What exactly is your question? If circumcision indeed has many other benefits, what is the problem? What is your issue with saying that “circumcision is to enter into the covenant of Abraham” but it may also have benefits touching upon “aesthetics, health, hygiene and sanitation” and thus may be “for those things, too”?
What you may be addressing, though, is the question of: bottom line, why are we to be doing this? The issue is not the many benefits that may also flow from circumcision and the various reasons why individuals may wish to choose this procedure for their sons but why we, as Jews, are to undertake this commitment. It is in this regard that we are to say that THE reason why we adopt this behaviour is because it is God’s commandment to thereby enter into the covenant of Abraham. There may be other motivations and outcomes but, bottom line, we to commit to this behaviour solely because of this reason.
The issue really is tied to a powerful Talmudic discussion (see, for example, T.B. Rosh Hashanah 28b) of whether mitzvot, commandments, need proper intent (kavana) or not. If we say that mitzvot do not need proper intent, then all that is necessary to fulfill a commandment is the performance of the act, regardless of the reason one is undertaking this action. If that were the case, one who circumcises his son for any reason, without even any recognition of its religious value, would be considered to be fulfilling the Divine command.
The actual dominant conclusion, though, is that commandments do need proper intent in order to be deemed fulfilled. Proper intent means undertaking the action because it is so commanded by God. As such, pursuant to this perspective, for a circumcision to be deemed as having religious value, it must be performed because it is a Divine commandment. One may still recognize other benefits but the necessary motivation must be God’s command. (The issue of what one is then to do if a circumcision was not undertaken with proper intent and the responsible person now wishes the correct religious value of circumcision is actually a most pertinent one. I do not want to get into details in this regard but suffice it to say that there is actually a simple solution to the problem and one with this issue need only to consult a local Orthodox rabbi in this regard.)
So what about these other reasons? While we must always recognize our limitations in achieving a full understanding of why God gave us a specific command, such reasons can serve to some extent as partial explanations for the command. They can also be used to make our fulfilment of the command a bit easier; it is easier to do what we are being told to do when we can also see a benefit. There is nothing wrong in seeing the benefit(s) of a Divine command. It can even, as stated, make it easier and nothing wrong in that. There is a challenge, however, in that we still cannot thereby allow these other reasons to cause us to lose sight of the real reason we are doing this: to fulfill the Will of God. The point is that we must never to lose sight of the fact that circumcision is a Divine command and that it is the sign from Abraham of our covenant with God – and this is bottom line reason for this act.
The only reason to circumcise one’s son, (or have oneself circumcised, if one is a convert or was not circumcised as an eight day old infant—or as a child) according to Jewish tradition, is as a sign of the covenant with God. The act of circumcision itself is not the entering into the covenant, the circumcision is a sign of the covenant. Girls and women are also part of the covenant even though they are not, nor should they be circumcised. There are also certain specific situations when boys need not be circumcised, yet they are still part of the covenant (though they are excluded from some—no longer relevant—rituals). There are many conflicting arguments and medical studies about the health benefits (or lack thereof) of circumcision. None of this is relevant to circumcision as a religious practice. The only benefit of circumcision, as far as the tradition is concerned, is that it is a sign of the covenant that God originally cut with Abraham.
Yes, some may think so. But the classical understanding regarding circumcision is a biblical command to the people of Israel to circumcise their sons on the eighth day of life.
Circumcision is a simply a sign of the covenant between God and Israel, and we know this from Genesis 17:9-14, which says, “God further said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you and your offspring to come throughout the ages shall keep My covenant. Such shall be the covenant between Me and you and your offspring to follow which you shall keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. And throughout the generations, every male among you shall be circumcised at the age of eight days. As for the home-born slave and the one bought from an outsider who is not of your offspring, they must be circumcised, home-born and purchased alike. Thus shall My covenant be marked in your flesh as an everlasting pact. And if any male who is uncircumcised fails to circumcise the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his kin; he has broken My covenant.’” (JPS translation)
You ask about aesthetics, health, hygiene, and sanitation. One could also add to this list each current study findings regarding the medical pros and cons of circumcision, which reportedly include lower incidence of cervical cancer among sexual partners of circumcised men. Not being a physician, I cannot speak to the specifics of health, hygiene, and sanitation. However, there are ways to maintain hygiene and sanitation of the penis, mainly through washing thoroughly each day and normal care and ‘maintenance.’ None of these reasons are stated in the Torah, and so one cannot say definitively that circumcised or uncircumcised penises are better from a health standpoint.
Regarding aesthetics, since approximately 60%-70% of men in the United States are circumcised, I think there is not one aesthetic norm for our culture. That being said, if a father is circumcised, then a son my think it odd – when he sees his father’s penis – that he is not circumcised. The same goes in the opposite direction. In this instance, aesthetics may play a role.
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