John 7:23

23 If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath so that the Law of Moses will not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made an entire man well on the Sabbath? NASB, ©1995

Is it the law of circumcision or the Sabbath that is not broken?

1 Answer 1


It is the commandment to circumcise one’s son on the eighth day of their life.1

3 And on the eighth day, you shall circumcise the flesh of his foreskin.

The Jews debated whether it was permitted to perform circumcision on Shabbat. The question: was circumcision considered to be מְלָאכָה (melaʾkha) and therefore prohibited on the Sabbath?2

The rabbis decreed that circumcision superseded Shabbat, but only if it was the eighth day of the infant’s life.3 Otherwise, circumcision was not permitted on Shabbat.

Moshe ben Maimon wrote,4

Timely circumcision supersedes the Shabbat, and that which is not timely supersedes neither the Shabbat nor a feast.

מילה בזמנה דוחה את השבת ושלא בזמנה אינה דוחה לא את השבת ולא את יום טוב

The reason it was permitted is because circumcision is a positive commandment (מצווה עשה),5 while not doing work on Shabbat is a negative commandment (מצווה לא תעשה),6 and “a positive commandment comes and supersedes a negative commandment.”7

The rabbis understood that all the requirements of circumcision were to be performed on Shabbat.8

We perform all the requirements of circumcision on Shabbat. We circumcise, uncover [the corona],9 suck [the wound],10 and place a compress and cumin on it.

עושין כל צרכי מילה בשבת מוהלין ופורעין ומוצצין ונותנין עליה איספלנית וכמון

Hence, it is the commandment to circumcise that is kept and not broken. However, even more important than circumcising a child is saving someone’s life (pikuach nefesh) on the Shabbat.11

How do we know that the saving of life supersedes the Shabbat? Rabbi Eleʿazar ben Azariah said, “If circumcision, which is [performed on but] one of the limbs of a man, supersedes the Shabbat, kal vachomer12 the saving of life supersedes the Shabbat.

מניין לפיקוח נפש שדוחה את השבת רבי אלעזר בן עזריה אומר מה מילה שהיא אחת מאיבריו של אדם דוחה את השבת קל וחומר לפיקוח נפש שדוחה את השבת


1 Lev. 12:3 cf. Gen. 17:12
2 Exo. 20:9–10
3 Shab. 132a, Gemara: אבל מילה גופה דברי הכל דוחה שבת—“But circumcision itself, everyone says it supersedes Shabbat.”
4 Mishneh Torah, Sefer Ahava, Hilkhot Milah, Chapter 1, Halakha 9
5 Regarding circumcision, the Torah states, “On the eighth day, you shall circumcise...”
6 Regarding Shabbat, the Torah states, “You shall not do any work...”
7 Shab. 132b, Gemara: דאתי עשה ודחי לא תעשה. This applies when the positive commandment will be fulfilled when the negative commandment is disregarded. However, it does not apply if the negative will be disregarded and the positive commandment will not be fulfilled.
8 Babylonian Talmud, Seder Moʿed, Tractate Shabbat, Folio 113a, Mishna
9 Jastrow, p. 1235, פָּרַע (para), 3): “to uncover the membrane, to split the corona and pull it down.”
10 id., p. 827, מָצַץ (matzatz): “and compress the blood-vessels of the wound by sucking.”
11 Shab. 132a, Gemara
12 Hebrew קל וחומר (kal vachomer), literally, “light and heavy,” equivalent (in thought) to the Latin argumentum a minore ad maius.


Babylonian Talmud.

Jastrow, Marcus. A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature. Vol. 2. London: Luzac; New York: Putnam, 1903.

Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides). Mishneh Torah.

  • Good answer +1.
    – alb
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 21:37

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