Male circumcision is a ritual that dates back millennia. Statistics reveal that around one third of the world’s men and boys are circumcised for various reasons.
Through the exhibition “Snip it!” the Jewish Museum Berlin gave some surprising insights into the significance of this ritual whose religious, historical, and cultural roots are largely unknown.
Old Building, level 1
Lindenstraße 9–14, 10969 Berlin
A group of sculptures at the entrance to the exhibition considered the othering of the body, portraying non-European body modifications as well as archaic reminders of circumcision in the ancient East – for example, a standing statue of Snofru-nefer, an Egyptian court official from the 5th Dynasty (around 2400 BCE).
The hyperrealistic sculpture Murray by Evan Penny (1998) evoked present-day body images – like 70% of US American males, the figure is circumcised.
Round Table Trialog
Beginning with the Jewish concept of a covenant sealed with this bodily sign, the exhibition also explored the topic from Islamic and Christian viewpoints. It presented the ritual's roots in Abraham's covenant with God and explored the topic from the circumcision of Jesus to pop-cultural references in American TV shows. Along the way, deep-rooted antisemitic and Islamophobic attitudes were elaborated.
The brit milah is one of the most important religious commandments in Judaism. The exhibition explored law and custom not only through objects surrounding the ritual itself, but also physical expressions of its echoes in art and material culture.
What is the Brit Milah?
Brit Milah (Hebr. for covenant with the word), also called Bris, circumcision, ritual removal of the foreskin on the eighth day of life, symbol of the contract between God and Israel
The more than sixty objects and artworks also included a circumcision bench from Germany from around 1750, which is otherwise on show in our permanent exhibition at the Jewish Museum Berlin and plays a central role in the following animated video:
In the Islamic community, circumcision is both a duty and a tradition of faith. Although the ritual is not explicitly mentioned in the Koran, circumcision is believed to be a legacy of the prophet Ibrahim and is a festive occasion.
The historical representations and ceremonial items shown in the exhibition reflected a variety of festive traditions whose influence extends to the present day.
The perception of the circumcision ritual also plays an important role in Christian iconography. Circumcision scenes such as the painting by Peter Paul Rubens illustrate that Jesus' "Jewish birth" and his naming ceremony on his circumcision day were portrayed as a celebration and were thus part of the church calendar.
The exhibition also considered anti-Jewish motifs in the tradition of Christian imagery, which even included representations of blood libel (accusations of ritual murder).
2012 Circumcision Debate
In 2012, the Regional Court of Cologne classified the circumcision of boys as “bodily harm.” The verdict sparked a heated debate about ritual circumcision in Germany that was followed closely by the international community. In the exhibition’s final room, documentaries, film clips, and interviews commented on the controversial topic – sometimes seriously, sometimes ironically.
Behind the Scenes: Entries on the Exhibition “Snip it! Stances on Circumcision” (9)
Entries on the Exhibition “Snip it! Stances on Circumcision”
Interviews and stories by our employees, which were published as part of the exhibition Snip it! Stances on Circumcision, you can now read here on our website.
After the Exhibition is Before the Exhibition
Martina Lüdicke on the decision to dedicate a separate exhibition to questions of circumcision raised in the exhibition The Whole Truth
Behind the Scenes
On Belonging and Family Debates
A conversation about a circumcision that didn’t happen
“I didn’t want to ‘get lost’”
Alice Lanzke talked with Rabbi Goldberg about the complaint that he was liable for “dangerous personal injury” due to the circumcisions he performed.
“It was only later that I had my doubts”
Mirjam Wenzel talked with Naomi about her thoughts on ritual circumcision, then and now.
Shlomit Tulgan, who knows David from childhood, tells us the story of his circumcision.
On the Hamster Wheel of Argumentation
Andy Simanowitz, guide in the exhibition Snip it!, reports on stubborn questions and spirals of argumentation.
“Part of something greater”
Alice Lanzke spoke with Amitay and Meital from Israel about the circumcision of their son.
A Circumcision to Keep the (Family) Peace
Alice Lanzke spoke with a Muslim mother about the question: should her four-year-old son be circumcised?
“The best solution would be that the baby is a girl”
Jörg Waßmer prepared the inventory of Fritz Wachsner’s estate and got some insights into an internal Jewish debate about circumcision.
Exhibition Information at a Glance
24 Oct 2014 to 1 Mar 2015
Old Building, level 1
Lindenstraße 9-14, 10969 Berlin
See Location on Map