Snip it!

Stances on Ritual Circumcision

Snip it! Stances on Ritual Circumcision

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.

Past exhibition
Where

Old Building, level 1


Lindenstraße 9–14, 10969 Berlin

Exhibition Trailer, Film: Robert Loebel, Sound: Julian Terbuyken; Jewish Museum Berlin

Overture: Sculptures

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.

Judaism

The brit milah, the ritual removal of the foreskin on the eighth day of life, 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.

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:

Poster for the Exhibit "Snip it!", a graphic of a banana with the peel of the tip cut off floats in front of a black background

Motif for the exhibition "Snip it! Stances on Ritual Circumcision"; Jewish Museum Berlin, Design: www.buerominimal.de

Video showing a circumcision bench (Germany, around 1750, wood, basketwork); Jewish Museum Berlin

Islam

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.

Turkish shadow theater figures "Circumcision scene"; Jüdisches Museum Berlin, Foto: Jens Ziehe

Christianity

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).

Renaissance painting of a small baby surrounded by people, angels with white feathered wings look down from the parting clouds above

The Circumcision of Christ (Modello), Peter Paul Rubens, Genoa, around 1605, oil on canvas, Picture Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna

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.

Blue circular button with the yellow german text "Haut ab! Kippa auf!" written on it

Buttons concerning the circumcision debate; Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Jens Ziehe

Exhibition Information at a Glance

  • When

    24 October 2014 to 1 March 2015

  • Where

    Old Building, level 1
    Lindenstraße 9-14, 10969 Berlin See Location on Map

Where

Old Building, level 1


Lindenstraße 9–14, 10969 Berlin