Mutilation and Meaning
DOI link for Mutilation and Meaning
Mutilation and Meaning book
I want to begin by recalling a conversation I had some years ago at a dinner party in honor of a celebrated anthropologist. We were talking about grandparents, and I asked the anthropologist whether he had been much influenced by his grandfather, a distinguished rabbi. Not at all, he replied; he was the spiritual heir to Chateaubriand, the nineteenth-century autobiographer and author of The Genius of Christianity, and not to Moses Mendelssohn, the advocate of Jewish emancipation and enlightened reform. Since we had earlier been speaking about ritual scarification and since the anthropologist had done some of his most brilliant work on tattooing, I ventured to ask him if his own sons had been circumcised, in accordance with Jewish law. Yes, he replied, but quite by accident. By accident? In the case of his younger son, the circumcision had been performed routinely and, as far as the anthropologist could remember, without parental consent, in a New York hospital just after the Second World War. As for his older son, the circumstances were less routine. German troops had occupied Paris, and the anthropologist and his wife had fled to his rabbinical grandfather's house in the south of France. It was there that his child was born and, in compliance with the religious sensibilities of the grandparents, had been circumcised.