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Why Aren't Jewish Women Circumcised?Gender and Covenant in Judaism$
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Shaye Cohen

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780520212503

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520212503.001.0001

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From Reticence to Polemic

From Reticence to Polemic

(p.93) Chapter 4 From Reticence to Polemic
Why Aren't Jewish Women Circumcised?

Shaye J. D. Cohen

University of California Press

This chapter explains why the rabbis of antiquity ignore the Christian arguments based on the non-circumcision of women, while their medieval continuators saw fit to respond to them. The rabbis of the Mishnah, the Talmud, and the Midrash were well aware of the gender implications of circumcision but were not bothered by them. No rabbinic passage of antiquity explains why Jewish women are not circumcised. The rabbinic silence on this matter is all the more remarkable given the fact that ancient Christian polemicists used the non-circumcision of women as an anti-Jewish argument, but the rabbis paid those Christians no heed. As a result of the silence, when the rabbis of the high Middle Ages in Europe began to respond to Christian polemics, they had no classical or canonical text that they could cite in order to rebut the Christian argument drawn from the non-circumcision of women. The Jewish respondents were left to their own devices and were free to invent any answer they could.

Keywords:   rabbi, Mishnah, Christian polemics, anti-Jewish argument, non-circumcision

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