MDmohelet – Jennifer Novick

Traditions

Shalom Zachor

There is a special celebration celebrated by Ashkenazi Jews on the Friday night after a baby boy’s birth (and before his circumcision), called Shalom Zachor (שלום זכר). Families often invite friends to join them after the Shabbat meal for food, drink, singing and words of Torah.

In addition to it being a thanksgiving for the birth of a healthy child, the custom of a Shalom Zachor is also an opportunity to include the baby in his first celebration marked by Torah and song, and to spiritually integrate him into the Jewish people even before his Brit Milah.

Chickpeas and round lentils are commonly served, as they are symbolic of fertility and the cycle of life. One of the Hebrew names for chickpeas, “arbis,” connects to God’s promise to Abraham, “I shall multiply (arbe) your seed like the stars of the sky”

כִּי־בָרֵךְ אֲבָרֶכְךָ וְהַרְבָּה אַרְבֶּה אֶת־זַרְעֲךָ כְּכוֹכְבֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם וְכַחוֹל אֲשֶׁר עַל־שְׂפַת הַיָּם וְיִרַשׁ זַרְעֲךָ אֵת שַׁעַר אֹיְבָיו
(Genesis 22:17)

A Shalom Zachor is not held when this first Friday night coincides with Erev Yom Kippur or the night of the Passover Seder.  Since Yom Kippur is a fast day, all eating and drinking is forbidden, and during the Passover Seder, it is forbidden to eat anything after eating the afikomen, which is eaten at the end of the meal.

Vach Nacht

A vach nacht (וואך-נאכט, “watch night” in Yiddish) is the night before the brit milah, when the newborn boy is thought to be in need of additional spiritual protection. Ashkenazi custom is to have children come and recite the Shema Yisrael and other verses from the Torah near the baby. In Hasidic communities a celebratory meal is held. The corresponding ceremony in the Sephardic community is called Brit Yitzchak (“covenant of Isaac”.)

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