Maimonides

Jewish Philosophy

Medieval Philosophy

Name, Maimonides - Birth, March 30, 1135 (Córdoba, Spain)

Death December 13, 1204 (Fostat, Egypt)

School/tradition - Jewish Philosophy, Jewish law, Jewish ethics

Influences, Talmud, Ibn Rushd, Al-Ghazali [1][2] and Aristotle

Influenced Spinoza, Aquinas, Bodin, Leibniz [3], Newton [4], Strauss

Moses Maimonides, (March 30, 1135 Córdoba, Spain – December 13, 1204 Fostat, Egypt), was a Jewish rabbi, physician, and philosopher in Andalusia, Morocco and Egypt during the Middle Ages. He was one of the various medieval Jewish philosophers who also influenced the non-Jewish world. Although his copious works on Jewish law and ethics were initially met with opposition during his lifetime, he was posthumously acknowledged to be one of the foremost rabbinical arbiters and philosophers in Jewish history. Today, his works and his views are considered a cornerstone of Jewish thought and study.

Maimonides' full Hebrew name was Moshe ben Maimon (Hebrew: משה בן מימון) and his Arabic name was أبو عمران موسى بن ميمون بن عبد الله القرطبي الإسرائيلي (Abu Imran Mussa bin Maimun ibn Abdallah al-Qurtubi al-Israili). However, he is most commonly known by his Greek name, Moses Maimonides (Μωυσής Μαϊμονίδης), which literally means, "Moses, son of Maimon", like his name in Hebrew and Arabic. Several Jewish works call him Maimoni, מימוני. However, more Jewish works refer to him by the Hebrew acronym of his title and name — Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon — calling him the RaMBaM or the Rambam (רמב"ם).

Contents

1 Biography 2 Works and bibliography 3 Influence 4 The 13 principles of faith 5 Legal works 6 Philosophy 6.1 Negative theology 6.2 Prophecy 6.3 The problem of evil 6.4 Astrology 6.5 True beliefs versus necessary beliefs 6.6 Resurrection, acquired immortality, and the afterlife 7 Maimonides and the Modernists 8 See also 9 References 10 Further reading 11 External links

[edit] BiographyStatue of Maimonides in Córdoba, Spain

Maimonides was born in 1135 in Córdoba, during what some scholars[attribution needed] consider to be the end of the golden age of Jewish culture in Spain, after the first centuries of the Moorish rule.

At an early age, he developed an interest in the exact sciences and philosophy. In addition to reading the works of Muslim scholars, he also read those of the Greek philosophers made accessible through Arabian translators.

Maimonides was not known as a supporter of Mysticism.

He voiced opposition to poetry, the best of which he declared as false, since it was founded on pure invention - and this too in a land which had produced such noble expressions of the Hebrew and Arabic muse. It is interesting to note that this Sage, who was revered for his saintly personality as well as for his writings, should have led such an unquiet life, and who penned his classic works with the staff of the wanderer in his hand (1954 Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 18, p. 140).

Maimonides studied Torah under his father Maimon who had in turn studied under Rabbi Joseph ibn Migash.

The Almohades from Africa conquered Córdoba in 1148, and threatened the Jewish community with the choice of

> conversion to Islam,

> death, or

> exile.

They not only captured Córdoba, but set up a form of religious persecution (1954 Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 18, p. 140). Maimonides' family, along with most other Jews, chose exile. For the next ten years they moved about in southern Spain, avoiding the conquering Almohades, but eventually settled in Fez in Morocco, where Maimonides acquired most of his secular knowledge, studying at the University of Al Karaouine. During this time, he composed his acclaimed commentary on the Mishnah.

Following this sojourn in Morocco, he lived briefly in the Holy Land, before settling in Fostat, Egypt, where he was physician of the Grand Vizier Alfadhil and Sultan Saladin of Egypt as well, and considered to be the greatest physician of his time, being influenced by renowned Islamic thinkers such as Ibn Rushd and Al-Ghazali. [5][6] He composed most of his oeuvre in this last locale, including the Mishneh Torah.

He died in Fostat, and was buried in Tiberias (today in Israel).

His son Avraham, recognized as a great scholar, succeeded Maimonides as Nagid (head of the Egyptian Jewish community); he also took up his father's role as court physician, at the tender age of eighteen. He greatly honored the memory of his father, and throughout his career defended his father's writings against all critics. The office of Nagid was held by the Maimonides family for four successive generations until the end of the 14th century.

He is widely respected in Spain and a statue of him was erected in Córdoba by the only synagogue in that city which escaped destruction, and which is no longer functioning as a Jewish house of worship but is open to the public. There is no Jewish community in Córdoba now, but the city is proud of its historical connection to the Rambam.

See: History of the Jews in Egypt.

Works and bibliography

Manuscript page by Maimonides. Judeo-Arabic language in Hebrew letters.

Maimonides composed both works of Jewish scholarship, and medical texts.

Most of Maimonides' works were written in Arabic.

However, the Mishneh Torah was written in Hebrew.

His Jewish texts were:

Commentary on the Mishna, (Hebrew Pirush Hamishnayot), written in Arabic. This text was one of the first commentaries of its kind; its introductory sections are widely quoted.

Sefer Hamitzvot (trans. The Book of Commandments).

Mishneh Torah, also known as Sefer Yad ha-Chazaka, a comprehensive code of Jewish law;

Guide for the Perplexed, a philosophical work harmonising and differentiating Aristotle's philosophy and Jewish theology;

Teshuvot, collected correspondence and responsa, including a number of public letters (on resurrection and the after-life, on conversion to other faiths, and Iggereth Teiman - addressed to the oppressed Jewry of Yemen).

Treatise on Logic (Arabic: Makala Fi-Sinat Al-Mantik) has been printed 17 times, including editions in

Latin (1527),

German (1805, 1822, 1833, 1828),

French (1935), and

English (1938),

and in an abridged Hebrew form.

Maimonides also wrote a number of medical texts; some of which are still in existence. The best known is his collection of medical aphorisms, titled Fusul Musa in Arabic ("Chapters of Moses", Pirkei Moshe in Hebrew).

We also have a

Treatise on Poisons and their Antidotes,

Treatise on Hemorrhoids,

Treatise on Cohabitation,

Treatise on the Regimen of Health,

Treatise on the Causes of Symptoms,

Laws of Human Temperaments, and

Treatise on Asthma.

Influence

The title page of The Guide for the Perplexed

Maimonides was by far the most influential figure in medieval Jewish philosophy. A popular medieval saying that also served as his epitaph states, From Moshe (of the Torah) to Moshe (Maimonides) there was none like Moshe.

