Friday, March 5, 2010

The Shalom Zachar

The first celebration in the life of a Jewish baby boy is not actually the brit milah (circumcision).

Since every Jewish boy must pass through one Shabbat before his brit milah, it is customary to host a shalom zachar (literally, "welcome male") on the first Friday night after his birth.

The tradition of the shalom zachar, which is mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, is based on several concepts:

1) A little boy is not fully part of the Jewish people until he undergoes his circumcision. Since the brit milah does not take place until the eighth day, he undoubtably celebrates his first Shabbat as an orel (one who is not circumcised), so we make it as joyful as possible.

2) Symbolically, the shalom zachar represents the opportunity for the child to be embraced by the Shabbat Malkah (Shabbat Queen) so that the holiness of the Shabbat will carry him in good health to his brit milah.

3) Playing off the homonym of zachar (male) and zachor (remember), some have explained the shalom zachar, as a special celebration to stimulate the child to remember the Torah that he was taught by the angel in the womb. For this reason, it is customary to serve chickpeas, a symbol of mourning, in recognition of the fact that the soul of the child is mourning that loss of knowledge.

At the shalom zachar, light refreshments, provided by friends of the family (or excellent pre-planning by the parents themselves), are generally served to the friends and neighbors who come. Quite often beer, wine or schnaps are on hand with which the guests can make a l'chaim to bless the baby and his family.

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