The Shalom Zachar

It is customary to call a festive gathering at the home of the newborn on the Friday night immediately following his birth, called "Shalom Zachar."1 After the Shabbat evening prayer services, the synagogue's beadle announces the addresses of any homes where these gatherings will be taking place that night, and congregants attend the gatherings after they finish their meals at home.2

Why Shabbat?

In Leviticus, G‑d tells Moses to tell the Jewish people: "When an ox or a sheep or a goat is born, it shall remain under its mother for seven days, and from the eighth day onwards, it shall be accepted as a sacrifice for a fire offering to the L‑rd."3 The Talmudic sage, Rabbi Yehoshua of Sachnin, explains in the name of his teacher, Rabbi Levi, that the reason we must wait eight days is because the animal must live one Shabbat before being offered as a sacrifice: "It is as if the king decreed, 'None of the guests may meet me until they first meet the queen.'" The waiting period is eight days long because eight days is the minimum span of time that automatically includes at least one Shabbat.4

The act of circumcision is compared to a sacrifice,5 and just as the experience of Shabbat readies an animal to be sacrificed, the experience of his first Shabbat readies a baby boy for his upcoming circumcision. On this day that brings us one step closer to performing the great act of circumcision, we celebrate.6

Special Foods

The Talmud7 teaches us that when the baby is yet in the mother's womb, it learns the entire Torah with an angel. Right before the child is born, the angel pats the child on its mouth and it forgets everything. For this reason, there is a custom to serve at the Friday night gathering, in addition to other delicacies, chickpeas8 — for they are round and symbolize the baby's mourning9 over the fact that he has forgotten the entire Torah.

Torah Reading

During the Shabbat morning prayer services, the father of the child is called up to the Torah.10 The beadle recites a blessing for the health of the mother and the as-yet-nameless newborn child. The entire congregation responds with a resounding, "Amen!" and congratulates the father with the customary, " Mazel tov! mazel tov!"

In some communities, the one who will hold the child during the circumcision (sandek) and the circumciser (mohel) are also called up to the Torah, or at least called upon to lift and bind the Torah scroll.11