Circumcision is an affirmative precept, the neglect of which entails the penalty of excision, as it is said, "And the uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin—that soul shall be cut off from his people" (Gen. 17:14). It is a duty incumbent upon the father to circumcise his son, and upon the master to circumcise his male slave, whether "born in the house" or bought with money. If the father or master failed to perform the circumcision, he has neglected the fulfillment of an affirmative precept but has not incurred the penalty of excision, to which only the uncircumcised person is made liable. In such case of neglect, the court is charged with the duty of circumcising the infant or slave at the appointed time, and must not leave any male uncircumcised among the Israelites or their slaves.
A male infant is not circumcised without the father's knowledge, unless the latter has neglected his duty and refrained from circumcising it. In this case, the Court has it circumcised even against the father's will. Should the child have escaped the notice of the Court, so that it did not have the child circumcised, then that person is under an obligation, when he grows up, to have himself circumcised. Every day that passes, after he is grown up, that he remains uncircumcised, he is neglecting the fulfillment of an affirmative precept. He does not however incur the penalty of excision till he has died, having wilfully remained uncircumcised.
The master is under an obligation to circumcise his male slaves, whether at birth they were his property or whether they had been acquired from a non-Israelite. There is a distinction however between these cases. A slave born in an Israelite's home is circumcised on the eighth day after birth; the slave bought with money, on the day that he is bought. Even if he was born on the day he was bought, he is circumcised on the same day.
Under certain circumstances, a slave acquired by purchase is circumcised on the eighth day after birth, while one born in the house is circumcised on the day he is born. For example, a female slave is bought, and her still unborn child is bought at the same time, the child, subsequently born, is circumcised when eight days old. For, although it had been separately bought, and is thus a slave acquired by purchase, still, as the mother had been acquired before the infant's birth, it is circumcised on the eighth day.
On the other hand, when a female slave was acquired for the sake of her offspring only (i.e. that her offspring might belong to the purchaser); or when she was acquired with the stipulation that she was not to take the ritual bath so as to have the status of a slave in an Israelite's home, though her subsequently born child is born as the property of the Israelite, it is circumcised on the day it is born; because this infant is as though it had been bought alone and had been bought on the day of its birth,—as the mother had not come within the category of an Israelite's female slave, so as to make her male child a slave "born in the house". Should she however, after delivery, have taken the ritual bath, the infant is circumcised on the eighth day.
If one acquired from an idolater, an adult slave who is unwilling to be circumcised, efforts are to be made for a period of twelve months to persuade him to submit to the rite. Should he at the end of this period still remain uncircumcised, he may not be retained but must be resold to a non-Israelite. But if, while he had still been with his non-Israelite master, the condition of sale had been made that he was not to be circumcised, he may be retained (by his new Jewish owner), though uncircumcised—provided that he undertakes to keep the seven Noachide precepts and he will then have the status of a proselyte of the gate. If he does not accept these seven precepts he is to be put to death (as a lawless individual). Proselytes of the gate are only received while the institution of the Jubilee is in force.
A proselyte must, before he can enter the communion of Israel be circumcised. If, while still a gentile, he had already been circumcised, it is requisite to draw a drop of blood from the membrum, on the day when he is received, as a sign of the covenant. Similarly, if a male infant is born with the prepuce absent, it is requisite to draw a drop of blood from the membrum when the infant is eight days old. An androgyne that has both male and female organs is to be circumcised on the eighth day. So too a male infant delivered by the Caesarean operation, or one born with two foreskins is to be circumcised on the eighth day.
Circumcisions are only performed during the daytime after sunrise, whether the operation takes place on the eighth day, the regular time, or subsequently, from the ninth day and further on, as it is said "on the eighth day" (Gen. 17:12) i.e. by day, and not at night. If the circumcision takes place after daybreak, it is correct. The whole of the day is proper for circumcision. Still it is a duty to perform it in the early part of the day, for the zealous fulfill their religious obligations at the earliest possible time.
When a circumcision takes place at the regular time (on the eighth day), it supersedes the prohibition of work on the Sabbath. But if it is to be performed after the regular time, it neither overrides the obligation of the Sabbath nor of the festivals. Whether performed at the regular time or not, it supersedes the obligation of the law of leprosy. If there was a bright leprous spot on the foreskin, the spot is cut off with the foreskin. For though the hacking of a leprous plague spot is prohibited, the affirmative precept (of circumcision) overrides the prohibition.
