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Question: If Abraham was commanded to circumcise his descendants on the eighth day, why do Arabs – who claim to descend from Abraham through Yishmael – wait until their children are 13 to circumcise them? I am aware that this is a matter of little consequence to our people. Nevertheless, this inconsistency is one that piques my curiosity.

M. Goldman
(Via E-mail)


Summary of our response up to this point: We started our discussion by citing the source for the commandment to circumcise a baby boy – Genesis 17:9-14. We noted that Abraham was 99 years old when G-d commanded him to circumcise himself and his household. His son Ishmael was 13. The Torah specifies that a circumcision should be performed on the eighth day of a boy’s life.

The Abrabanel notes that the covenant of milah includes inheriting the land of Canaan. Each Israelite grants this inheritance to his newborn son through brit milah.

We examined who exactly was given the commandment of brit milah. Was it only for Abraham and his children? Were Keturah’s children included? How about their children? Rashi states that Keturah’s grandchildren were not obligated to have a brit. The Rambam disagrees. He maintains that all of Keturah’s descendants must have a brit. Nowadays, though, the descendants of Keturah are interspersed with the descendants of Ishmael; we therefore don’t know who descends from Keturah. We suggested, however, that according to the Rambam the descendants of Keturah, plus the descendants of Ishmael, might together comprise the Arab nations.

We quoted from Roy S. Neuberger’s captivating work “Worldstorm,” where he discusses Sarah perceiving Ishmael’s violent nature and G-d telling Abraham, “Whatever Sarah tells you, heed her voice…” The Torah states that the legacy of Abraham goes through Isaac and not Ishmael, and that legacy includes the deed to the Land of Israel. While the children of Ishmael have tried to claim they are the recipients of the spiritual heritage of Abraham – and have argued that the child brought to the Akeida was in fact Ishmael – this claim is based on falsehood. They are trying to deny us our spiritual and geographical heritage.

The Torah (Genesis 17:23-27) details Abraham’s fulfillment of G-d’s command regarding the covenant and circumcision. These verses follow G-d’s promise (17:19-22) that He will make Ishmael into a great nation with twelve princes; however, Isaac, the son to be born to Sarah, and his progeny will be heir to the everlasting covenant between G-d and Abraham. The Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 47:11) relates that Abraham performed the circumcision on the very day G-d commanded him to do so, and during daytime for all to plainly see. He zealously fulfilled the command of G-d fearing no man.

Last week, we noted that Targum Yonatan Ben Ouziel notes that Ishmael was 14 at the time of the brit, even though the text says 13. We also established that both Abraham and Ishmael died when in good standing, as righteous men. If so, why do Ishmael’s descendants perform the circumcision at age 13 and not on the eighth day, as commanded by G-d?

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I am very fortunate to have the sefer of Rabbi Henach Levine, Sarasi Ba’Medinos, a commentary on Targum Yonatan ben Uziel. The author cites Sefer Ahavat Yonatan, who wonders – as we did two weeks ago – why Targum Yonatan ben Ouziel translates (Genesis 17:26), “V’Yishmael bno ben slosh Esreh shana b’himolo eit besar orloto,” as “On that very day on the 14th year [of Ishmael’s life] were Abraham and Ishmael, his son, circumcised.” The verse says 13; why does Targum Yonatan ben Uziel translate 13 as 14th year?

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.