Radical Jewish scholars in the centuries that followed can be characterised as "Maimonideans" or "anti-Maimonideans." Moderate scholars were eclectics who largely accepted Maimonides' Aristotelian world-view, but rejected those elements of it which they considered to contradict the religious tradition. Such eclecticism reached its height in the 14th-15th centuries.

The most rigorous medieval critique of Maimonides is Hasdai Crescas' Or Hashem. Crescas bucked the eclectic trend, by demolishing the certainty of the Aristotelian world-view, not only in religious matters, but even in the most basic areas of medieval science (such as physics and geometry).

Crescas' critique provoked a number of 15th century scholars to write defenses of Maimonides. A translation of Crescas was produced by Harry Austryn Wolfson of Harvard University, in 1929.


The 13 principles of faith

Main article: Jewish principles of faith

In his commentary on the Mishna (tractate Sanhedrin, chapter 10), Maimonides formulates his 13 principles of faith. They summarized what he viewed as the required beliefs of Judaism with regards to:

[1] The existence of God

[2] God's unity

[3] God's spirituality and incorporeality

[4] God's eternity

[5] God alone should be the object of worship

[6] Revelation through God's prophets

[7] The preeminence of Moses among the prophets

[8] God's law given on Mount Sinai

[9] The immutability of the Torah as God's Law

[10] God's foreknowledge of human actions

[11] Reward of good and retribution of evil

[12] The coming of the Jewish Messiah

[13] The resurrection of the dead

These principles were controversial when first proposed, evoking criticism by Rabbi Hasdai Crescas and Rabbi Joseph Albo, and were effectively ignored by much of the Jewish community for the next few centuries. ("Dogma in Medieval Jewish Thought," Menachem Kellner).

However, these principles became widely held; today,

Orthodox Judaism holds these beliefs to be obligatory. Two poetic restatements of these principles (Ani Ma'amin and Yigdal) eventually became canonized in the "siddur" (Jewish prayer book).


Legal works

A recent newly corrected version of Mishneh Torah, Maimonides' main work of Halakha

With Mishneh Torah, Maimonides composed a code of Jewish law with the widest-possible scope and depth.

The work gathers all the binding laws from the Talmud, and incorporates the positions of the Geonim (post-Talmudic early Medieval scholars, mainly from Mesopotamia). It is a highly-systematised work, and employs a very clear Hebrew, reminiscent of the style of the Mishnah.

While Mishneh Torah is now considered the fore-runner of the Arbaah Turim and the Shulchan Arukh (two later codes), it met initially with much opposition. There were two main reasons for this opposition.

Firstly, Maimonides had refrained from adding references to his work for the sake of brevity [7].

Secondly, in the introduction, he gave the impression of wanting to "cut out" study of the Talmud [8], to arrive at a conclusion in Jewish law. His most forceful opponents were the rabbis of Provence (Southern France), and a running critique by Rabbi Abraham ben David (Raavad III) is printed in virtually all editions of Mishneh Torah.

However, it was recognized as a monumental contribution to the systemized writing of Halakha. Throughout the centuries, it has been widely studied and its halakhic decisions have weighed heavily in later rulings.

An oft-cited legal maxim from his pen is: "It is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death."[9]

Maimonides argued that executing a defendant on anything less than absolute certainty would lead to a slippery slope of decreasing burdens of proof, until we would be convicting merely "according to the judge's caprice."[10]


Philosophy

Through the Guide for the Perplexed and the philosophical introductions to sections of his commentaries on the Mishna, Maimonides exerted an important influence on the Scholastic philosophers, especially on Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, and Duns Scotus. He was himself a Jewish Scholastic.

Educated more by reading the works of Arab Muslim philosophers than by personal contact with Arabian teachers, he acquired an intimate acquaintance not only with Arab Muslim philosophy, but with the doctrines of Aristotle.

Maimonides strove to reconcile Aristotelian philosophy and science with the teachings of the Torah.


Negative theology

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The principle which inspired his philosophical activity was identical with the fundamental tenet of Scholasticism: there can be no contradiction between the truths which God has revealed, and the findings of the human mind in science and philosophy.

Maimonides primarily relied upon the science of Aristotle and the teachings of the Talmud and Aristotle, commonly finding basis in the former for the latter. In some important points, however, he departed from the teaching of Aristotle; for instance, he rejected the Aristotelian doctrine that God's provident care extends only to humanity, and not to the individual.

Maimonides was led by his admiration for the neo-Platonic commentators to maintain many doctrines which the Scholastics could not accept.

For instance, Maimonides was an adherent of "negative theology" (also known as "Apophatic theology".) In this theology, one attempts to describe God through negative attributes. For instance, one should not say that God exists in the usual sense of the term; all we can safely say is that God is not non-existent.

We should not say that "God is wise"; but we can say that "God is not ignorant", i.e. in some way, God has some properties of knowledge. We should not say that "God is One", but we can state that "there is no multiplicity in God's being". In brief, the attempt is to gain and express knowledge of God by describing what God is not; rather than by describing what God "is".

The Scholastics agreed with him that no predicate is adequate to express the nature of God; but they did not go so far as to say that no term can be applied to God in the affirmative sense. They admitted that while "eternal", "omnipotent", etc., as we apply them to God, are inadequate, at the same time we may say "God is eternal" etc., and need not stop, as Moses did, with the negative "God is not not-eternal", etc.

In essence what Maimonides wanted to express is that when people give God anthropomorphic qualities they do not do justice to His greatness.


Prophecy

He agrees with "the philosophers" in teaching that, man's intelligence being one in the series of intelligences emanating from God, the prophet must, by study and meditation, lift himself up to the degree of perfection required in the prophetic state. But here, he invokes the authority of "the Law", which teaches that, after that perfection is reached, there is required the "free act of God", before the man actually becomes a prophet.


The problem of evil

Maimonides wrote on theodicy (the philosophical attempt to reconcile the existence of a God with the existence of evil in the world). He took the premise that an omnipotent and good God exists.

He adopts the Aristotelian view that defines evil as the lack of, or the reduced presence of God, as exhibited by those who exercise the free choice of rejecting belief.


Astrology

Maimonides answered an inquiry concerning astrology, addressed to him from Marseille. He responded that man should believe only what can be supported either by rational proof, by the evidence of the senses, or by trustworthy authority.

He affirms that he had studied astrology, and that it does not deserve to be described as a science. The supposition that the fate of a man could be dependent upon the constellations is ridiculed by him; he argues that such a theory would rob life of purpose, and would make man a slave of destiny. (See also fatalism, predestination.)


True beliefs versus necessary beliefs

In "Guide for the Perplexed" Book III, Chapter 28, Maimonides explicitly draws a distinction between

> > "true beliefs", which were beliefs about God which produced intellectual perfection, and

> > "necessary beliefs", which were conducive to improving social order.

