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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

MICHAEL WOLFFSOHN'S "THE FORESKIN OF THE HEART"

 
  
Below you will find my translation of
MICHAEL WOLFFSOHN'S
"THE FORESKIN OF THE HEART"
and to Professor Wolffsohn's C.V.
The author and translator retain their respective copy rights. If you wish to publish in a commercial context you need to obtain permission of the author via this e-mail address.
----------------------------------------
Here the Link to the Archive for the on-going debate
 LINK TO MICHAEL WOLFFSOHN'S ORGINAL GERMAN CONTRIBUTION TO THE "CIRCUMCISION CONTROVERSY"
    and to a follow up piece of his 
And to Professor Wolffsohn's Home Lair
http://www.wolffsohn.de/


============================================
Michael Wolffsohn

Babtism in lieu of Circumcision? The Facts for the German Debate.

Jewish identity does not depend on the foreskin. The circumcision controversy is not a “German debate.” [1]

The “halacha”, Jewish religious law, is unequivocal: an uncircumcised Jew is a Jew insofar as he is the son of a Jewish mother. Although most German-Jewish and Israeli contributions to this debate would make you believe otherwise, sheer verbal assertion does not replace scholarship and the fact that several Jewish political and Rabbinical representatives in Germany invoked the Shoah and threatened emigration if circumcision of infants was prohibited, or an exception was not legalized in Germany under its Basic Law, was a tactless as well as silly  maneuver, especially so in the light of a German democracy that has stood the test of time. That “Germans, of all people”, as is argued, ought not to participate in the debate, is an exclusion that I, as a German Jew, am unwilling to countenance

Are “German, of all people” less democratic than we Jews, than I? Once again: I will name no names. Whatever your opinion on the Cologne judge’s circumcision verdict: it represents especially for us as Jews an opportunity to make the acquaintance of and bethink Jewish ideas/beliefs, and then, with revivified inner strength, to maintain – or to change them. We - as opposed to the Christians – ought to recognize that it is especially this subject that ought to bring us together, rather than it drive us apart.

The debate in Germany to date has deepened the division! Have done with the furthering of the divide! Symbols and rituals are bridges: that is, they are crutches on the way to god. Jews, Christians, and even Atheists ought to ask this basic question: how many crutches does a person need to reach God or the fulfillment of high ethical principles? Circumcision is a ritual.

The Bible dresses belief in and thoughts about God and the world in stories, commandments, and laws.           

Liberal readers, believers as well, seek what is fundamental and what it means. They do not clutch at the letter and the word, they search for the spirit of the law. The personification of this liberal Jewish spirit was, indeed, the Jew Jesus.

In his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 18) he emphasized that he did not want to change a single comma in Jewish law. However, Jesus wanted to lead that law and its practice back to its spirit. Orthodox Jews (and Christians) understand the Bible literally because for them it is God’s word.

Without destroying any bases for belief, one can regard the matter in this fashion: God inspired certain human beings to utter this word, they fixed it in the form of letters and then canonized it. But you can also see it in this fashion: the Bible is the work of human beings. However you regard it, it is a matter of fact that the biblical narrative about circumcision – Brit Milah in Jewish, Khita in Islamic – is not as unequivocal and unbroken as claimed.

The Biblical narrative from the Old Testament about circumcision can be found in the story of Abraham. In Genesis 17, God demands, even orders the progenitor to cut off his successors’ foreskins as a sign of his covenant with the eternal.

This edict appears to lack any grounding. However, you can actually                 find it in the representation of the (not completed) sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22. This story of Isaac’s sacrifice is the masterly literary transcription of something that transpired in human history: the transition from human to animal sacrifice. The basic thought of the sacrifice was to offer God what one loved most.  

Since development usually signifies refinement through symbolization, the great majority of humanity was satisfied with an alternative that conserved human beings and that was also a valuable alternative.

A member of a rural society that raised animals would typically sacrifice one of them — also dear and valuable. The aboriginal thought of the human sacrifice underlies the idea of circumcision. Circumcision is the substitute for the sacrifice of the body in toto.

A piece of the man’s dearest bodily part,  needed for the breed to perpetuate itself, is sacrificed. Subsequent to Isaac’s non-sacrifice the Bible neither speaks of further exchanges of words between father and son, or Abraham and his wife Sarah. 

Given the intellectual and literary genius of the Bible poets this lack is unlikely to have been fortuitous, and its message is easily discernible: sacrifices of one kind or another are not invariably productive of family peace.

The basic thought appears to say: this custom leads to quarrels. Even in Abraham’s family. And even Moses, the “greatest Jewish prophet”, did not circumcise his oldest son as the Bible tells us in a roundabout way.   

