Social distancing provides St. Louis mohel with unique opportunity

Rabbi Michael Rovinsky holds a child after a circumcision at a clinic in Russellville, Mo. Photo: Eric Berger

Rabbi Michael Rovinsky has done more than 15,500 circumcisions around the world, so you wouldn’t expect him to encounter many new sets of circumstances when performing the Jewish ritual.

But with limits on the number of people at social gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic, the St. Louis rabbi expects to do something unique at upcoming brises that he has done only once before: fulfill the role of both mohel, who snips the foreskin, and sandek, who holds the baby. 

The only other time he did that was at the start of his career, three decades ago, in Warrenville, S.C., said Rovinsky, who also directs Jewish Student Union of St. Louis, a high school youth group.

He had been hired to do the bris, but then, while the mother was in the hospital with the baby, the father emptied the bank accounts and abandoned her. The mother called Rovinsky and told him that she couldn’t afford his plane ticket and would have to cancel. Rovinsky told her he would still come. 

Among people in his profession, Rovinsky said, if they serve as both mohel and sandek “once in their life, that’s a lot.”

“It’s hard,” he said. “The sandek is one of the most important honors and has a tremendous spiritual impact on the baby. The person who holds the baby, the thoughts they have during the procedure” impact the baby.

As to what he would be thinking about now, “I am hoping and praying that the baby grows up to be a strong, committed Jew and a credit to his people and to God.”

Rovinsky, an Orthodox rabbi, also said that the small crowd sizes provide a special opportunity.

“If we understand what we are doing and we approach it the right way, we can create that simcha, that joy, without having to have 100 people there, which is then a true simchabecause it comes from within, as opposed to from without,” he said.