Maimonides places anthropomorphic personification statements about God in the latter class. He uses as an example the notion that God becomes "angry" with people who do wrong. In the view of Maimonides (taken from Avicenna) God does not actually become angry with people, as God has no human passions; but it is important for them to believe God does, so that they desist from sinning.


Resurrection, acquired immortality, afterlife

Maimonides distinguishes two kinds of intelligence in man,

> > the one material in the sense of being dependent on, and influenced by, the body,

> > and the other immaterial, that is, independent of the bodily organism.

The latter is a direct emanation from the universal active intellect; this is his interpretation of the noûs poietikós of Aristotelian philosophy.

It is acquired as the result of the efforts of the soul to attain a correct knowledge of the absolute, pure intelligence of God.

The knowledge of God is a form of knowledge which develops in us the immaterial intelligence, and thus confers on man an immaterial, spiritual nature.

This confers on the soul that perfection in which human happiness consists, and endows the soul with immortality.

One who has attained a correct knowledge of God has reached a condition of existence which renders him immune

> from all the accidents of fortune,

> from all the allurements of sin, and

> even from death itself.

Man, therefore is in a position to work out his own salvation and immortality.

The resemblance between this doctrine and Spinoza's doctrine of immortality is so striking as to warrant the hypothesis that there is a causal dependence of the latter on the earlier doctrine. The differences between the two Jewish thinkers are, however, as remarkable as the resemblance.


While Spinoza

teaches that the way to attain the knowledge which confers immortality is the progress from sense-knowledge through scientific knowledge to philosophical intuition of all things sub specie æternitatis,


Maimonides holds

that the road to perfection and immortality is the path of duty as described in the Torah and the rabbinic understanding of the oral law.

Religious Jews not only believed in immortality in some spiritual sense, but most believed that there would at some point in the future be a messianic era, and a resurrection of the dead.

This is the subject of Jewish eschatology.

Maimonides wrote much on this topic, but in most cases he wrote about the immortality of the soul for people of perfected intellect; his writings were usually not about the resurrection of dead bodies. This prompted hostile criticism from the rabbis of his day, and sparked a controversy over his true views.

Rabbinic works usually refer to this afterlife as "Olam Haba" (the World to Come).

Some rabbinic works use this phrase to refer to a messianic era, an era of history right here on Earth; in other rabbinic works this phrase refers to a purely spiritual realm. It was during Maimonides's lifetime that this lack of agreement flared into a full blown controversy, with Maimonides charged as a heretic by some Jewish leaders.

Some Jews at this time taught that Judaism did not require a belief in the physical resurrection of the dead, as the afterlife would be a purely spiritual realm. They used Maimonides' works on this subject to back up their position.

In return, their opponents claimed that this was outright heresy; for them

- the afterlife was right here on Earth,

- where God would raise dead bodies from the grave

- so that the resurrected could live eternally.

Maimonides was brought into this dispute by both sides, as the first group stated that his writings agreed with them, and the second group portrayed him as a heretic for writing that the afterlife is for the immaterial spirit alone.

Eventually, Maimonides felt pressured to write a treatise on the subject, the "Ma'amar Tehiyyat Hametim" "The Treatise on Resurrection."

Chapter two of the treatise on resurrection refers to those who believe that the world to come involves physically resurrected bodies. Maimonides refers to one with such beliefs as being an "utter fool" whose belief is "folly".

If one of the multitude refuses to believe [that angels are incorporeal] and prefers to believe that angels have bodies and even that they eat, since it is written (Genesis 18:8) 'they ate', or that those who exist in the World to Come will also have bodies — we won't hold it against him or consider him a heretic, and we will not distance ourselves from him.

May there not be many who profess this folly, and let us hope that he will go no farther than this in his folly and believe that the Creator is corporeal.

However, Maimonides also writes that those who claimed that he altogether believed the verses of the Hebrew Bible referring to the resurrection were only allegorical were spreading falsehoods and "revolting" statements.

Maimonides asserts that belief in resurrection is a fundamental truth of Judaism about which there is no disagreement, and that it is not permissible for a Jew to support anyone who believes differently.

He cites Daniel 12:2 and 12:13 as definitive proofs of physical resurrection of the dead when they state "many of them that sleep in the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence" and "But you, go your way till the end; for you shall rest, and will arise to your inheritance at the end of the days."

While these two positions may be seen as in contradiction (non-corporeal eternal life, versus a bodily resurrection), Maimonides resolves them with a then unique solution: Maimonides believed that the resurrection was not permanent or general.

In his view, God never violates the laws of nature. Rather, divine interaction is by way of angels, which Maimonides holds to be metaphors for the laws of nature, the principles by which the physical universe operates, or Platonic eternal forms. Thus, if a unique event actually occurs, even if it is perceived as a miracle, it is not a violation of the world's order.[11]

In this view, any dead who are resurrected must eventually die again. In his discussion of the 13 principles of faith, the first five deal with knowledge of God, the next four deal with prophecy and the Torah, while the last four deal with reward, punishment and the ultimate redemption.

In this discussion Maimonides says nothing of a universal resurrection. All he says it is that whatever resurrection does take place, it will occur at an indeterminate time before the world to come, which he repeatedly states will be purely spiritual.

He writes "It appears to us on the basis of these verses (Daniel 12:2,13) that those people who will return to those bodies will eat, drink, copulate, beget, and die after a very long life, like the lives of those who will live in the Days of the Messiah."

Maimonides thus disassociated the resurrection of the dead from both the World to Come and the Messianic era.

In his time, many Jews believed that the physical resurrection was identical to the world to come; thus denial of a permanent and universal resurrection was considered tantamount to denying the words of the Talmudic sages.

However, instead of denying the resurrection, or maintaining the current dogma, Maimonides posited a third way: That resurrection had nothing to do with the messianic era (here in this world) nor to do with Olam Haba(עולם הבא) (the purely spiritual afterlife).

Rather, he considered resurrection to be a miracle that the book of Daniel predicted; thus at some point in time we could expect some instances of resurrection to occur temporarily, which would have no place in the final eternal life of the righteous.


Maimonides and the Modernists

Maimonides remains the most widely debated Jewish thinker among modern scholars. He has been adopted as a symbol and an intellectual hero by almost all major movements in modern Judaism, and has proven immensely important to philosophers such as Leo Strauss; and his views on the importance of humility have been taken up by modern humanist philosophers, like Peter Singer and Iain King.

Maimonides' importance to diverse systems of thought lies in the philosopher's embrace of paradoxical and often contradictory ideas. Maimonides' reconciliation of the philosophical and the traditional has given his legacy an extremely diverse and dynamic quality.

