The Jewish tradition of "Mesisah" (sucking after circumcision)

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.

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20 Responses to The Jewish tradition of "Mesisah" (sucking after circumcision)

  1. latteisland says:

    I wish the traditions could be updated to reflect the changes in scientific and legal understanding since ancient times. Jews won’t disappear if that’s done…if anything, it would make the religion more viable. There’s a lot of good in Judaism…it doesn’t depend on keeping the most embarassing customs.

    • destructure says:

      I’ve seen circumcision and “mesisah” used to take cheap shots at Jews. But criticizing a practice out of impure motives doesn’t justify the practice. There are better traditions than skinning a kid’s manly member. No disrespect, but I’m with latte on this one.

  2. Anon says:

    He(Human Stupidity) is attacking it from the MRM perspective, obviously they’d like to see circumcision go away entirely. And while it has historically been beneficial, it probably isn’t needed today. Still that won’t stop tradition any time soon.

  3. With the thoughts you'd be thinkin says:
    Children got herpes and died from the sucking

  4. B.B. says:

    Principally, I think this is a matter of separation of church and state. If done under any secular pretext, this would be considered sexual abuse. Hence the state is ostensibly treating Jews as a special group when it refuses to punish them for doing this.

    • jewamongyou says:

      There’s no reason it would be considered “sexual abuse.” Just because it involves the penis doesn’t automatically make it sexual, and in this case, it clearly is NOT sexual.

      • Robert says:

        To be fair, the law doesn’t see it that way. If u have a boys penis in ur mouth, that is a law violation, as well as moral to some.

  5. My strong language stems from the modern child abuse and child sex legal witch hunt.
    I understand that this is not for sexual satisfaction of anyone. That it is well intended. But anyone else performing such acts would languish in prison for decades. So this is an interesting exception.
    Now my opinion about most religions is: they gave rules that were very wise 2000 years ago but today need revision. In absence of modern disinfection, penis sucking might be wise. Nowadays it isn’t. It causes unnecessary disease and even death.
    WIth modern anestesia, it is doubtful if is necessary to mistreat a newborn toddler. Circumcision could not be done in more humane ways.
    I don’t want to get into the issue, if circumcision is a wise thing to do today. It seems there are theories that even in the past it served as a marker for Jews, for cohesion, to prevent them from leaving the religion. But I did not study the issue.
    Here is an example how the law deals with licking baby’s sexual organs, without pain, hurt or mutilation:
    Julie Carr performed oral sex with baby daughter: 17 years jail; filmed it: 20 years. Too harsh compared to 4 years for baby killer?
    I do think that this is way too harsh. So my language was inspired by this jurisprudence who thinks everything remotely sexual is a huge immeasurable trauma.

    • jewamongyou says:

      Yes, I agree 100% that the so-called “justice” system is perverted in this respect. Your comparison is a valid one. I also see why you depicted circumcision the way you did: To contrast its legality with the Carr case. Unfortunately, a byproduct of this tactic is that it portrays the ritual as being far more barbaric than it actually is.
      Carr should have defended herself by saying she was only practicing to be a mohel 🙂

  6. Nyk says:

    Male genital mutilation for people below 18 should be banned in Western countries, it goes against the values of the majority. Same as the Muslim female genital mutilation. The Jews who insist on practicing it on newborns are always free to move to Israel, of course.

    • Hugh7 says:

      What have you got against baby boys in Israel? It’s not just “the values of the majority” these are human rights and human rights inhere to all humans, not just those within certain borders.
      We cannot predict that any given person will want to have had (the best) part of his genitals removed as a baby. (Though many later say they’re glad it was done, they can not say with certainty that they would not be even more glad if it had not been done.) Therefore we should leave the choice to them, when they are old enough to make it. (They almost always choose to keep it all.)

  7. June Park says:

    I love Jews, I hate child sexual abusers. Also rape is about power, not sex just as sucking baby penis and cutting it is about power not sex.

  8. I have to wonder why this tradition continues, yet I know no Jews in America who make sacrifices as outlined in Levitical law. I’m legitimately curious.

  9. SFG says:

    Circumcision has been shown to have health benefits in terms of decreasing transmission of disease–they’re pushing it in sub-Saharan Africa for just this reason. Of course I suspect Ashkenazim have just a teeny bit more future time orientation…
    I suspect that in the time of the desert nomads, sucking the penis decreased the risk of infection–there are mild antiseptics in saliva, that’s why animals lick their wounds. In a modern era of sanitary technique, of course, it is the reverse.

    • I am skeptical about claims that circumcision slows HIV infection rates. Here are some data, which are not from a neutral source but I think are at least worth looking at.
      I gather that STD rates are somewhat higher among intact men in the United States, but those data are very “apples and oranges” since black men are less likely to be circumcised and much more likely to get STDs, probably because of racism. Or maybe it’s all the, you know, unprotected sex with infected people.
      I’m not sure I quite understand the value of circumcision as a way of making Jews look like each other. Nowadays it’s “making Jews and Americans look like each other”. Nothing wrong with that, but it obviously doesn’t have the same value it did in St. Paul’s time. I was surprised, reading the NIV New Testament, at the shear number of times he uses “circumcised and uncircumcised” to mean “Jew and gentile” in his epistles.

  10. I hope that people can discuss issues surrounding circumcision and mesisah in such a way where the religion of judaism itself is not attacked. Recently in San Francisco the city was considering banning infant circumcision for both males and females(right now it is only banned for females) but then this comic book was published that portrayed mohels as villains and this inspired people who were worried about anti-semitism to lobby to prevent the people of San Francisco from voting on the issue of whether infant circumcision should be banned for both boys and girls.
    Apart from debates surrounding whether or not there is a medical reason for it and whether or not it hurts the person there is also the issue related to freedom of religion. From the standpoint of freedom of religion it makes sense to be opposed to infant circumcision and furthermore it also makes sense to be opposed to infant baptism on those grounds too. Infant baptism and infant circumcision interfere with freedom of religion. Why should a baby be baptized into a faith without their consent?
    I can understand though the jewish community being sensitive to criticism of any practices associated with judaism due to various persecutions. And unfortunately there are people who are motivated by anti-semitism when they criticize jewish rituals. However there are also people who are not motivated by anti-semitism when they criticize jewish rituals.

  11. DD says:

    Hey JewAmongYou, Happy Passover guy.

  12. The Empty One says:

    I have been told, years ago, that Indian women, or at least a class of them (India), have the practice of sucking their male babies organ in order to quiet him down. I have no confirmation to offer on this, but the woman who told me at the time was well traveled. Can anyone support or refute this?

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