From the convenience of our modern world, it’s easy to ridicule the ancient customs of others. Sometimes such ridicule is justified. After all, the fact that a tradition is ancient does not necessarily mean it is justified.
In this brief essay, I would like to focus strictly on the tradition of mesisah (also spelled Metsitsah). The tradition is among the oldest in Judaism and is mentioned in the Mishnah (Tractate Shabbath 133:A):
He circumcises him, tears back the foreskin, sucks and applies salve or cumin.
In the Gemara, which is a commentary on the Mishnah, we find:
Said R. Papa, “a specialist who fails to suck is dangerous and should be removed (from his profession).”
Like many others, human stupidity has attacked this custom:
Sucking an infant’s bleeding penis, after first cutting off his foreskin without anesthesia. Torture abuse of a sexual organ. An old man performing a satanic torture sexual abuse rite. Not traumatic for the baby?? Not a crime!…
Though human stupidity is my friend, I feel I must disagree with his wording and tactics here. He shows a photo of an adolescent boy, clearly in pain, being circumcised. Adolescents, and adults, do sometimes have the procedure – but they are the exception, not the rule*. Generally speaking, of course, it is performed upon 8-day-old infants. Does it hurt? Of course it does. But, from what I’ve seen, the baby soon forgets about it. I was circumcised and it didn’t leave me traumatized.
As for the sucking, I’ll admit I find it rather distasteful. This is one reason I never aspired to be a mohel – a person who does it for a living (or for the “tips”). The idea of putting my mouth onto anybody’s penis rather puts me off. But, having seen many circumcisions, I can say with reasonable certainty that there is nothing sexual about it whatsoever.
These days, at least in the U.S., the mohel does not apply his mouth directly to the penis. Instead, he uses a tube. This is to reduce any danger of infection and probably also to accommodate today’s sensibilities. But I’ve seen it done both ways; it takes less than a second in most cases.
Why was such a bizarre tradition even started? The ancients had no concept of germs or infection. All they knew about was “bad blood” and that removing some of the blood, from a wound, greatly reduced the danger of mortality. Just as one might suck the blood out of a snake bite to help a victim in a remote area, so too would the mohel suck some of the blood out of the fresh wound – just in case.
If we consider the relentless pressure traditional Jews have endured, over the centuries, to abandon their culture and heritage, it is easy to see why many Jews have clung to the old ways. Circumcision, and the rituals surrounding it, constitute a vital part of our identity. While many people, such as human stupidity, criticize such practices out of goodwill and genuine concern, we should remember that many more do so out of sheer hatred for Jews in general. Even if all Jews ceased circumcising their sons altogether, they would still hate us.
There is much more that should be said on this topic, but the hour is late for me and I’ll have to leave it at that for now. There will be follow-up posts based on the objections and criticism that are sure to follow in comments.
*Furthermore, they have the procedure done by choice.