Customs and Practices

The Shalom Zachar

It is a Jewish custom that on the first Friday evening after the birth of the child, we conduct a shalom zachar, during which we welcome the child to the world. The shalom zachar is held at that time, even in a case when the brit had been postponed. At this “party” it is customary to serve chickpeas, wine and cake. Those who attend, give blessings to the child and its parents.

When the Brit Should Take Place

The day on which the brit is to take place is a very festive occasion. It is mandatory that the brit take place during the daytime, and preferably in the early morning hours.

It is preferable that throughout each and every step of the brit ceremony there should be a minyan, (a quorum of at least ten Jewish males above the age of thirteen present). The reason for this is, because it is a greater honor for G-d and for the mitzvah when a large amount of people is present.

A brit may be carried out on Shabbat or even on Yom Kippur, providing that that is the eighth day from birth. If, however, the brit had to be postponed (due to medical reasons such as jaundice or sickness), then it cannot be done on Shabbat or Jewish holidays. In addition, a baby that was delivered through an unnatural birth (such as a Caesarian section) has its brit done on the eighth day from birth, providing that it is not a Shabbat or Yom Tov.

The Matter of Pain During Circumcision

As far as pain is concerned, Jewish law does not permit the use of a Gomco clamp or the like – tools used in most hospitals “ being that it is too traumatic, as it crushes all of the flesh and veins in the area. A mohel, on the other hand, uses much simpler instruments, some using no other tool than the knife used for the actual cutting of the skin! The mohel’s method is the least painful and the most skillful as it is done with an extremely sharp knife and takes less than half a minute to complete.

It is interesting to note that Crown Prince Charles, son of Queen Elizabeth and heir to the British throne, was circumcised by a mohel, rather than by a doctor. Apparently, the Royal Family had asked for a mohel, trusting his expertise over that of the Royal physician.

Naming Your Baby

Once the brit is finished, certain prayers are recited and the official naming of the baby takes place. We do not name the child before the brit, being that the Divine soul begins to shine its light only from the moment of the brit when the body and soul are fully united. Therefore, since the Jewish name is connected to the soul, the brit is the most appropriate time to give the child its Jewish name. It is customary to name the child after a righteous person, as the name influences the character of a child.

Ceremony Following the Brit

After the brit is completed, the food is served. This meal is called a seudas mitzvah, a meal honoring a Divine commandment, and everybody should, therefore, wash appropriately for the consumption of bread and partake of the meal. If the circumcision is performed on a fast day, the meal is put off until the evening when the fast is broken.

The Pidyon Haben

Another interesting Jewish ceremony is that of “Pidyon HaBen”. The Torah tells us that all firstborn sons that “open the mother’s womb”, belong to the Kohen, or High Priest. It is, therefore, our obligation to redeem our firstborn sons from the Kohen on the 31st day of the boy’s life. This ceremony should take place on its appropriate day, unless the 31st day happens to be shabbat or a Jewish holiday, in which case it should be postponed until the following day.

Pidyon HaBen applies only to males who are firstborn; that is, there were no previous miscarriages. In addition, the child must be born naturally, and not through any unnatural methods such as a C-section. If the mother is a daughter of a Kohen or a Levite, or if the father is a Kohen or a Levite, the child does not have to be redeemed. If a grown man was not yet redeemed by his father, he should then redeem himself from a Kohen.