See also Golden age of Jewish culture in Spain, Thomas Aquinas Averroes, Maimonides Medical Center

References^ http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=227091077594594 ^ http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/maimonides-islamic/ ^ Moses (1138-1204) ^ Isaac Newton: “Judaic monotheist of the school of Maimonides” ^ http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=227091077594594 ^ http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/maimonides-islamic/ ^ Last section of Maimonides' Introduction to Mishneh Torah ^ Ibid. ^ Moses Maimonides, Sefer Hamitzvot, Negative Commandment no. 290. ^ Moses Maimonides, The Commandments, Neg. Comm. 290, at 269-271 (Charles B. Chavel trans., 1967). ^ Commentary on the Mishna, Avot 5:6

edit] Further readingAbraham Joshua Heschel, Maimonides (a biography) Marvin Fox Interpreting Maimonides, Univ. of Chicago Press 1990. Julius Guttman, Philosophies of Judaism Translated by David Silverman, JPS, 1964 Maimonides' Principles: The Fundamentals of Jewish Faith, in "The Aryeh Kaplan Anthology, Volume I", Mesorah Publications 1994 Dogma in Medieval Jewish Thought, Menachem Kellner, Oxford University press, 1986 Maimonides Thirteen Principles: The Last Word in Jewish Theology? Marc. B. Shapiro, The Torah U-Maddah Journal, Vol. 4, 1993, Yeshiva University A History of Jewish Philosophy, Isaac Husik, Dover Publications, Inc., 2002. Originally published in 1941 by the Jewish Publication of America, Philadelphia, pp. 236-311 Persecution and the Art of Writing, Leo Strauss, University of Chicago Press, 1988 reprint "How to Begin to Study the Guide", Leo Strauss, from The Guide of the Perplexed, Vol. 1,

edit] External linksWikimedia Commons has media related to: Maimonides Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Maimonides Wikisource has original text related to this article: Maimonides About MaimonidesMaimonides entry in Jewish Encyclopedia Maimonides entry in the Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd edition Maimonides as a Philosopher The Influence of Islamic Thought on Maimonides Maimonides' WorksOral Readings of Mishne Torah Free listening and Download, site also had classes in Maimonides' Iggereth Teiman Maimonides 13 Principles Texts by MaimonidesMishnetorah Project, one volume of the accurate text and 8 indexes Siddur Mesorat Moshe, a prayerbook based on the early Jewish liturgy as found in Maimonides' Mishneh Torah Rambam's introduction to the Mishnah Torah (English translation) Rambam's introduction to the Commentary on the Mishnah (Hebrew Fulltext) The Guide For the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides translated into English by Michael Friedländer

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==========Jewish Divorce Statistics

The 1972-78 National Opinion Research Center survey indicates that “the U.S. Jewish divorce (rate) remains the lowest of the three major religions. But the highest Jewish rate occurs in the 35-44-year-old age group (10 per cent).” This is for Jews as a whole, not just for orthodox Jews.

Albeit intensive searching, I was not able to locate a source that would corroborate what was put forth years ago, that the divorce rate among Orthodox Jews was just at 2%.

Even if orthodox Jewish divorce rates are higher than 2% for current and marriages of more recent years - it could be that only 2% of the orthodox Jews are divorced overall (I hope I'm stating this clearly -- it's not that easy to grasp).

This is further supported by the following article – A May 26 1996 article in the Baltimore Sun titled “Of all the mysterious statements in the Talmud” estimates the orthodox Jew divorce rate at about 5%.

The overall divorce rate for Jews in Israel is at 38% and rising


History of Circumcision

hlwm Muwlah (moo-law'); Noun Feminine, Strong #: 4139

circumcision

KJV Word Usage and Count

circumcision 1

peritomhv Peritome (per-it-om-ay'); Word Origin: Greek, Noun Feminine, Strong #: 4061 circumcised

the act or rite of circumcision, "they of the circumcision" is a term used of the Jews

of Christians gathered from among the Jews the state of circumcision

metaph. of Christians separated from the unclean multitude and truly consecrated to God

the extinction of passions and the removal of spiritual impurity

KJV Word Usage and Count circumcision 35 circumcised 1

Mbr

(Qal) to circumcise

(Niphal) to be circumcised, circumcise oneself

(Hiphil) to cause to be circumcised of destruction (fig.)

(Hithpolel) to be cut off

(Polel) cut down

KJV Word Usage and Count

circumcise 30, destroy 3, cut down 1, needs 1, cut in pieces 1


katatomhv Katatome (kat-at-om-ay'); Word Origin: Greek, Noun Feminine, Strong #: 2699 to cut up, mutilation KJV Word Usage and Count concision

Phip 3.2

This index page links to material relating to the origin and history of male circumcision. Material is indexed in chronological order of publication.Introduction

The practice of male genital mutilation is far older than recorded history. Certainly, it is far older than the Biblical account of Abraham (Genesis 17). It seems to have originated in eastern Africa long before this time.6

Many theories have been advanced to explain the origin of genital mutilation. One theory postulates that circumcision began as a way of "purifying" individuals and society by reducing sexuality and sexual pleasure. Human sexuality was seen as dirty or impure in some societies; hence cutting off the pleasure-producing parts was the obvious way to "purify" someone.

It is now known that the male foreskin, or prepuce, is the principal location of erogenous sensation in the human male (see Anatomy.)

Removal of the prepuce substantially reduces erogenous sensation.12,16 Therefore (in the appropriate cultural context), circumcision is revealed as a sacrifice of "sinful" human enjoyment (in this earthly life), for the sake of holiness in the afterlife.12

The Jews adopted circumcision as a religious ritual l8,10,15,18 and preserved this prehistoric practice into modern times. 10,16,18

The circumcision of Abraham removed only the very tip that extended beyond the glans penis.8,17,22,28

Moses and his sons were not circumcised. (Exodus 4:25) NN0 Error]

Although Moses apparently prohibited circumcision during the 40 years in the wilderness,15,18 (Joshua 5:5)

Joshua reinstituted circumcision at Gilgal after the death of Moses.15,18 (Joshua 5:2-10)

It is interesting to note that after the Israelites were circumcised, they immediately became soldiers in Joshua's army for the conquest of Palestine. (Joshua 6:1-3)

In contrast to the Jews, the Greeks and the Romans placed a high value on the prepuce.31 The Romans passed several laws to protect the prepuce by prohibiting circumcision.31

Much later in the Hellenic period, about 140 C.E., the circumcision procedure was modified to make it impossible for a Jew to appear to be an uncircumcised Greek.8,18,25

A radical new procedure called peri'ah was introduced by the priests and rabbis. In this procedure the foreskin was stripped away from the glans, with which it is fused in the infant (See Normal.)