Even as the circumcision of male infants overrides the obligation of the Sabbath, so the circumcision of bondmen who are to be circumcised on the eighth day, overrides the obligation of abstinence from work on the Sabbath, should the eighth day fall on the Sabbath. To this rule there is an exception, namely, that of a bondman "born in the house", whose mother had not taken the ritual bath before the child was born. In this case, though the infant should be circumcised on the eighth day, the circumcision does not override the obligation of abstaining from work on the Sabbath.
When an infant was born "circumcised" (i.e. without a prepuce), or was delivered in the eighth month, after conception, while still immature—when it is considered to be in the category of a still-born child, as it may not live—; or if it was delivered by the Caesarean operation; or was an androgyne; or had two foreskins—in any of these cases the duty of circumcision on the eighth day does not override the obligation of the Sabbath. All such infants are circumcised on the first day of the week, which is the ninth day after birth.
If an infant is born (in the evening) when it is dusk and doubtful whether it is still day or already night, the eight days are counted from the night and the infant is circumcised on the nominally ninth day, which may in fact be the eighth day after its birth. If an infant is born on the eve of the Sabbath at dusk, the circumcision does not override the obligation of the Sabbath. It is circumcised on the first day of the week, since in a case when it is doubtful whether the Sabbath is the eighth day, the obligation of the Sabbath is not superseded.
If an eighth-month infant shows full development in its hair and nails, it is (regarded as) a mature seventh-month infant the delivery of which has been delayed. It may therefore (as a living being) be carried and taken from place to place on the Sabbath, and is not regarded as a stone (an inanimate object). It is circumcised on the Sabbath (should that be the eighth day after its birth). But if it was born with its hair undeveloped and its nails not perfectly formed as these are in normal infants, it is regarded as an eighth-month child that would not have been maturely developed till its ninth month, but that had been prematurely delivered while still immature. It is regarded as a stone (an inanimate object) and may not be moved on the Sabbath. Should it however live for thirty days, it is considered an infant capable of continued existence, and as in all respects like other infants; for an infant of the human species that survives for thirty days is no longer in the same category with the still-born.
A seventh-month infant that is fully formed is regarded as an infant expected to live, and is circumcised on the Sabbath. If it is doubtful whether such an infant is a seventh or an eighth-month child, it is, on either assumption, circumcised on the Sabbath. If it is, in fact, a seventh-month infant and mature, it is in accordance with the law that the circumcision should override the obligation of abstinence from work on the Sabbath. If it is an eighth-month child, the operator who circumcises it is regarded as cutting flesh, since an eighth-month infant is in the same category with a still-born child.
If the head of the foetus had emerged at dusk on the eve of the Sabbath, though complete delivery had not taken place till after night-fall of the Sabbath, the infant is not circumcised on a Sabbath. And in every case whenever a circumcision does not supersede the obligation to rest on the Sabbath, it likewise does not supersede the obligation to refrain from work on the first days of the festivals; but does supersede this obligation on the second days of the festivals. To this rule the New Year forms an exception. Circumcision (in cases where it would not supersede the obligation to rest on the Sabbath) does not supersede the duty to refrain from work on the first or on the second day of the New Year.**both days being regarded as one long day. So also, a circumcision, not taking place at the due time (on the eighth day after birth), does not supersede the obligation to refrain from work on the two days of the New Year.
A sick infant is not circumcised till it is well. Seven consecutive periods, each of twenty four hours, are counted from its recovery, after which it is circumcised. This applies to recovery from fever and similar illnesses. But if it had suffered from sore eyes, then as soon as the eyes are open and well, it is immediately circumcised. And so with similar disorders [that are localized and do not affect the general health].
An infant found on the eighth day to be excessively yellow is not circumcised till the circulation has become normal, and its complexion is like that of other healthy infants. So too, if it was excessively ruddy, presenting the appearance of one who had been dyed red, it is not circumcised till the blood has been absorbed, and its complexion is like that of other infants—this redness being a disease. In these cases, great caution must be exercised.
When a woman's first male child was circumcised and died as a result of the operation, which lowered its vitality, and her second male child also died as a result of its circumcision,—whether that infant was by the same or by another husband,—her third male child must not be circumcised at the appointed period (on the eighth day). The operation must be deferred till the infant has grown and its constitutional vigour is established. No child may be circumcised, unless it is entirely free from disease, since danger to life is a factor that overrides everything else. It is possible to circumcise after the appointed time, but it is impossible to restore a life that is extinct.