Dr. Bruce J. Birk, M.D. is a Board Certified Pediatrician and Certified Reform Mohel in Portland, Oregon. He is available to perform the Berit Mila ceremony, commonly known as a Bris, in Portland and surrounding areas. Dr. Birk is a Mohel religiously trained and certified by the Berit Mila Board of Reform Judaism. He is also medically trained and proficient in the modern surgical techniques of circumcision using the Mogen style circumcision clamp.
Dr. Birk has lived in Portland since 1999 and is a member of Congregation Shir Tikvah. When doing a Bris he uses local anesthesia so that your baby will feel no pain during the procedure, just as if it were done in the hospital or office. Dr. Birk sterilizes his equipment between each use for the protection of your child. He looks forward to sharing in your joy as you welcome your son into this world and our Jewish community!
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Berit Mila is the literal Hebrew translation of the words "Covenant of Circumcision". Bris is the equivalent word as spoken in Yiddish. To most American Jews the words are considered equivalent and are used interchangeably.
Jews perform the mitzvah of B'rit Milah to bring a son into the covenant relationship between the Jewish people and God, just as it was first enacted between God and Abraham. In the Torah in Genesis 17:3 it is written, "I will establish My Covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you very greatly." The terms of the covenant promise a nation and fruitful growth of the descendents of Abraham for all times; the sign of the Covenant is the circumcision of the male infants. "You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins: it shall be a sign of the Covenant between Me and you." (Genesis 17:11)
In the modern era, there are many reasons to continue the fulfillment of this ancient Mitzvah. There is the sense of Tradition, and the need to continue historical practices which link us to our ancestors. B'rit Milah also demonstrates that we are part of a Community, and we are deliberately binding ourselves to those who share our heritage. Also, there is an aspect of Sacrifice involved; the need to have struggled through pain together makes us feel stronger (and also deepens our sense of community).
Through B'rit Milah we link ourselves to a three thousand year old tradition which has been observed at times despite great persecution, and in the face of great pressure from those who sought to destroy the Jewish people.
From my personal perspective, I believe in the value of tradition, community, and sacrifice as the binding force behind modern Judaism. Fulfilling this Mitzvah is simply the first step for new parents as they explore and embrace their place in Judaism, among their Jewish people.
The Bris ceremony consists of 3 parts:
All Jewish newborn males are circumcised and given their Hebrew name during the Bris ceremony. This is the first step in welcoming the baby into the Jewish community and the most symbolic act in his journey to become a Jewish man.
According to traditional rabbinic law, Judaism is considered to pass from mother to son but not from father to son. This is called "matrilineal descent." Based on this rule, if the father is Jewish but the mother is not, a Bris may occur only in the context of a Bris for the sake of conversion. This is still the opinion of the Conservative and Orthodox Jewish movements.
In 1983, the Reform Jewish movement allowed that if a child has at least one Jewish parent then he or she may be considered to be Jewish. The focus has been shifted from the type of descent to the importance of raising a child in a Jewish home with the observance of Jewish traditions.
Dr. Birk is flexible with either interpretation of the law. If you are an interfaith couple with a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother; he would be happy to perform either a standard Bris, or a Bris for the sake of conversion. Again, this is a complex decision and opinions vary on the interpretation of the laws around it. If you would like to discuss this matter further, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Birk. For more information please refer to "Who is a Jew? It depends who you ask" from InterfaithFamily.org
Berit Mila must be done on the 8th day of life. For example, if your baby is born on a Tuesday, the Bris should be done on the following Tuesday. A Bris may be delayed for medical reasons but it may not be done before the 8th day. For example, if the child is still in the hospital or has significant jaundice –the Bris should be delayed until after the child has recovered. If you were forced to delay the circumcision of your son, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Birk to find out how to proceed.
You can light candles at dinner any night, but it is the blessing we say on Shabbat that gives meaning to the act. All Jewish men are circumcised but not all circumcised men are Jews. A circumcision without the Blessing and Hebrew naming ceremony does not make your son a Jew. If your son was circumcised before the 8th day and without the ceremony, then according to Jewish law he has not been entered in Abraham's Covenant with God.
The Bris is usually performed in your home in a well light space (living room, dining room). Alternatively, you may choose to hold your son's Bris at a synagogue or another venue of your choosing. The ceremony will have the same meaning no matter where it is done.
Yes. Dr. Birk will provide you with a beautiful Certificate of Berit Mila complete with your son's name in Hebrew and English. Should you choose to provide Dr. Birk with an alternate certificate, he will be more than happy to use it instead.
Yes. We are a community and Dr. Birk takes pride in working with the Rabbi's in our community.
Hebrew names are often taken from relatives who have died (Ashkenazi tradition), or living relatives (Sephardim tradition), and whose good attributes you wish your son to have. You can sometimes find your relatives Hebrew names on Marriage, Berit Mila, or Bar-Mitzvah Certificates. Of course, you can pick any name you choose in the end.
If you need help choosing a Hebrew name, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Birk. If you know the name you want but are unsure of how it is written in Hebrew, he can also take care of that for you. Dr. Birk confirms the correct Hebrew spelling of all names before he completes the Berit Mila Certificate.
A Mohel is a Jewish man or woman who is specially trained in the religious ceremony and surgical procedure that together make up Berit Mila. Doctors can seek religious training to perform the ceremony; Rabbis can seek surgical training to perform circumcisions. Mohels use anesthesia to make the procedure painless, are trained to assess for subtle physical anomalies before completing the procedure, and are trained in the management of any surgical complications should they arise.
Newborns feel pain. Local anesthesia has been well established as safe and effective treatment of pain during circumcision. Pain is not required during Berit Mila.
Yes. Feed your newborn as you usually would on the day of the Bris. Please try to feed him about 30-60 minutes beforehand so that he will be content at the time of the Bris. Many babies actually sleep through their circumcisions.
After the circumcision Dr. Birk will place a Vaseline dressing on the fresh surgical wound. For the first week there will be a soft, yellowish, scab-like coating on the penis at the site of the circumcision. There will typically also be a small amount of swelling that will last a few weeks longer after the scab heals over. At each diaper change, until the scab heals over and the yellow coating is gone; you will apply a generous coat of Vaseline ointment to the penis to keep the healing wound moist and protected from the diaper. In the first few days after the circumcision it is normal to see some bleeding or dried blood. If you see a concerning amount of blood or are otherwise concerned about the appearance of the healing circumcision – please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Birk or to have it checked by your pediatrician.
The local anesthesia will wear off a few hours after the circumcision. If your son seems fussy or uncomfortable in the first day or two after his circumcision, you may give him some acetaminophen (Tylenol™, Pediacare™) to treat his pain. Standard strength Infant and Children's liquid acetaminophen is 160mg/5ml. If your son weighs between 6 and 11 pounds you may give him 1.25ml (1/4 teaspoon) every 4 hours as needed, up to 5 doses in a 24hour period. If your son weighs 12 to 17 pounds, the dose is 2.5ml (1/2 teaspoon). Please do not give Ibuprofen (Advil™, Motrin™) – it is not approved under the age of 6 months and could cause serious complications if used. If you have questions about this, please call Dr. Birk or your pediatrician.
Dr. Birk is prepared to handle any minor surgical complications on site. The most common surgical complication is bleeding. In the unlikely event of any more serious complication or the discovery of a previously unrecognized penile anomaly; Dr. Birk maintains a professional relationship with local Pediatric Urologists.
Please ask Dr. Birk when you speak to him. His rates are comparable to other physician Mohelim in the area.