In a painful procedure known today as a synechotomy, more foreskin was removed than before and the injury was correspondingly greater. With the introduction of peri'ah, the glans could not easily be recovered, and so no Jewish male would easily be able to appear as an uncircumcised Greek.8,18,25

It may have been at this time that the Pondus Judaeus (also known as Judaeum Pondum), a bronze weight worn by Jews on the residual foreskin to stretch it back into a foreskin,8,18,23 gained popularity amongst Jewish males. This lessened the ugly appearance of the bare exposed circumcised penis.18 This restorative procedure was known by the Greek word epispasm, 8 or "rolling inward."

The third stage of ritual circumcision, the Messisa or Metzitzah, was not introduced until the Talmudic period (500-625 C.E).8,17,23

In Metzitzah, the mohel (ritual circumciser) sucks blood from the penis of the circumcised infant with his mouth.31 This procedure has been responsible for the death of many Jewish babies due to infection.13 In modern times, a glass tube is sometimes used instead.

The Reform movement within Judaism considered circumcision to be a cruel practice.17 The Reform movement at Frankfort declared in 1843 that circumcision was not necessary.17,21

Some Christians took a strong stand against circumcision in the first century.

Some say Christians rejected circumcision at the Council at Jerusalem. 17 (Acts 15) but this is not true, they only rejected it as a requirement for eternal life.

St. Paul, the apostle to the gentiles, taught parents that they should not circumcise their children. (Acts 21:25) However, Paul made sure a Titus was circumcised.

In a reference to the old practices of genital mutilation, St. Paul warned Titus to beware of the "circumcision group." (Titus 1:10-16)

The modern use of Hebrew circumcision as a medicalized practice dates from about 1865 in England and about 1870 in the US.10

The procedure accepted for medical use essentially was the Jewish peri'ah. Moscucci reports that circumcision was imposed in an attempt to prevent masturbation.15

Gollaher further describes the history of medicalized circumcision.10

No scientific studies were carried out to determine the efficacy and safety of circumcision prior to its introduction into medical practice,10 nor were any studies conducted to determine the social effects of imposing genital alteration surgery on a large portion of the population.

South Koreans started to circumcise children during the American trusteeship following World War II.

The American cultural practice of circumcision became nearly universal in South Korea after the Korean War of 1950-52.24

In 1949, Gairdner wrote that circumcision was medically unnecessary and non-beneficial,3 and contraindicated because of complications and deaths.3

The British National Health Service (NHS) deleted non-therapeutic neonatal circumcision from the schedule of covered procedures in 1950. The incidence of neonatal circumcision in the United Kingdom declined sharply to a very low level after publication of this article after the procedure was delisted by the NHS.

America waited another 20 years before addressing the problem of non-therapeutic circumcision. The Journal of the American Medical Association published an influential landmark article by Dr. E. Noel Preston, Captain, MC, USAF.4 Dr. Preston established that there is no therapeutic or prophylactic benefit to circumcision.

He also cited "undesirable psychologic, sexual, and medico-legal difficulties." 4

Influenced by Preston, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), in 1971, issued a statement that "[t]here are no valid medical indications for circumcision in the neonatal period."10 This marked the beginning of the end of America's infatuation with male circumcision.

The incidence of male neonatal circumcision in the U.S. peaked in 1971 and began a slow decline that continues to the present day.

Recent HistoryThe AAP convened an "ad hoc Task Force" under the chair of Hugh C. Thompson, M.D., to review the issue of circumcision in 1975. The 1975 Task Force reaffirmed the 1971 AAP statement.10 The Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) also took a position in 1975 that circumcision is medically unnecessary.

Higher Infection in Non-Circumcised MalesThe matter rested there until 1985, when retrospective data collected from U.S. Army medical records by Thomas Wiswell, M.D. seemed to show a somewhat higher rate of urinary tract infection (UTI) in non-circumcised boys.

Careful examination of Wiswell's methods and data revealed many methodological flaws which rendered his conclusions questionable and unreliable. This created new controversy about the value of neonatal circumcision. The Canadian Paediatric Society examined Wiswell's data in 1989 and found it to be "insufficiently compelling" to cause it to change its 1975 policy statement, which is against circumcision.

The National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers (NOCIRC) was formed in 1986.

The mandate of NOCIRC is to provide accurate information regarding male circumcision, to promote children's rights, and to shed light on the medical mistakes of the past.

Professor George C. Denniston, M.D., M.P.H., founded Doctors Opposing Circumcision (DOC) in 1995 to promote the health advantages of genital integrity within the medical community.

The Circumcision Information and Resource Pages (CIRP) were created in 1995 to provide a source of accurate information about circumcision on the World Wide Web.

The development of new information in the medical literature since 1975 caused the AAP to revisit the matter of circumcision in 1989. A new Task Force under the chair of Edgar J. Schoen, M.D., examined new data about neonatal pain, behavior changes, and loss of sexual sensitivity secondary to neonatal circumcision. New data also conclusively established the role of the human papillomavirus (HPV) in the pathogenesis of genital cancers. This removed any lingering belief that the prepuce somehow caused cancer.

The Canadian Paediatric Society revisited the matter of neonatal circumcision in 1996. A new evidence-based policy statement was issued that strengthened its 1975 recommendation, stating that circumcision is medically unnecessary. The CPS recommended: "Circumcision should not be routinely performed."

The incidence of neonatal circumcision in the US has continued to decline, and stood at only 60% in 1996. In the same year, the Australian College of Paediatrics (ACP) reported that the incidence of neonatal circumcision in Australia has continued its decline to 10%.

The ACP termed circumcision traumatic, a possible violation of human rights, and called for parents to be provided with full and complete information about circumcision before making a decision.

John R. Taylor and colleagues published a landmark article in 1996 that described original research into the anatomy and histology of the foreskin. The research showed that the foreskin is highly innervated tissue with the characteristics of a sensory organ designed to provide erogenous sensation.16

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), in a joint statement, reclassified neonatal circumcision from "routine" to "elective" in 1997.19 The change in policy was announced the year after the publication of Taylor's important article that describes in detail the injury inherent in every circumcision. This action removes any suggestion that circumcision is beneficial or that it is recommended by medical authorities. It may also be an attempt to shift legal liability for the injury that is inherent in every child circumcision from the doctor to the parents.

Persistent criticism of the obvious flaws of the supplemental 1989 Report of the Task Force on Circumcision has caused the AAP to distance itself from its own report. The AAP has removed its policy statement from its website. The AAP convened a new Task Force under the chair of Carole Marie Lannon, MD, in 1997 to develop a new evidence-based policy statement which was released in March 1999.

After fully reviewing the medical evidence, the Task Force concluded that routine neonatal circumcision cannot be recommended because of lack of any proved benefit. It said that the benefits are "potential" (i.e. they are unproven).

