Rabbinic Reports on Circumcision

Jacob Ettlinger


Letter of Chief Rabbi Jacob Ettlinger in Altona

Altona, 24 Ab 5603

Chief Rabbi!

Messrs. Adler and Fuld, members of your congregation, asked for my opinion, from the Jewish-religious perspective, concerning the society that has formed in Frankfurt am Main in the midst of the Israelite community, regarding its basic principles. These are: the Mosaic law should be modified in accordance with the times and circumstances and should not be evaluated according to the word but according to the spirit; the Talmud, and thus the whole of the Oral Law, has no binding power over any Israelite; there is no hope of the coming of the Messiah, and the law of circumcision should be regarded only as Abrahamic, not Mosaic, and therefore has no validity for Israel.

Indeed, it might seem almost superfluous to waste words on characterizing the position taken by such a society within Judaism. It must be evident to every impartial person that this position is that of deception, lies, and apostasy. Every Israelite who knows his faith knows that those laws, whose validity is determined by time and circumstances, were decreed by the greatest divine lawgiver himself, and that therefore those legislative instructions, in which such a restrictive condition is not found, are given to the Israelites for all time, in all lands and circumstances. Every Israelite who cares about the truth knows that the law of circumcision was given by God to Abraham for him and his descendants as a covenant for everlasting time (1. B. M. 17) and that this was given by the Lord to Moses, as well—only briefly because it already existed, but because of its importance, it was repeated at Sinai (3. B. M. 12).

Before God, the omniscient, I hereby pronounce as my deepest conviction that whoever agrees with the corrupting principles of that already mentioned society, and specifically, he who neither himself fulfills the law of circumcision for the sons born to him, nor has it executed by the appropriate Israelite religious authority, is to be regarded as an apostate, irreligious Israelite, and is not acceptable as a witness, neither for oath nor in court testimony. But this does not require human testament. Judaism itself, as it has consistently existed for thousands of years in all corners of the inhabited world among the Israelites, bears witness to the inviolability of its content and its form, in order to reject the unscrupulous attacks of those who, to avoid seeing, press shut their eyes and those of others, and then want to believe that the sun has been extinguished. We, however, will ask the Lord God to open the eyes of the blind in Israel and return the lost to the bosom of faith, so that in the shadow of the Palms of Peace, all Israel will unite with him until the end of time.

Translated by


Jacob Ettlinger, “Schreiben des Herrn Oberrabbiners Jacob Ettlinger in Altona,” in Rabbinische Gutachten über die Beschneidung, ed. Salomon Abraham Trier (Frankfurt am Main: J.F. Bach, 1844), 35–37 (Section V), https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.hw2ktz&seq=5.

Published in: The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, vol. 6.

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