Karen Kassap wept on her mother’s shoulder. Her husband, Dr. Cary Caldwell, a gastroenterologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, fidgeted as the operation began.
The surgery, performed in the parlor of the couple’s West End home, was over in a matter of seconds. But then a second followed, and the drama continued.
The occasion was a brit milah, a Jewish ritual circumcision, and the “surgeon” was an Orthodox rabbi, Michael Rovinsky. He is a certified mohel, medically trained for the operation and spiritually trained in Jewish laws and practices.
The bris (the more common term for the formal Hebrew brit milah) ceremony was a special one because it involved triplets. The two boys who were circumcised and named Myles (Mordechai in Hebrew) and Samuel (or S hmuel), and the girl, who was spared the knife, and named Naomi Rose.
Caldwell, 38, and Kassap, 35, had waited eight years to have children while he finished medical school and several residencies.
“These are my first three children,” Kassap laughed through her tears at the ceremony, standing (as tradition dictates) and looking on with the other women from the adjacent room as her husband handed down each of the babies to her seated father, Burton Kassap, for the bris and the namings.
Caldwell, an Episcopalian who assented to raising his children Jewish, confessed being nervous at his first bris.
Wielding a hemostat clamp and an engraved silver surgical knife, the rabbi, 33, quickly circumcised Myles, then Samuel, as ritual prayers were recited in Hebrew and English. More blessings followed over a cup of wine, the baby was given his official Hebrew name, and there were shouts from all of “Mazel Tov!” (“Congratulations!”).
Naomi, crying, followed her brothers for her more abbreviated naming ceremony. Then family and friends repaired to the dining room for a buffet spread of bagels, lox, cream cheese, veggies and pastries.
Rovinsky, one of three certified mohels here fighting for wider acceptance of ritual circumcision, was especially pleased that Caldwell, a physician, had deferred to the traditional Jewish practice. And, he added, he was able to perform it on the prescribed eighth day after birth because all three babies were born at normal birth weight and free of complications.
He said mohels are specially trained in the medical and surgical techniques of circumcision, undergo an apprenticeship under a veteran mohel and perform many more circumcisions than do most doctors.
Rovinsky said the brit milah is enjoying a resurgence among American Jews after a long falling off. But families choosing it over the secular hospital procedure are still in the minority here, he said.
The brit milah is referred to in the Torah as the Covenant of Abraham because God commanded him and all his male descendants to be circumcised as a sign of the Jewish people’s covenant with Him.
“It’s a wonderful and joyous beginning for a newborn child and a memorable, faith-enhancing one for the family,” said Rovinsky, who is national director of the Association for the Advancement of Brit Milah and heads the Epstein Hebrew Academy here.
Caldwell agreed. “It kind of embraces the foundations of both Christianity and Judaism.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Saturday, February 15, 1997