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The Enigma of Circumcision

- Abstract

In our time, ritual observance of all kinds has become problematical not only for non-believers, but for the thinking adherents of the various faiths as well. In most other respects, religions have not fared badly in the modern world, but ceremonial practices have proven vulnerable. As the historical roots of rituals have been uncovered, the constant temptation has been to abandon them on the ground that while they made sense in their time and place, they are now anachronisms. The decline in the observance of kashruth among Jews is a case in point.

The theological defense against this trend has been weak; the attempts to justify ritual usually confine themselves to stressing its value for religious survival, its aesthetic quality, and above all its social and psychological usefulness. Thus, one finds that ritual among primitives is tolerated, or even admired, because of its “functional” aspects, so crucial for the currently dominant anthropological perspective.

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