According to Exodus 4, 24-26, the circumcision was performed belatedly by
Zippora, Moses’ non-Jewish wife - a matter that lands us, if we take the                 Bible literally, in yet another halachine [Jewish religious law] absurd problem, for Moses’ direct descendants were not Jews, because, as cited above, only children born of Jewish mothers or who convert are Jews.

Incidentally, the Bible tells us without further ado that Moses’ second wife, as well, was not Jewish, but a black woman or Ethiopian, a matter that was most displeasing to Moses’ people.

In Joshua 5, 2-9, the Bible reveals to us that the men who wandered around the desert for forty year were not circumcised. No reason given, but one can and ought to be derived: this custom remained controversial, and not only during the so-called - that is not actual - historical occupation of the land that Joshua undertook (around 1200 b.c.), but until the time of the Bible poets during the era of the second Temple.

For the writers of the Bible did not only recount the Biblical myths, they also wove into the text the religious and social tensions of their time. “Your ought to circumcise the foreskin of your heart and no longer be obstinate,” it says in Deuteronomy 10, 16, and similarly in 30, 6.

The message is unequivocal: circumcision - as a command, not as a ritual – is purely symbolic, and is not to be taken literally. The confirmation comes in Jeremiah 4, 4:    “Circumcise yourself for the Lord and remove the foreskin of your hearts.” Which is how we most unexpectedly arrive at the bridge from the Jewish to the Christian Testament, to Paul (Romans 2, 25):

“Circumcision is useful, if you follow the law; but if you transgress the law, you will have become uncircumcised despite your circumcision.” Oughtn’t Jews also be mindful of this variant of Paul’s: Circumcision is something done to the heart by the spirit and not by the word.” (Romans 2, 28). Circumcision does not make you into a Jew, nor fasting laws, which many Jews obey, but obedience to its spirit, ignored by all but a few. That is something that the great Jewish Prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah frequently complained about, and the Jewish Pharisee Paul stands in the immediate tradition. (1 Cor. 19): 

“It does not matter whether you are circumcised or not, but whether you obey God’s laws.” That was not only Paul’s mission, but also that of the rabbinical Talmudic one in the first century A.D.   

We know the result. Circumcision? Yes. However, the Rabbiniate was split. One of their commentary stories has God and Abraham discuss the pro and con of the Brit Mila, which of course was a reflection of their internal discussion.

Moreover, it is historically confirmed that until the second century A.D. converted Jews outside Judea did not need to be circumcised. They were baptized.

Scholarship is divided on the question of whether baptism replaced                 circumcision – as one might assume. No, baptism is not an unchristian but an older (and by no means solely) Jewish practice. One ought not to forget that John the Baptist was a Jew and as a Jew in Judea baptized the Jew Jesus.

It was not until Emperor Hadrian’s 130 A.D. prohibition of circumcision                 (an edict that was not intended to be overly strict in its application) that the custom of circumcision - which, as indicated, was controversial within Jewry - became an inviolable law.    

Yes, so much Jewishness is part of Christianity and so much Christianity is part of being Jewish. Perhaps insight into these facts will help to make the circumcision discussion a bit saner as well as enhance Jewish and Christian self-knowledge, self-reflection and self-determination, leading to a Jewish-Christian dialogue of informed believers. Foreskin or not? Jewry has more to offer than that.
===========================================

[1On June 26 of 2012  a Judge in Cologne, Germany
http://www.lg-koeln.nrw.de/ Presse/Pressemitteilungen/26_ 06_2012_-_Beschneidung.pdf condemned a German physician for  violating the German constitution’s guarantee of the inviolability of a person for having circumcised - it  was a four year old Muslim boy. But the judge did not pronounce a guilty verdict nor administer punishment since the physician was practicing within a tradition and was unaware of the conflict of those constitutional guarantees with those guaranteeing freedom of religion, in this instance the Abrahamic religious practices of Brit Milah
in Judaic and the Islamic practice of Khitan
Thus ensued a conflict between the Jewish and Islamic religious in Germany and the German legal authorities that continues to this day.  The chief Israeli Rabbi went to Germany and asserted that the prohibition of the Brit Mila constituted a prohibition of the fundament of Jewish identity and German Jews therefore would have to leave the country. The Bundestag, the German parliament, responded quickly to calls from the two dominant parties, Christian and Social Democrats, to pass a resolution, endorsed by Chancellor Angele Merkel, in favor of an exception for the practice
Yet the controversy  will not be resolved most likely  until that whatever exception the Bundestag passes goes before the German Supreme Court. .[M.R.]

