On the Friday night after a baby’s birth (and before his circumcision) Ashkenazi Jews often invite friends and family to join them after the meal to mark the birth. Food, drink, words of Torah and song are shared.
Traditions: Often chickpeas and round lentils are served as they are symbolic of fertility and of the cycle of life. One Hebrew name for chickpeas is “arbis” and tradition connects this word symbolically to God’s promise to Abraham, “I shall multiply (arbe) your seed like the stars of the Heavens (Genesis 22:17).”
Reasons for Shalom Zochor: There are a few reasons for the custom of a Shalom Zachar. It is considered thanksgiving for the birth of the baby. It is also an opportunity to include the baby in an occasion marked by Torah and song, and to spiritually integrate him into the Jewish people even before his Bris Milah.
For more information on Shalom Zachor click here.
The Tikun Eliyahu (also called Leil Shimurim – night of vigil or Vechnacht) takes place on the night before the Bris Milah. The idea is to have a night of Torah study beside the baby’s crib. This custom is based on the notion that a newborn should not be left unattended during his first week of life, since his life is considered to be in danger until after his bris milah.
Verses: Some people also have the custom to bring young children to recite the ‘Shema ’ prayer and the verse ‘Hamalach hagoel oti’ by the baby’s bedside. These verses are considered to protect the child from harm before the Brit.
An explanation for the recitation of these particular verses is that through reciting them, the children declare their belief in God, in the presence of the newborn. In this way, they welcome him into the Jewish nation, just hours before he will enter into the covenant of Abraham.
In ancient times, when circumcision was forbidden by Greek and Roman rulers, this gathering on the night before the baby’s brit milah, was also meant to mislead the authorities – and cause them to believe that this was the extent of the intended celebrations, and that no circumcision was planned for the following day.
The Brit Yizchak is also known as the Leil Hazohar (Night of radiance) or the Akad-al-Yas (Binding of the myrtles).This custom is common in Sephardic communities, is also tied to the protection of the newborn. On the night before the bris, family and friends gather in the house of the newborn (or his grandparents’) and recite midrashim, stories, and laws in Aramaic, from the Zohar. The baby’s father reads a paragraph, which speaks of the father’s obligation to circumcise his son. Afterwards, all the guests enjoy a meal together, and sing and dance by candlelight. Some people have the custom to bring the ‘Chair of Elijah’, which will be used at the bris, to the house, and to tie myrtle branches onto it.