Circumcisions of the heart are a topic which I've seen mentioned a couple of times but never really delved into. While the word circumcision is used to describe it, the mark cannot be equated to true circumcision because a person obviously needs to be circumcised. That being said, we have examples of people being punished regardless of their circumcision status because they weren't circumcised "of the heart"

My question is do we have a clearly defined idea of what it means to have a circumcision of one's heart? Or is it one of those concepts that relates to generalized piety that isn't clearly grasped?

3 Answers 3


This is the subject of the fourth discourse of the the Alter Rebbe in the fourth section of the Tanya called Igeret HaKodesh.

He explains that process of circumcising the heart is to remove ones material desires through the process of teshuvah to the extent that it reveals the true nature of the innermost essence of ones heart. That at the core of ones heart is G-d’s essence, the pintele Yid in all of us.

To read it in the complete form, follow this link.


Circumcising the heart is the example given by Ibn Ezra in his commentary to Exodus 20:1 of a commandment that doesn't seem to make sense:

וחלילה חלילה שתהיה מצוה אחת מהן מכחשת שקול הדעת רק אנחנו חייבים לשמור כל אשר צונו השם בין שנגלה לנו הסוד בין שלא נגלה ואם מצאנו אחת מהן מכחשת שקול הדעת אינו נכון שנאמין בו כי הוא כמשמעו רק בספרי חכמינו ז"ל נבקש מה טעמו אם היא על דרך משל ואם לא מצאנו זה כתוב נבקש אנחנו ונחפש בכל יכלתנו אולי נוכל לתקן אותה ואם לא יכלנו נניחה כאשר היא ונודה שלא ידענו מה היה כמו ומלתם את ערלת לבבכם וכי הוא צונו שנרצחנו כאכזרי

And heaven forfend that there should be a commandment, one of them, that contradicts the assessment of intelligence; we just are obligated to keep all that God commanded us, whether the secret has been revealed to us or whether it has not been revealed. And if we find one of them contradicting the assessment of intelligence it is not proper that we believe about it that it is as it sounds. Instead we should search its reason in the books of our Sages of blessed memory, [to see] if it is by way of parable. And if we do not find this written, we [ourselves] should search and seek with all our ability that we may perhaps be able to fix it. And if we are unable, we should leave it as it is and acknowledge that we don't know what it is, like [the commandment of] and you shall circumcise the foreskin of your heart — did [God] command us that we should kill ourselves like a cruel [person]?!

Ibn Ezra seems to be saying that we don't know what it means; we only know that it does not mean to literally cut your heart.


Circumcision is a symbol marking the covenant God has with his people. But as God is interested not only in people's bodies, but also their minds, hearts, desires, souls, etc, so God's covenant concerns not only physical acts but also what is in our minds and hearts:

Deuteronomy 6:4-6 (Judaica)

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God; the Lord is one.
And you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your means.
And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart.

Circumcision of the heart is a metaphor which appears in Jeremiah. As the prophet rebukes Israel for their many sins, and in particular for their faithlessness as they served idols rather than the true God, he calls them to repentance with the promise that they will escape God's punishment if they circumcise their hearts to the Lord. I think in context it symbolises not only general holy living, but also in particular the rejection of idolatry (שִׁקּוּץ).

Jeremiah 4:1-4 (Judaica)

If you return, O Israel, says the Lord, to Me, you shall return, and if you remove your detestable things (שִׁקּוּצֶ֛יךָ) from My Presence, you shall not wander.

And you will swear, "As the Lord lives," in truth and in justice and in righteousness, nations will bless themselves with him and boast about him.

For so said the Lord to the people of Judah and to Jerusalem: Plow for yourself a furrow, and do not sow upon thorns.

Circumcise yourselves to the Lord and remove the foreskins of your heart, O people of Judah and dwellers of Jerusalem, lest My anger go forth and burn with none to quench it because of the evil of your deeds.

Jeremiah 9:24-25 (Judaica)

Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, when I will punish every circumcised one with his uncircumcision.

Egypt, Judah, Edom, the children of Ammon, Moab, and all those cast off to the corners, who dwell in the desert, for all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are of uncircumcised hearts.

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