The Council on Scientific Affairs of the American Medical Association issued a policy report in December 1999 that re-classified neonatal circumcision as a "non-therapeutic" procedure.30 This may have a medico-legal impact.

The ratio of boys circumcised to boys preserved intact continues to decline in America. In 2001, it had further declined to a ratio of 55 percent circumcised, while the percentage of boys preserved intact had risen to 45 percent.36

HighlightsThe Encyclopædia Britannica article from the 9th edition (1876) provides us with a Victorian view of circumcision. Interestingly, it does not mention any alleged medical purposes.2

Gairdner's historic world famous landmark classic medical article (1949) is presented.3

Preston's historic influential medical article (1970) is presented.4

Paige (1978) provides us with a history of cirumcision in the US. She discusses the fear of masturbation that lead to the commencement of the circumcision of boys.5

DeMeo (1989) says geographical patterns of global distributions of the male and female genital mutilations among native, non-Western peoples, along with history and archaeology, suggest their genesis in the deserts of Northeast Africa and the near East, with a subsequent diffusion outward into sub-Saharan, Oceania and possibly even into parts of the New World.6

Montagu (1991) uses anthropological knowledge to give insight into the origins of genital mutilation.7Bigelow (1992) traces the development of various forms of circumcision within Judaism through the centuries and into modern times.8

Voskuil (1994) suggests that the identical 28 day lunar month and the monthly menstruation cycle of the woman are linked to the origin of circumcision.9

Gollaher (1994) describes the transformation of ritual circumcision into a medical procedure.10

McLaren gives us a not very complimentary portrait of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg who promoted circumcision and corn flakes as a cure for masturbation.11

Warren and Bigelow (1994) discuss the sacrificial origin of circumcision.12

Frederick M. Hodges, Jerry W. Warner. The Right to Our Own Bodies: The History of Male Circumcision in the U.S. M.E.N. Magazine 1995 (November).14

Moscucci reports the results of her research into the introduction of male circumcision to prevent masturbation in the late 19th century.15

The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion (1997) reviews the history of Jewish circumcision.16

DeMeo (1996) revisits his earlier work and discusses several theories regarding the origin of male and female circumcision. DeMeo identifies anxiety about sexual pleasure as the underlying psychological reason for both male and female circumcision.17

Schultheiss and others (1998) provide an account of the long history of man's attempts to restore the prepuce after unwanted circumcision.21

Dunsmuir and Gordon (1999) provide a good general history of circumcision with particular attention paid to the history of the development of surgical technique.22

Kim and colleagues provide a history of circumcision in South Korea.23

Brandes and McAninch review the history of efforts to undo the effects of male circumcision.24

Frederick Mansfield Hodges (1999) unveils the medical treatment of phimosis and paraphimosis in the classical medical literature.26

James E. Peron illuminates the development of circumcision in Jewish history from a minor procedure into a major mutilation, and how this most mutilating and injurious form of circumcision was accepted into medical practice.27

Frederick Mansfield Hodges, D. Phil., has researched the Greek and Roman attitudes toward the prepuce. He reports in this profusely illustrated document that the Greeks and Romans placed a high value on the prepuce, preferred long tapering prepuces, and later the Romans protected the prepuce by law.30

John M. Ephron reports that German Jews used medical arguments to justify and promote the practice of male circumcision to Gentiles during the 19th and early 20th centuries.31

John Evelyn observed a Jewish circumcision at Rome in 1645 and recorded it in his diary.32See alsoThe History of Circumcision website. Canadian Circumcision History New Zealand Circumcision History Historical Medical Quotes on Circumcision for quotations from antique medical literature.) HoldingsAnonymous. Clitoridectomy and Medical Ethics. Medical Times and Gazette (London) 1867:(1):391-2. Encyclopædia Britannica, 9th Ed. s.v. "Circumcision," by Rev. T. K. Cheyne. Gairdner DA. The fate of the foreskin: a study of circumcision.. BMJ 1949;2:1433-1437. Preston EN. Whither the foreskin? A consideration of routine neonatal circumcision. JAMA 1970;213:1853-1858. Paige, Karen Eriksen. The ritual of circumcision. Human Nature, pp 40-48, May 1978. (Link to www.noharmm.org) James deMeo. The Geography of Genital Mutilations. The Truth Seeker, pp 9-13, July/August 1989. (Link to www.noharmm.org) Montagu, Ashley. Mutilated Humanity. Presented at the Second International Symposium on Circumcision. San Francisco, California. April 30-May 3, 1991. (Link to www.nocirc.org) Bigelow J, Ph.D., The Development of Circumcision in Judaism. In: Bigelow J., The Joy of Uncircumcising! Hourglass Book Publishing, Aptos, California 95001, 1992, 1995. (ISBN 0-934061-22-X) (out of print) Voskuil, D, Ph.D. From Genetic Cosmology to Genital Cosmetics: Origin Theories of the Righting Rites of Male Circumcision. Presented at the Third International Symposium on Circumcision. University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, May 22-25, 1994. (Link to www.nocirc.org) Gollaher, David L. From ritual to science: The medical transformation of circumcision in America. Journal of Social History Volume 28 Number 1, p. 5-36 (Fall 1994). McLaren, Carrie. Porn Flakes: Kellogg, Graham and the Crusade for Moral Fiber. (courtesy of STAYFREE! Homepage) Warren J, Bigelow J. The case against circumcision. British Journal of Sexual Medicine, September/October 1994:6-8. John J. Tierney. Circumcision. In: The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913, 1997. Frederick M. Hodges, Jerry W. Warner. The Right to Our Own Bodies: The History of Male Circumcision in the U.S. M.E.N. Magazine 1995 (November) Moscucci, Ornella. Clitordectomy, Circumcision, and the Politics of Sexual Pleasure in Mid-Victorian Britain. Sexualities in Victorian Britain. Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1996. Taylor JR, Lockwood AP, Taylor AJ. The prepuce: specialized mucosa of the penis and its loss to circumcision. Br J Urol 1996;77:291-295. Circumcision. In: The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion, Oxford University Press, New York & Oxford 1997. DeMeo, James. The Geography of Genital Mutilations. (Presented at the Fourth Symposium on Sexual Mutilations, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland. August 9-11, 1996.) Published in: Sexual Mutilations, A Human Tragedy, Plenum Press, New York, 1997 (ISBN 0-306-45589-7). (link to www.nocirc.org) Hodges FM. A short history of the institutionalization of involuntary sexual mutilations in the United States. in: Denniston GC, Milos MF (eds.), Sexual Mutilations: A Human Tragedy (New York: Plenum Publishing, 1997), pp. 17-40. (ISBN 0-306-45589-7) Oh W, Merenstein G. Fourth Edition of the Guidelines for Perinatal Care: Summary of Changes. Pediatrics 1997;100(6)1021-1027. Goldman Ronald, Ph.D., Origins and Background. In: Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective. Vanguard Publications, Boston, 1998. (ISBN 0-9644895-6-2) Schultheiss D, Truss MC, Stief CG, Jonas U. Uncircumcision: a historical review of preputial restoration. Plast Reconstr Surg 1998;101(7): 1990-1998. Dunsmuir WD, Gordon EM. The history of circumcision. BJU Int 1999; 83, Suppl. 1: 1-12. Kim DS, Lee JY, Pang MG. Male circumcision: a Korean perspective. BJU Int 1999; 83 Suppl. 1:28-33. Brandes SB, McAninch. Surgical methods of restoring the prepuce: a critical review. BJU Int 1999; 83 Suppl. 1:109-113. Hodges FM. The history of phimosis from antiquity to the present. in: Denniston GC, Hodges MF, Milos MF (eds.), Male and Female Circumcision: Medical, Legal, and Ethical Considerations in Pediatric Practice (New York/London: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishing, 1999), pp. 37-62. Hodges FM. Phimosis in antiquity. World Journal of Urology 1999; 17(3):133-136. Peron, James E. Circumcision: Then and Now. Many Blessings 2000;III:41-42. Gollaher, David A., Circumcision: A History of the World's Most Controversial Surgery. New York: Basic Books, 2000. 253 pages. (ISBN: 0-465-04397-6) Council on Scientific Affairs, American Medical Association. Report 10: Neonatal circumcision. July 6, 2000. Hodges FM. The Ideal Prepuce in Ancient Greece and Rome: Male Genital Aesthetics and Their Relation to Lipodermos, Circumcision, Foreskin Restoration, and the Kynodesme. Bull Hist Med 2001 Fall;75(3):375-405. John M. Ephron. Medicine and the German Jews. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001: 222-233. (ISBN 0-300-08377-7) John Evelyn. Diary, January 15, 1645. In: The Times, London, 15 January 2003. Robert Darby. `Where doctors differ:' The debate on circumcision as a protection against syphilis, 1855-1914. Social History of Medicine 2003;16(1):57-78. Robert Darby. The masturbation taboo and the rise of routine male circumcision: a review of the historiography. J Soc Hist 2003;36:737-57. Robert J L Darby. Medical history and medical practice: persistent myths about the foreskin. Med J Aust 2003; 178(4):178-9. Bollinger D. (2003) Intact Versus Circumcised: Normal versus Circumcised: U.S. Neonatal Male Genital Ratio. Circumcision Reference Library (an original online publication), 22 April 2003.

