Question: May one make a shalom zachar in a shul, or must it be in the house with the baby?
Short Answer: Ideally, a shalom zachar should only take place in the house of the newborn and with the baby present. However, if that is difficult, there is certainly room to be lenient and hold the shalom zachar in a shul or another location. Accordingly, if the parents of the newborn and the newborn are still in the hospital, some have the custom to still make a shalom zachar without them.
I. Source of Shalom Zachar
The Gemara in Bava Kama (80a) tells of Rav, Shmuel, and Rav Asi who went to a “house of a yeshua ha’ben.” While Rashi interprets this as a pidyon ha’ben, Rabbeinu Tam interprets it as a party being made for the recent birth of a boy, who through his birth is “saved” (hence, “yeshua ha’ben”) from his mother’s womb. The T’rumas HaDeshen (269) cites Rabbeinu Tam and notes that this is the source of the s’udas mitzvah that we make on the Friday night after a boy is born, i.e. the shalom zachar.
The Shulchan Aruch does not mention shalom zachar at all. However, the Rama (Yoreh Dei’ah 265:12) cites the T’rumas HaDeshen and notes the minhag for people to attend this s’udas mitzvah that takes place “by the newborn boy” (“eitzel ha’tinok”).
II. Reasons For Shalom Zachar
The T’rumas HaDeshen (ibid) notes that the reason for the shalom zachar is to publicize Hashem’s miracle of the ability to give birth and to thank Hashem for safely delivering the child from the mother’s womb. This is done on Friday night because people are home on this night and thus a larger crowd will publicize these miracles.
The Taz (Yoreh Dei’ah 265:13) adds that a shalom zachar is also held on Friday night based on a midrash that Shabbos serves as the usher for the bris milah. In other words, every baby boy lives through one Shabbos before his bris milah, and this Shabbos prepares him (as a korban is first prepared) for his bris milah.
The Taz also brings a second and completely different reason for shalom zachar in the name of the Drishah. Because the Gemara in Nidah (30b) states that a baby learns with a mal’ach in the mother’s womb but forgets his learning upon his birth, we make a shalom zachar as a nichum aveilim for the baby on forgetting his learning.
III. With or Without the Baby?
The T’shuvos V’Hanhagos (2:202) notes that according to the first two reasons for the shalom zachar on Friday night – to give thanks to Hashem and because Shabbos prepares the baby for the milah – there is no need for the baby to be present at the shalom zachar, and it may be held in a shul and regardless of whether the baby is still in the hospital. However, according to the Taz’s second reason of aveilus, the shalom zachar must take place in the house of the newborn and with the newborn present in the house at that point. See also Chemdas Tzvi (1:21) and P’as Sadcha (BiM’silah Naaleh, p. 141) who make similar rulings.
However, the T’shuvos V’Hanhagos suggests an additional reason for a Shabbos shalom zachar, that a Shabbos before a big event such as a bris milah has a special potency for brachos, especially from the masses. According to this reason, the shalom zachar may be held in a shul and regardless of whether the baby is still in the hospital.
The Riv’vos Ephraim (5:203) similarly writes that it is certainly preferable to host the shalom zachar in the house of the newborn and with the baby present. Nevertheless, if there is no room in that house, a neighbor’s house (or presumably, a shul) may be used instead.
The Mishnas Yehoshua (Bris Milah 3:3) cites the Otzar HaBris who rules similarly to the T’shuvos V’Hanhagos, that it depends on the reason. However, the Mishnas Yehoshua notes that ideally one should try to host the shalom zachar in the house of the newborn and with the baby present, as the Rama’s language is that the party is made “by the baby,” despite following the reason of the T’rumas HaDeshen of publicizing the miracles. See also Bris Kodesh (p. 4).
Mishnas Yehoshua (ibid) also cites Rav Chaim as ruling that a shalom zachar can be made even where the baby and parents are still in the hospital. But, Divrei Siach (Bris Milah, p. 19) clarifies Rav Chaim’s ruling that such a shalom zachar is only a “zeicher” shalom zachar and not the real s’udas mitzvah. See also Bris Kodesh (ibid).
Additionally, the Birkas Reuven Shlomo (7:49) concludes that according to the reason of the T’rumas HaDeshen, it cannot be that the shalom zachar is simply to publicize the miracles of childbirth, because if that was the case, we should make a similar Friday night party on the birth of a girl. [Indeed, while outside the scope of this article, the Dagul MeiR’vavah (Yoreh Dei’ah 178) wonders why a shalom zachar is not made for a girl.] Rather, the Birkas Reuven Shlomo explains that we make a kiddush for a girl to publicize the miracle, but we specifically make a Friday night shalom zachar for a boy to come wish him “peace – shalom” in person, as a boy brings peace into the world according the Gemara in Nidah (31a). Accordingly, the shalom zachar should only take place in the house of the newborn and with the baby present.
IV. Parents’ Attendance Required?
The sefer Toras Chayim (Rav Chaim Merir Braun zt”l, Parshas Lech L’cha) explains that even according to the reason of the Taz, the shalom zachar is not to provide comfort to the baby for forgetting his learning, but rather to the father for now having to re-teach all the learning to his newborn son. Presumably, according to this reason, the shalom zachar should only take place where the father is present.
Notably, the Avnei Derech (5:39) cites Nefesh HaRav (p. 242) who provides an additional reason for how the minhag developed for a Shabbos shalom zachar: The Rabbi of the town, accompanied by an entourage, used to go visit the mother who gave birth on Friday night to remind her that a woman who just gave birth is considered a choleh and can violate the Shabbos in certain circumstances as needed. Presumably, according to this reason, the shalom zachar should only take place where the mother is present.xt Week’s Topic: May a father who is capable of performing a bris milah on his son (i.e., he is a doctor) hire a mohel to perform the milah?