio] 1. a circumcising, or being circumcised, either as a religious rite, as of the Jews or Muslims, or as a hygienic measure 2. Archaic a cleansing from sin …   English World dictionary

  • Circumcision — This article is about male circumcision. For female circumcision, see Female genital mutilation. Circumcision Intervention Circumcision being performed in central Asia, possibly Turkmenistan c. 1865–1872. Restored albumen …   Wikipedia

  • Circumcision — Penis, beschnitten im Erwachsenenalter Die Zirkumzision (von lat. circumcido, rings abschneiden [1]) oder Beschneidung ist die teilweise oder vollständige Entfernung der männlichen Vorhaut. Gründe für die Beschneidungen sind neben medizinischen… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • circumcision — The removal, by cutting, of the foreskin of the male penis. Though widely advocated in modern Western societies on the supposed ground of hygiene, circumcision is particularly associated with practising Jews by whom the rite is immensely valued… …   Dictionary of the Bible

  • Circumcision —    Cutting around. This rite, practised before, as some think, by divers races, was appointed by God to be the special badge of his chosen people, an abiding sign of their consecration to him. It was established as a national ordinance (Gen.… …   Easton's Bible Dictionary

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