Translated from the German by Michael Roloff
============================================

Michael Wolffsohn is Professor Emeritus at the Bundeswehr University in Munich.


Michael Wolffsohn (17 May 1947–) is an Israeli-born German historian. Wolffsohn was born in Tel Aviv, in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine and today is Israel. His parents were German Jews who fled in 1939.
In 1954, the Wolffsohns moved to Germany, settling in West Berlin. In 1966, Wolffsohn began his studies at the Free University of Berlin, obtaining a PhD in History in 1975. From 1967 to 1970, Wolffsohn served in the Israeli Defence Forces. From 1975 until 1980, Wolffsohn taught at the University of the Saarland. Since 1981, Wolffsohn has served as a professor at the Bundeswehr University Munich as a professor in Contemporary History. His major interests are Israeli historyinternational relations, and German Jewish history.
Wolffsohn has argued in favor of German patriotism and has claimed that the crimes of National Socialism represent no reason why modern Germans cannot be proud of their country. In his book Eternal Guilt? (1993),  he argued against the idea of Germans having to bear guilt for the Holocaust for all time.
Wolffsohn has strongly supported Israel and has argued for greater Western understanding and support of the Jewish state in face of what Wolffsohn regards as fanatical Islamic extremism. Likewise, Wolffsohn has supported the War on Terror and the administration of George W. Bush. In May 2005, he was a leading critic of the chairman of the Social Democratic Party of GermanyFranz Müntefering, who compared a group of American capitalists attempting to purchase a German company to a “plague of locusts”. Wolffsohn noted that the capitalists in question were Jewish, and that the Nazis had often compared Jews to locusts, and labeled Müntefering an anti-Semite. Wolffsohn wrote that as a grandson of Holocaust survivors, he was grateful to the Americans for liberating his grandparents and that as a German Jew, he felt deep shame over increasing German anti-Americanism. More recently, Wolffsohn has been a leading critic of the novelist Günter Grass over his disclosure about his membership in the Waffen-SS during World War II.
[edit]Work
§  Meine Juden—eure Juden, Piper 1997 ISBN 3-492-03637-6.
§  Die Deutschland Akte: Juden und Deutsche in Ost und West : Tatsachen und Legenden, Ed. Ferenczy bei Bruckmann 1995 ISBN 3-7654-2730-6.
§  Frieden jetzt?: Nahost im Umbruch, Ed. Ferenczy bei Bruckmann ISBN 3-7654-2707-1.
§  Eternal Guilt?: Forty Years of German-Jewish Relations, Columbia University Press 1993 ISBN 0-231-08274-6.
§  Verwirrtes Deutschland?: Provokative Zwischenberufe eines deutschjüdischen Patrioten, Ed. Frenczy bei Bruckmann 1993 ISBN 3-7654-2706-3.
§  Wem gehört das Heilige Land?: Die Wurzeln des Streits zwischen Juden und Arabern, C. Bertelsmann 1992 ISBN 3-570-01622-6.
§  Spanien, Deutschland und die "Jüdische Weltmacht": über Moral, Realpolitik und Vergangenheitsbewältigung, C. Bertelsmann ISBN 3-570-00355-8.
§  Keine Angst vor Deutschland!, Straube 1990 ISBN 3-927491-32-2.
§  Ewige Schuld? : 40 Jahre deutsch-juedisch-israelische Beziehungen, Muenchen : Piper, 1989ISBN 3-492-10985-3.
§  Israel : polity, society, economy, 1882-1986 : an introductory handbook, Atlantic Highlands, NJ : Humanities Press International, 1987 ISBN 0-391-03540-1.
§  West Germany's Foreign Policy in the Era of Brandt and Schmidt, 1969-1982: An Introduction, Peter Lang Publishing 1986 ISBN 3-8204-8616-X.
§  German-Saudi Arabian Arms Deals 1936-1939 and 1981-1985 : with an essay on West Germany’s Jews, Frankfurt am Main : P. Lang, 1985, ISBN 3-8204-7490-0.
§  Die Debatte über den Kalten Krieg: Politische Konjunkturen, historisch-politische Analysen, Leske + Budrich 1982 ISBN 3-8100-0368-9.




 

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MICHAEL ROLOFF http://www.facebook.com/mike.roloff1?ref=name Member Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute and Society this LYNX will LEAP you to all my HANDKE project sites and BLOGS: http://www.roloff.freehosting.net/index.html "MAY THE FOGGY DEW BEDIAMONDIZE YOUR HOOSPRINGS!" {J. Joyce} "Sryde Lyde Myde Vorworde Vorhorde Vorborde" [von Alvensleben] contact via my website http://www.roloff.freehosting.net/index.html