Perhaps the most famous of all of the Torah’s commandments, an act that the Talmud (Shabbat 130a) states will be joyfully observed by the Jewish people forever – even during times of persecution – is that of circumcision, or brit milah. Of this, the Torah states: “And on the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.” (Leviticus 12:2-3).
Notice that the Torah does not command us to circumcise a baby in the first days after his birth, nor does it command us to perform circumcision after the eighth day. Rather, it says: “On the eighth day you shall circumcise his flesh.” We are commanded to perform this act specifically on the eighth day.
Although we can never truly understand the reasons for the Torah’s commandments, it is nevertheless appropriate here to examine some of the incredible scientific findings concerning changes in the body that take place on the eighth day of life.
We begin with the words of Ayala Abrahamov, M.D., Senior Professor of Pediatrics at the Faculty of Medicine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in her article “Problems with Blood Clotting and Bleeding in Newborns”:
“The system of blood clotting or coagulation depends on certain types of proteins, called platelets, which are produced by the liver. These materials, known by the Roman numerals I-XIII (1-13), work in sequence [together with various enzymes] until a stable clot called a fibrin is formed. In the first days after birth the liver is not yet developed enough to survive any surgical operations, which could cause massive bleeding and lead to the death of the newborn, whose body simply does not have the ability to stop the blood flow on its own. Physiologically, until the eighth day, the liver slowly develops, until on the eighth day itself, it is mature enough to fulfill its role to create the clots necessary to stop bleeding.”
It is important to note that non-Jewish medical researchers, such as Dr. Armand James Quick (1894-1978), were astounded at the uncanny correlation between the development of the body’s ability to stop bleeding and the timing of brit milah.
Dr. Armand James Quick, who served for years as the head of the Department of Biochemistry at Marquette University in Wisconsin, specialized in blood research. As part of his work he made a number of significant discoveries, and developed an important blood diagnosis test known as Quick’s Tests I, II, III. His procedure for determining blood-clotting time and the amount of the hormone prothrombin in the blood were considered pioneering discoveries in the field. He notes in his writings that during the first days of a newborn’s life, the amount of blood clotting material is limited, so that even a small cut is liable to cause serious danger for a newborn, to the point of threatening its life. By the eighth day after birth, the ability of the newborn’s blood to clot grows dramatically. Quick notes: “It is not a coincidence that the religion of Moses sets its ceremony for circumcision on the eighth day.”
There is yet more.
In June 2000, a new edition of the best seller None of These Diseases, by Dr. S. I. McMillen was released. McMillen notes enthusiastically that in the first days of life the newborn faces a serious dearth of blood clotting substances; whereas, after the eighth day, the level of clotting material – prothrombin – in the blood reaches its lifetime average of 100%. However, just before the eighth day, the amount of blood clotting material increases rapidly, until on the eighth day itself, it is 110% of the norm!
In other words, only on the eighth day of life do blood clotting substances reach their all-time high – well beyond the amount that will accompany a normal human being for the rest of his life.
This scientist, Dr. McMillen, does not hide his excitement about such a discovery: “We should certainly praise the scientists who worked so hard for so many years to discover that the safest time to perform circumcision is the eighth day. Yet, at the same time we applaud this new discovery, we can hear a resounding echo of these findings from the pages of the Bible.
These pages remind us that 4,000 years ago, God commanded Abraham to circumcise his son specifically on the eighth day – not because of years of scientific research, but because of the decree of the One who created the blood’s ability to clot.”
In addition to this amazing fact about the day of circumcision, there are other important health benefits, that removing the foreskin has been found to accrue.
The explanation is as follows: In every part of the body the skin is flush with the layers below it, thus shielding against the intrusion of various types of bacteria. Only with regards to the foreskin, however, does the opposite apply – it actually engenders a significant increase in disease causing bacteria, spores, and fungus.
The skin of the foreskin is not securely flush with the corona, and the small gap near the head of the male member allows various infectious agents to enter the empty space. This warm, dark and moist area is highly susceptible to the cultivation of germs and infectious disease. Removal of the foreskin allows the area to be maintained in a hygienic and safe manner. (As a result, every male in the British royal family undergoes circumcision performed by a Jewish mohel. Prince Charles, the heir apparent to the British throne, was circumcised by Rabbi Jacob Snowman, the official mohel of London’s Jewish community.) Furthermore, it has recently been discovered that the chances of being infected by HIV are six times greater among men with a foreskin.
Still, anyone can see that the real reason for circumcision is not to be found in its health benefits, but in its spiritual and exalted rational. However, every spiritual commandment mandated by God also has a physical benefit.
Incidentally, of all of the world’s creatures, the foreskin exists only among human beings.
This is a something to think about.
Here, we can clearly see God’s hand at work, who controls and guides the creation and gave the Torah; for He linked the day of highest blood clotting levels to the day upon which circumcision is commanded.
Here we must stress that it is not because the eighth day is the most propitious that we were commanded to circumcise on it, but precisely the opposite – God chose the eighth day for circumcision for reasons known to Him, and therefore arranged for a sufficient level of blood clotting material to be available on that day in order to make fulfillment of the commandment possible. As the Sages have said: “The Holy One ‘looked’ into the Torah and created the world.” In other words, the world is created according to the demands of the Torah, and not the opposite.
Adapted from The Revolution by Rabbi Zamir Cohen
More interesting articles about Circumcision & Science in the Torah:
Watch – Confessions of a Ritual Circumciser
What is the Reason for Circumcision?
Torah & Science: Wonders of Creation, Beginning of the Universe, Evolution and more