“Trembling of the Hands”
Radical Challenges in a Pivotal Century
Nineteenth-century German Jews — their way of life transformed by modernity — debated whether circumcision was an appropriate practice for adherents of the new Jewish “enlightenment” and Reform Judaism. Samuel Holdheim was the principal spokesman for a progressive perspective, but he was strongly opposed by nearly all other rabbis, Reform and Orthodox alike. German Jewish physicians argued either for complete elimination of the practice or for medical supervision and adequate sanitary technique. A few voices were raised against circumcision in France and Italy as well, though these countries were not centers for the debate. Early German Jewish immigrants to the United States often abandoned circumcision along with much else, but some preserved the practice as one of their few ties to religious tradition.
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