Circumcision— That Most Manly Mitzvah

At first glance, a collection of essay son circumcision as part of the Brandeis Series on Jewish Women might prompt a double-take. What could be more patently out of place?” So begins the introduction to this intriguing collection of essays, The Covenant of Circumcision: New Perspectives on an Ancient Jewish Rite (Brandeis University Press/University Press of New England, $26.00). Like the editor, Elizabeth Wyner Mark, I too wondered this when I first picked up this book. However, women and questions of gender are very present in this volume, which includes a focus on biblical texts and rabbinic and kabbalistic commentaries on the ritual, essays presenting brit milah in its different cultural and historical contexts in Jewish history, and an exploration of how contemporary Jews in Israel, Europe, and America respond to the mitzvah of milah. The epilogue, “A Medley of Women’s Voices,” records part of a kitchen-table conversation among women(Conservative and Reform rabbis, an Orthodox physician, a secular scholar) who reflect on their feelings about this most manly of mitzvot.