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CASTRATION, the removal of testes or ovaries. In the Hebrew Bible, the term saris, commonly rendered "eunuch," occurs more than 40 times. As a rule, the saris designated a court official who, occasionally, even reached the high rank of military commander (II Kings 25:19). Sarisim were found serving at the courts of Egypt (Gen. 37:36), Ethiopia (Jer. 38:7), Persia (Esth. 1:10ff.), and even Israel (II Kings 9:32). Since in at least one known case (Pharaoh's Potiphar) the saris was definitely married (Gen. 39:7ff.), it is doubtful whether the term always or usually refers specifically to a eunuch rather than to a palace official in general. Whatever the exact designation of the term, Judaism has always forbidden all forms of castration. Alone among the nations of antiquity, the Hebrews imposed a religious prohibition on the emasculation of men and even animals, a prohibition not found in the teachings of Buddha, Confucius, Christ, or Muhammad. The Bible directly refers to the ban on castration only by excluding castrated animals from serving as sacrifices on the altar (Lev. 22:24), a descendant of Aaron "who hath his stones crushed" from the priestly service (Lev. 21:20), and a man "that is crushed or maimed in his privy parts" from entering into "the assembly of the Lord" (Deut. 23:2), i.e., from marrying within the Jewish community. In the Talmud (Shab. 110b–111a) and codes (e.g., Sh. Ar. EH 5:11–14), the biblical interdict is widely extended to cover any deliberate impairment of the male reproductive organs in domestic animals, beasts, birds, and man, including the castration of a person who is already impotent or genitally maimed. While technically emasculation does not apply to females, the sterilization of women is also prohibited, though somewhat less severely (ibid.). The Talmud records one view according to which the ban on castration is of universal validity, having been included among the *Noachide Laws (Sanh. 56b).

The explicit disqualification of priestly castrates strikingly indicates how repulsive to Judaism is the notion of emasculating ecclesiastics or temple servants in order to promote their spirituality, let alone for so slight a motive as to preserve the soprano voices of religious choristers (practices widely rampant among ancient and medieval Christians). Jewish law, by contrast, not only abhorred such operations but extended the ban to certain categories of judges and synagogue officials (Tosef., Sanh. 7:5; Sof. 14:17). As in the religious rulings on *birth control , only pressing medical considerations are recognized as setting aside the objections to castration or other forms of deliberate sterilization. Numerous recent rabbinic responsa discuss and rule on such operations in various circumstances, e.g., prostatectomies which may involve a generally forbidden form of emasculation by severing the seminal ducts. The opposition to the castration of animals by Jews also raises serious halakhic problems frequently treated in rabbinic literature (for a wide-ranging survey of relevant responsa, see Oẓar ha-Posekim, Even ha-Ezer, 1 (19552), 208–55; and Birg, in No'am 1 (1958), 245–62).


J. Preuss, Biblisch-talmudische Medizin (19233), 251–62; I. Jakobovits, Jewish Medical Ethics (1959), 159–67.

[Immanuel Jakobovits]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.