There has been opposition to circumcision continuity since the time of Abraham 3730 years ago. I give below four examples of continued attempts to limit and ban circumcision; however circumcision continuity continues with commitment.
Circumcision continuity in Greece. In 175 BCE Antiochus Epiphanes came to power in Greece and saw himself as the representative of Greek (Hellenistic) culture, which he wished to disseminate throughout his empire. The supporters of Greek culture, who spoke Greek and adopted Greek customs, were known as Hellenists.
Antiochus Epiphanes wished to make Jerusalem a Greek city. Antiochus Epiphanes prohibited observance of the Jewish commandments and tried by force to compel the Jews to observe Greek customs. He imposed edicts against the Jewish religion, banning circumcision, Sabbath observance and Torah study. He built an altar in the Temple and forced the Jews to sacrifice to the Greek gods. The Greeks also erected altars to their gods in the streets of Jerusalem. (See The Source by James Michener).
The great majority of the people remained faithful to the Jewish religion and tradition and rejected Greek and Hellenistic culture, which they realized would lead to the annihilation of Jewish culture.
The resentment among the Jews grew steadily, culminating in 167 BCE with the outbreak of a revolt against Greek rule in Judea led d by the Hasmonean priest, Matityahu. Matityahu accompanied by his five sons: Yohanan, Shimon, Judah, Jonathan and Elazar. Many Jews, mainly farmers, gathered around Matityahu and his sons in order to combat the Greeks. At the head of this army stood Matityahu’s son, Judah Maccabee.
The slogan of the Jewish fighters was: Who is like you among the gods, O Lord (mi kamocha ba’elim Hashem), a Hebrew acrostic for the word Maccabee. The Jews fought heroically. This was a war between unequal forces: few against many, unarmed peasants against a regular, trained army. It was a popular, partisan war, in which many Jews fell, including Elazar the Hasmonean.
Judah Maccabee defeated Antiochus’ army and liberated Jerusalem in 165 BCE. He purified the Temple and reinstituted the sacrifices. On the 25th of Kislev the Jews inaugurated the Temple (Chanucah) and offered up the first sacrifice to the Almighty on the new altar. The inauguration festival for the Temple lasted eight days.
Circumcision continuity under the Roman Empire and its army conquered and ruled the Land of Israel after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. The wicked Turnus Rufus suppressed the Bar Kochba revolt in 132CE. He then imposed new decrees with the intention to specifically to target and destroy Jewish identity. He made it a capital offence to circumcise their sons, keep Shabbat (Saturday), no one was to teach Torah in public. The Romans realized that if these decrees would be successfully enforced this would destroy the Jewish people as a nation and assure assimilation. There are many documented encounters between Turnus Rufus and Rabbi Akiva, who was publicly tortured to death by Turnus Rufus for courageously teaching Torah in defiance of the Romans.
Circumcision continuity in Stalinist Russia and the previous Soviet Union until its collapse, there were restrictions on circumcision.
In my experience since 1993 when I first visited Moscow and many different Eastern European areas, it is inspirational to perform circumcision for Jewish boys and men of the former USSR and Eastern Europe. They did not have the opportunity to undergo circumcision as a child. These boys and men are very enthusiastic to now undergo circumcision.
Circumcision continuity even during the Second World War the Nazis tortured, starved and gassed six million Jews throughout Europe. There are many documented events that illustrate how Jews even knowing they faced imminent death, ensured Bris Milah.
The following story was told by Rabbi Israel Spira, the Rebbe of Bluzhov, who witnessed it in the Janowska Concentration Camp and written by Rabbi Ezriel Tauber MeiAfeilah LaOrah pp 95-96.
Each morning at dawn, the Germans would lead us out of the camp for a day of hard labour that ended only at nightfall. Each pair of workers was given a huge saw and expected to cut its quota of logs. Because of the horrendous conditions in the camp and the starvation rations on which we were supposed to subsist, most of us could barely stand on our feet. But we sawed away, knowing that our lives depended upon it; anyone collapsing on the job or failing to meet his daily quota was killed on the spot, G-d forbid.
One day, as I pulled and pushed the heavy saw with my partner, I was approached by a young woman from our work detail. The pallor of her face showed her to be in an extremely weak physical state. “Rebbe,” she whispered to me, “do you have a knife?
“I immediately understood her intention and felt the great responsibility that rested upon me. “My daughter,” I begged, concentrating all the love and conviction in my heart in the effort to dissuade her from her intended deed. “Do not take your own life. I know that your life is now a living hell, from which death seems a blessed release. But we must never lose hope. With God’s help, we will survive this ordeal and see better days.
“But the woman seemed oblivious to my words. “A knife,” she repeated. “I must have a knife. Now. Before it is too late.
“At that moment, one of the German guards noticed our whispered conversation and approached us. “What did she say to you?” He demanded of me.
We both froze. Conversing during work was a grave transgression. Many a camp inmate had been shot on the spot for far lesser crimes.
The woman was first to recover. “I asked him for a knife,” she said. To my horror, she then addressed her request to the guard: “Give me a knife!
“The German, too, guessed her intention, and a devilish smile flickered on his lips. Doubtless he had seen the bodies of those who, out of desperation, threw themselves during the night on the electrified fence that surrounded the camp; but this would be a novel sight for him. Still smiling, he reached into his pocket and handed her a small knife.
Taking the knife, she hurried back to her workstation and bent over a small bundle of rags that she had placed on a log. Quickly unravelling the bundle, she took out a tiny infant. Before our astonished eyes, she swiftly and skilfully circumcised the week-old boy.
“Blessed are You, G-d our G-d, King of the Universe,” she recited in a clear voice, “Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to enter him into the covenant of Abraham our Father.
“Cradling the child in her arms, she soothed his cries. Then, she addressed the heavens: “Master of the Universe! Eight days ago you gave me a child. I know that neither I nor he will long survive in this accursed place. But now, when you take him back, you will receive him as a complete Jew.”