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America’s Top Mohels

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Who knew? It turns out that mohels not only have one of the most peculiar professions in the Jewish world, but they’re funny, eccentric and self-promotional in odd ways, too.

Circumcision activists pro and con can debate the efficacy of circumcision for everything from health benefits to sexual pleasure to religious mores, but I decided to go a different route with a quest to find America’s Top Mohels.

How did I choose the eight featured here? I did not inspect thousands of instances of their workmanship. I did not rate them according to precision, style or performance. I relied on some tips (!) from insiders, with an eye toward quantity and diversity. The list is not meant as a definitive ranking; these simply are eight top American mohels, presented in random order.

Looking for a mohel in your area? Check out Kveller’s national Mohel Directory

 

(Michael Rovinsky: “The truth is I hate crying kids and I can’t stand the sight of blood.” Michael Rovinsky)

Michael Rovinsky: “The truth is I hate crying kids and I can’t stand the sight of blood.” (Courtesy Michael Rovinsky)

Michael Rovinsky

Foreskin count: Probably close to 9,000 circumcisions. Nowadays I do more non-Jewish babies than Jews.

Market area: St. Louis and Dallas.

Trademark: License plate reads M-O-H-E-L.

First bris: I remember it like yesterday. It was in yuppie Baltimore, in 1988 or ’89. I had done each part of the bris hundreds of times, it was just putting it all together and doing it alone. I was nervous. It took about a year for this baby to walk after the bris.

Most memorable bris: I was in Dallas in 1992. I set up an adult circumcision program for the Russians. I’m in a doctor’s office, and a 28-year-old Russian immigrant who had been in America for only a week comes in. I scrub him up, give him an injection, put on the shield, ready to go. He says, in broken English, “Me do cut like Abraham.” He reaches for the knife. I say the blessing, he repeats it word for word, and he gives himself a bris. After he was done I did the stitches and went back to my car and cried. What self-sacrifice.

Most at once: I work for 150 doctors and midwives doing non-Jewish babies around the country. Those are easier because they don’t have to be on day eight. I’ll fly to Dallas and do 30 babies.

Unusual location: Once I did it in the back of an 18-wheeler cab at the Flying J truck stop in Illinois. It was for a Jewish family passing through from Iowa. It wasn’t on the eighth day, but it was a kosher bris.

Inspiration: I knew I was going to go into Jewish outreach, but I never wanted to be a pulpit rabbi. A bris is a natural entrée point into people’s lives. Once people get married and have a kid they begin to think about eternity and beyond themselves. I wanted to become a mohel to be a Jewish resource for these families. The truth is I hate crying kids, and I can’t stand the sight of blood.

Time: Less than 15 seconds.

Anesthesia: Generally no. If a family wants it, I do it. An injection hurts more than the bris. For the bris itself, the closest parallel is ripping off a Band-Aid.

Price: I don’t charge; people give an honorarium. It’s suggested. Depending on the city, it runs from $275 to $1,500-$2,000. Where I live in St. Louis it’s around $500.

What you do when you’re not circumcising: I’m always working. Aside from circumcising, I raise about $150,000 a year for the Jewish Student Union, an outreach program for unengaged and under-engaged Jewish high school students.

Website: brismilah.org. My phone number is 1-800-85-MOHEL. Locally, it’s 727-BRIT.

Looking for a mohel in your area? Check out Kveller’s national Mohel Directory.

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