By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
Written in honor of the birth of the author’s new grandson whose Shalom Zachor is to be held this evening.
It is an Ashkenazic custom to arrange a Shalom Zachar on the first Shabbos after a male child is born. The Ramah YD 265:12 writes that we visit where the baby is staying in order to taste something and it is also considered a Seudas Mitzvah. The following is an overview of the Shalom Zachar, including the reasons for it, why it is called Shalom Zachar and why it is held on Shabbos.
REASONS FOR THE MEAL
There are a number of reasons cited for this custom.
The first reason is proposed by Rabbeinu Tam on the Gemorah in Bava Kamma 80a. The Gemorah there explains that Rav and Shmuel went to a house of a “Shavuah haBen” and others say it was a house of a “Yeshuah HaBen.”
Rashi correlates Shavuah HaBen to a Bris Milah – since seven days have passed and he could now have a Bris. He correlates Yeshuah HaBen to the Pidyon HaBen ceremony since Yeshuah is translated in the Aramaic as “Purkan” which can mean redemption.
Rabbeinu Tam questions this identification since although Purkan means redemption it does not mean salvation. Rabbeinu Tam thus explains that this was a meal celebrated because the child was saved and escaped the dangers involved in childbirth, as in the verse in Yishayahu 66:7, “And she delivered a male child.” .
A second reason is found in the Taz based upon a Midrash Rabbah in Parshas Emor (27:10) that the reason why a Bris Milah is conducted on the eighth day is so that a Shabbos will pass prior to the Bris Milah and that the baby will have a chance to greet the Shechina. The Midrash cites a parable of a king who refuses to see any visitor to the land until he first sees the Matrona, so too must the baby first see the Shechina on Shabbos.
A third reason is cited in the Drisha (YD 264:2) is because the child is mourning over the Torah learning that he lost, as discussed in the Gemorah Niddah 30b, that as soon as he comes to the air of the world, an angel comes and strikes him on the mouth and causes him to forget his entire Torah knowledge. Therefore the visit of the Shalom Zachar is a type of comforting the mourning. Indeed, the Drisha explains that the Bris is on the eighth day to allow for seven days of mourning.
The Gemorah in Niddah further tells us that the child does not leave the womb until he takes an oath. What is the nature of the oath? That he remain a Tzaddik and not become a Rasha.
How do we know that it is a Seudas Mitzvah? The Trumas HaDeshen (269) explains that since the Gemorah in Bava Kamma discusses how Rav and Shmuel went to the celebration, and we know that Rav never took part in a celebratory meal that was not a Seudas Mitzvah, as explained in the Gemorah in Chulin (95b), perforce it must be a Seudas Mitzvah.
The Chavos Yair (#70), however, questions whether it is to be considered a Seudas Mitzvah because people do not eat in a set manner at a Shalom Zachar.
FOODS TO SERVE
Since it is a meal that connotes mourning over the loss of Torah, some (Tehillah L’Dovid on Tehillim cited in Otzer HaBris 128) have the custom of serving lentils, which is a traditional food of mourning. In modern times, the garbanzo bean has taken on this role (called Arbis).
WHY IS IT CALLED “SHALOM ZACHAR?”
The simple meaning of the term “Shalom Zachar” is “Greeting the Male.” However, the author of the Migdal Oz in his introduction (#15) offers two alternative understandings of the term. It does not connote “male” but rather connotes “reminding.” The term zachar refers to “remembering” the Torah that was lost. Alternatively, it refers to “reminding” him of the oath mentioned in the Gemorah.
The question arises as to why this meal is not held for a daughter. Although it may seem to be a contemporary question, it is not. The Trumas HaDeshen (#269) poses it, since a baby girl was also saved from the dangers involved in childbirth. The question is cited by the Dagul Mervavah in Yore Deah (Siman 178).
One of the Acharonim (Margalios HaYam Sanhedrin 32b) wants to answer that, in fact, in Talmudic times they actually did conduct it for baby girls as well. He notes a repetitious turn of phrase in the Gemorah “Shavuah HaBen, Shavuah HaBen” and suggests that the true reading is Shavuah HaBas.
WHY ON SHABBOS?
There are also a number of reasons why the meal is specifically held on Shabbos. One reason is that since there is no Bris Milah without a Shabbos, it takes on a central role. This is based upon the idea in the Midrash in Parshas Emor.
A second reason proposed by the Trumas HaDeshen is just because, practically, most people are at their homes on the Shabbos and are available to come. A third reason given by the Sefer Bris Avos is because the baby is considered a Tzaddik (see Mogain Avrohom OC 288) and therefore we greet the Tzaddik on Shabbos. A fourth reason is in order to visit the mother and to ascertain if she has any needs that might necessitate violating the Shabbos. A fifth reason cited by the Bris Efraim in the name of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach is to demonstrate to the yet uncircumcised child that he has a portion in Shabbos even though it states in the SHabbos Shmoneh Esreh, “And in its rest (referring to the Shabbos) uncircumcised ones will not reside.” Another reason offered by Rav Moshe Shternbuch (Teshuvos v’Hanhagos OC II #202) is based upon the Zohar to indicate that the bounty and overflow that we have during the week is on account of Shabbos.
WHAT IF THE BABY IS NOT PRESENT?
There is a debate as to whether the meal is held when the baby is not present at the house. The language of the Ramah in Shulchan Aruch is that the meal is held where one can visit the baby. Dayan Fisher in Even Yisroel (Vol. II #201) rules in this manner. Others understand the Trumas HaDeshen’s view to mean that since it is a meal of thanks for what has transpired, it is not necessary for the baby to be there.
What about the grandparents’ hosting a Shalom Zachar if neither the father nor the mother are there? It is clear that the person giving thanks should be the father or the mother. It would seem, therefore, if the father or the mother requests or instructs that such a meal be held at their parents’ home, it would be considered a Shalom Zachar and a seudas Mitzvah. However, in Sefer Shavuah v’Yeshuah HaBen (p. 80), the author writes that a Shalom Zachar is not held if neither the parents nor the child is present. He concludes that “it needs further analysis.”
IF THE BABY IS BORN FRIDAY NIGHT
There are different opinions as to when the Shalom Zachar should be held when the baby is born on Shabbos itself. The Chamudei Daniel writes that one should hold it on the first Shabbos. The custom is also to hold a Shalom Zachar on the second Shabbos as well, in the evening immediately prior to the bris on the next morning.
If the baby is sick, then the Shalom Zachar is delayed until before the Bris Milah is to be held.