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Cutting away of all or part of the foreskin (prepuce) of the penis. The practice is known in many cultures. It is performed either shortly after birth (e.g., among Muslims and Jews), within a few years of birth, or at puberty. For Jews it represents the fulfillment of the covenant between God and Abraham (Genesis 17:10–14). That Christians were not obliged to be circumcised was first recorded biblically in Acts 15. Evidence regarding the purported medical benefits of circumcision (e.g., reduced risk of cancer) is inconclusive, and the practice persists mainly for cultural reasons. See alsoclitoridectomy.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on circumcision, visit Britannica.com.