Why Does God Care About Foreskin?

A reader writes:

Having converted to Judaism early on in my second marriage, I not only agreed to the circumcision of our son, but agreed to have it done ritually by a mohel who traveled down to Circumcision-06-big our house in southern Indiana and did the deed in our living room, in front of guests, next to a table laden with the traditional goodies.

My oldest son by a previous marriage had been circumcised in the hospital more or less "automatically", within hours of his birth in 1969; it didn't occur to me that one could ever say "no" to this procedure, it was just one more form you signed in the hospital--indeed, I don't remember my son's pediatrician even suggesting to me that there was any option but to sign the form, or any reason not to.

In any case, after nearly 30 years I have still not forgotten my younger son's scream of sheer agony as the mohel performed this ritual.

When your children experience pain of any sort (bruises, skinned knees, broken bones, whatever) it sends an awful sympathetic reaction through your nervous system, a sort of acute bodywide shudder of shared pain; suffice it to say even the memory of that moment causes that reaction in me to this day.

I was more relieved than words can convey that my next two children were girls, and that this was a decision I never had to make again. I do remember realizing at the time that my older son had also experienced this dreadful pain, but clinically, out of earshot, in the hospital nursery (and, moreover, in an era when infants were denied anesthetic for all kinds of routine procedures on the grounds that babies didn't "feel" pain or that even if they felt it, they wouldn't remember it).

I don't know the ultimate right-and-wrong of this one--it's a complex issue medically, and I don't find it quite so easy to come down on the side of pure opposition, although both my daughters are quite determined to refuse it if they ever give birth to sons--but I do know that there is something beyond terrible in that infant agony. Even when we consent to it for religious or medical reasons, we should at the very least acknowledge that it is often hellishly painful and almost certainly profoundly traumatic spiritually as well as physically.

I've gotten so many emails on this subject. It's a strange one - because for many, this is so trivial a matter, but for others, it is quite loony. The truth is: it's a taboo of sorts. Jews and Muslims seem to believe that God mandates the mutilation of penises. More than this: this is an essential part of the faith. A rabbi I have emailed with explained:

The reason for a bris is what the term bris means, a covenant before God and man and his people Israel.  I don't know why God desired it, some in our rabbinical commentaries claim that it is a permanent mark on our body to show are allegiance to God in a very sensitive area and the covenant he made with Abraham.  The theme goes that God will not forget his people as long as his people keep the covenant of Bris.  We are to have two signs on our body at all times, the Tefilion and the bris. On Shabbat the day itself is a sign so Tefilion is not required.  The bris is eternal.
This is why we Jews forbid tattoos because the bris is the only mark made for God and God only. The reasons, I can't say but it has been the unity of our people for three thousand years even in times of repression, exile, and genocide the bris is our covenant. It's not for man to decide but God.

But why does God care about foreskin? That's the question.