COVENANT & CONVERSATION A WEEKLY READING OF THE JEWISH BIBLE LEVITICUS: THE BOOK OF HOLINESS

Sacks, Jonathan. Leviticus:The Book of Holiness (Covenant & Conversation 3) . The Toby Press. Kindle Edition.

Abram fell face down, and God said to him, “As for Me, this is My covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations…” Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is My covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised…. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised.” (Gen. 17: 3, 9–12)
——————————————————————————————————————–Hence circumcision as the sign of the covenant. The purpose of circumcision, as all the commentators note in one way or another, is to mitigate sexual pleasure, control sexual desire, and consecrate the fundamental biological imperative of reproduction. Given the evolutionary and genetic asymmetry between males and females – with females placing a premium on fidelity, males on adultery and promiscuity – it becomes obvious why this should be a constraint of male rather than female desire. For it is males who overwhelmingly throughout history have committed crimes of violence. Eighty-seven per cent of murders are committed by men.19 And the primary driver of violence is sexual desire. The meaning of brit mila should now be clear. It counteracts a set of drives to which the human male is prone, which are socially dysfunctional and sometimes dangerous. Most significant is the connection between violence and male sexual desire. A second is the male tendency to promiscuity, adultery, multiple and serial relationships, and the relative lack of male interest in the continuing responsibilities of parenthood. In Britain in 2012, around ninety-two per cent of single-parent families were headed by a woman; only eight per cent by men.20 As Margaret Mead is reported to have said, the primary challenge of any civilisation is how to socialise males into becoming fathers.21 Covenant is about faithfulness in human relations, especially in the bond between male and female. That bond must be consecrated. It should be exclusive. Though the Torah does not legislate monogamy – it was not to become obligatory until the edict of Rabbenu Gershom in the tenth century – it is clearly implied by Genesis 2, as well as by the stories of tension between Sarah and Hagar, Rachel and Leah. Sigmund Freud, a Jew though not a believing one, placed sexuality at the heart of his analysis of the human personality and of civilisation itself. Libido was one of the primary human instincts. On the one hand, it was a desire for life as opposed to thanatos, the death instinct. On the other, unchecked, it led to conflict and chaos. Civilisation, for Freud, depended on the ability to defer instinctual gratification.
This is the key to understanding brit mila. It is the consecration of sexual desire. Judaism takes a balanced view of the human personality. Our instincts are not evil in themselves. The religious life is not a matter of self-denial and renunciation. But neither is it hedonism, the unrestrained pursuit of pleasure. Instinct has its darker side, which culminates in violence. The good life involves education of the passions and the acquisition of habits of self-restraint. The holy life involves the sanctification of instinct. Only thus can we create a gracious society in which love, not power, rules the affairs of humankind.

Sacks, Jonathan. Leviticus:The Book of Holiness (Covenant & Conversation 3) . The Toby Press. Kindle Edition.