Why aren't Jewish women circumcised? This improbable question, first advanced by anti-Jewish Christian polemicists, is the point of departure for this wide-ranging exploration of gender and Jewishness in Jewish thought. With a lively command of a wide range of Jewish sources—from the Bible and the Talmud to the legal and philosophical writings of the Middle Ages to Enlightenment thinkers and modern scholars—Shaye J. D. Cohen considers the varied responses to this provocative question and in the process provides the fullest cultural history of Jewish circumcision available.
List of Illustrations
Part One. Jewish Circumcision and Christian Polemics
1. A Canonical History of Jewish Circumcision
2. Were Jewish Women Ever Circumcised?
3. Christian Questions, Christian Responses
4. From Reticence to Polemic
Part Two. Why Aren’t Jewish Women Circumcised? Four Responses
5. The Celebration of Manhood
6. The Reduction of Lust and the Unmanning of Men
7. True Faith and the Exemption of Women
8. The Celebration of Womanhood
Conclusion: Challenges to the Circumcision of Jewish Men
Shaye J. D. Cohen is Littauer Professor of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy at Harvard University. He is the author of The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties (California, 1999), From the Maccabees to the Mishnah (1987), and Josephus in Galilee and Rome: His Vita and Development as a Historian (1979).
"This book represents engaged scholarship at its very best. Cohen presents the vast range of texts at his command with brevity and wit. Elegantly written, this is a very stimulating book that is sure to provoke admiration, discussion, and controversy."—David Biale, author of Cultures of the Jews
"A distinguished and wide-ranging work of scholarship. Cohen’s definitive discussion of the covenant of circumcision enhances our understanding of Jewish identity formation, women’s status in Judaism, Jewish-Christian polemic, and the impact of diverse cultural environments on the evolution of Jewish tradition."—Judith R. Baskin, author of Midrashic Women
2006 National Jewish Book Award, in the Women’s Studies category, Jewish Book Council