I was going to point out that even animals are in the habit of licking their wounds – and that circumcision was originally intended to be done by a parent, not by a specialist. This would explain the matter-of-fact way the mishnah tells us to suck the blood out. It was common practice for loving parents to do this with any wound that broke their children’s skin.
But SFG stole my thunder and wrote:
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.
Thanks a lot SFG! Of course by using a funnel, instead of directly applying his mouth, the mohel can maintain both tradition and safety.
I also wanted to respond to what Latte Island wrote:
There’s a lot of good in Judaism…it doesn’t depend on keeping the most embarrassing customs.
It could, and has, been argued that circumcision is evil because it harms a helpless infant. I might counter that it isn’t actually “harm” or that minimal risks are justified for the sake of ethnic solidarity. Either way, it can be a purely ethical argument. Mesisah, on the other hand, can be performed in ways that involve no “harm” and practically no risk. The objection to mesisah seems to be mainly based on the fact that it is “embarrassing” (as Latte Island puts it) to place one’s mouth on the genitals of an infant or child. It carries unsavory associations and modern Occidental people are far removed from the primal instinct to suck on their child’s wound. Instead, they use antiseptic and a bandage.
I don’t believe that Jewish traditions should be subject to the non-moral sensitivities of other ethnic groups. We’ve been around for thousands of years and, I hope, we’ll be around a while longer. Today, it’s considered “disgusting” to suck the wound the penis of one’s son. Maybe, in some future society, it will be considered “unacceptable” to drink four cups of wine during the Seder. Then it might become “immoral” to train 12 or 13 year-old children to fast on Yom Kippur. In the end, there would be a slow whittling away of traditions and rituals – and Jews would disappear altogether.
I don’t claim that all practices, that fall under the umbrella of “Judaism”, are good and should be continued. But, if we are to argue against them, let it be for solid moral reasons and not because others may find them “gross” or “distasteful”.