Medical Times and Gazette.SATURDAY, APRIL 13, 1867.

CLITORIDECTOMY AND MEDICAL ETHICSTHE operation of clitoridectomy, as performed under the conditions described in Mr. Baker Brown's writings and denounced in Dr. West's lectures, is an offence against Medical science and Medical ethics.

1. It is an offence against Medical science in the first place, that it should be described as a mere circumcision

(a) Instead of taking away a loose fold of skin, it removes a rudimentary organ of exquisite sensitiveness, well supplied with blood vessels and nerves, and the operation is described by the author as occasionally attended with serious bleeding; in these respects it differs widely from circumcision.

(b) It is a second error to assume that if a woman desired to continue filthy habits this operation would stop her. The organ removed is but one amongst many susceptible of intense excitement.

(c) In the third place, it is against all Medical science to remove such a part because "subject" (or subjected?—see note) "to unbearable irritation." Intense itching is a common malady, but this itching does not depend on local causes, and it may generally be relieved by proper measures. To cut off part of the body because it itches is monstrous.

If indeed the clitoris be diseased, that is another thing; but as clitoridectomy is practised, the part is cut off without any signs of disease in it.

It is nothing to the purpose to affirm that clitoridectomy may have been successful in postponing epileptic fits or lengthening their interval. Any positive line of treatment will do that for a time. Many young men believe for three months that they have found a specific for epilepsy.

An intimate friend lately thought he had found one in colchinum. Give enough of any potent drug to make the patient ill, break a leg, or cut off the clitoris, and the fits will probably be interrupted for a time.

Neither is it to the purpose to accuse Mr. Brown of having performed an operation rashly, groundlessly, and unsuccessfully Many such operations have been performed in the best faith. Marshall Hall used to propose tracheotomy for epilepsy;

a living Surgeon once performed castration for the same malady; each operation thoroughly unsuccessful, and not to be defended, save on the ground of the good faith of the proposers, and of an enthusiasm which had carried them beyond the bounds of sound discretion.

Although, then, clitoridectomy must be condemned as an offence against Medical science, if that were all, it might let pass into oblivion without further notice. It is the offence against Medical ethics which it involves, which has secured for it the reprobation of the Profession.

2. It is an ethical offence, in the first place, if the Practitioner who is consulted for any common complaint, say hysteria, or fissure of the rectum, set himself to consider whether or not the patient is guilty of immoral practices, which have nothing to do with the case before him.

Thus, as we said in our last number, and as we implied in the Med. Times and Gaz. June 4, 1864, if the clitoridectoral theory and practice were established, no parent who sent a daughter to any Medical man for any complaint whatever, could be sure that she might not return tainted with filthy inquiries, or branded by filthy suspicions — a thing incompatible with the honour of the Profession, and the possibility of that unrestrained frank intercourse between Practitioner and patient that happily exists now.

As an illustration of this kind of breach of Professional honour and its consequences, we will mention a case which was shortly touched on in our first article in the number for June 4, 1864.A young lady was brought by her friends, ten or twelve years ago, to a Surgeon practising specially on the rectum, for a fistula.

He did not content himself with exploring the fistula, but ascertained that she had lost her virginity, and told her father so. The consequences were frightful, including a painful trial, and loss of honour, character, and position to the parties concerned.

All this, because the Surgeon had gone out of the path of his duty, and, instead, of confining himself to the malady for which he was consulted, had gratuitously imported into it certain moral considerations with which he had nothing to do.

If this were a habit with Medical men, there would be an end to the present free an honourable intercourse with their patients. We should be accused, and justly, of making prurient, or indecent, or degrading inquiries, and of bringing a knowledge of evil to minds from which it had been absent.

Affirming then, in the first place, that the very entry of thoughts of pollution into the Practitioner's mind respecting his patients is an offence of the deepest dye, this offence is aggravated by the kind of evedince which the clitoridectomist is taught to accept as proof of his patient's guilt.

That evidence consists, partly, in certain physical signs detailed in Mr. Baker Brown's book—a "peculiar straight and coarse hirsute growth," a peculiar follicular secretion, and other phenomena detected by inspection, which are as frivolous as they are disgusting.

It is said by credible witnesses, that at a clitoridectomical operation nose as well as eyes were called into requisition, and that a respectable Practitioner was invited to apply his nose to the parts implicated, in order to satisfy his mind, by this test, that these parts had been subjected to abnormal irritation.

The thing is almost too beastly to tell of, but we want to deal with this subject once for all, and to let our readers know why clitoridectomy does not stand in the same category as any other unsuccessful operation.

But says Mr. Brown, "before commencing treatment, I have always made a point of having my diagnosis confirmed by the patient or her friends." And this brings us to what we may call the moral evidence on which the patient's guilt is assumed, the process of obtaining which is one of the most heinous offences against good sense and Professional ethics that can be conceived.

We have heard of questions put to female out-patients after the following fashion:

> "Do you feel any sensation in certain organs?"

> "Is it very strong?"

> "Does it induce you to rub them?"

> "Does the rubbing ever make you feel faint?"

And if the patient answers these questions affirmatively it is said that the evidence of unnaturally excitation is regarded as complete.

Nervous young women, as it s well known, may be profoundly ignorant of the nature and drift of such questions. They delight to magnify their own sensations, they enjoy the Physician's sympathy and are sure to answer "yes" to any leading question whatever.

But we say that if young women are subjected to such inquiries as these in out-patient rooms at Hospitals and Dispensaries, or by private Practitioners, the sooner the Profession speaks out the better.

A Medical consultation may involve the worst contamination to the patient. We think we are justified in saying that the kind of evidence on which the guilt of the woman is assumed is itself an ethical offence.

That the performance of clitoridectomy on a woman without her knowledge and consent, as detailed by Dr. West, is an offence against Medical ethics, needs not to be said. We suspect it is amenable to the criminal law of the land.

It is an offence against Medical ethics, also, to obtain the woman's consent, nominally, while she is left in ignorance of the real scope and nature of the mutilation, and of the moral imputations which it involves.

Consent to a thing whose nature is not known, is like the consent of an infant or lunatic—null and void. Equally do we repudiate, as an offence against Medical ethics, the performance of such an operation, even with the consent, nominal or real, of the patient, but without the full knowledge and consent of the persons on whom she is dependent, as wife or daughter.

As the woman's character affects theirs, they have a right to decide whether a female relative should undergo this operation, with the disgrace it involves, or whether relief shall be sought from other means.

We may be pardoned for adding that not one of the supposititious cases alleged by Dr. Routh at the late meeting of the Obstetrical Society has the least bearing on or analogy with the performance of clitoridectomy without the knowledge of the patient or her friends.

Dr. Routh argued that all the details of every operation cannot be described to patients. But it is not the details — it is the moral questions involved in clitoridectomy, which ought not to be kept secret. Dr. Routh argued, also, that there are cases in which a Practitioner is bound to keep a patient's secrets from her husband;

But in cases before us, it is not secrets imparted by the patient, but dishonourable surmises and filthy imputations generated in the mind of the Practititioner—the nature of the mutilation and its disgrace—that are kept secret.Thus, then, we have shown, as shortly as possible, the real position of clitoridectomy as an offence against science and morality, and the reasons why the Medical Profession, as an honourable, moral Profession, whose members have free and familial access to families, must repudiate and utterly reject it.

(a) "Let it be known, once for all, that clitoridectomy is neither more nor less than circumcision of the female; and as certainly as that no man who has been circumcised has been injured in his natural functions, so it is equally certain that no woman who has undergone the operation of excision of the clitoris has lost one particle of the natural functions of her organs.

I would here protest against the cruel insinuation made against me by my accusers, that my reasons for performing the operation are because women are subjected to immoral habits ; when, as I have distinctly again and again asserted, the operation is because there is undue and unbearable irritation of the clitoris, and in such cases alone is the operation likely to be successful."—(Mr. Baker Brown's "Replies to the Remarks of the Council," Nos. 12 and 13.)

(b) For evidence, see Baker Brown on Curability, etc., pp. 12, 18, etc.

Comments by the Medical HistorianClitoridectomy and medical ethicsEditorial, Medical Times and Gazette, 13 April 1867

Background

Although this is one of the most hypocritical documents in British medical history, its is also one of the most useful for illuminating the origins and nature of the double standard on male and female genital mutilation which persists to this day in English speaking countries.

While it seeks to quarantine "mere circumcision" from real mutilation, it nonetheless makes a cogent and powerful case against any form of genital alteration which is performed without informed consent.

The editorial was a response to the disgrace of Isaac Baker Brown, a prominent gynaecologist and dextrous surgeon who had made a name for himself as an authority on the female genitals, and the advocate of a procedure intended (guaranteed!) to cure many obscure nervous diseases — clitoridectomy.

Brown claimed that conditions such as hysteria, epilepsy and catalepsy, as well as the masturbation which gave rise to them, could be prevented by the excision of the clitoris, and he insisted that he was merely following the lead of surgeons such as Jonathan Hutchinson, who similarly asserted that masturbation in boys could be stopped by amputation of the foreskin.

In his genius for self-promotion, as well as in his conviction that he had found the magic bullet for the most intractable diseases of his age, he might be regarded as the Roger Short of the mid-nineteenth century. During the early 1860s Brown enjoyed considerable celebrity, but his methods came under attack in the 1860s, and the following year he was disgraced and expelled from the Obstetrical Society.

In this editorial the Medical Times and Gazette explains why clitoridectomy is both scientifically unsound as medical therapy and a violation of medical ethics in terms which are still relevant today. Although it tries to quarantine male circumcision from female genital mutilation in a manner all too familiar to us, its reasoning here is feeble and the discrimination fails.

The foreskin is also "an organ of exquisite sensitiveness, well supplied with blood vessels and nerves"; like clitoridectomy, circumcision is also an operation "occasionally attended with serious bleeding."*

On the principle stated here—that sensitive organs, well supplied with blood vessels and nerves should not be excised without the informed consent of their owner—the editorial may be read as an attack on both clitoridectomy and circumcision, and a clear statement of why each procedure is an offence against both medical science and medical ethics.

* Indeed, while there are numerous reports in nineteenth century medical journals of deaths and complications from circumcision, similar reports on clitoridectomy are very hard to find, suggesting that the latter was in fact the safer operation.

Further reading:

J.B. Fleming, "Clitoridectomy: The disastrous downfall of Isaac Baker Brown FRCS (1867)," Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the British Empire, Vol. 67, 1960, pp. 1017-34

Ornella Moscucci, "Clitoridectomy, circumcision and the politics of sexual pleasure in mid-Victorian Britain," in Andrew H. Miller and James Eli Adams (eds), Sexualities in Victorian Britain, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1996

Robert T. Morris, "Is evolution trying to do away with the clitoris?" Transactions of the American Association of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Vol. 5, 1892, pp. 288-302

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