Beit Midrash

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Question: My son had a baby boy today (Thursday). He will be staying with his wife in the hospital over Shabbat and does not expect to make a Shalom Zachar there. Is there a point for a grandfather to make the Shalom Zachar without the baby and his parents?

Answer: The minhag of a Shalom Zachar is mentioned by a couple of Rishonim and may have a source in the gemara. The gemara (Bava Kama 80a) mentions an Amora going to a shavua haben or yeshua haben. While Rashi relates this to a pidyon haben, Tosafot cites an opinion that it was to celebrate the birth of the baby, who was safely extricated from his mother’s womb. The Terumat Hadeshen (I:269) connects it to the minhag that existed in his time and ours, to have a celebration with food on the night of the baby’s first full Shabbat. (The Orchot Chayim (Mila) says something similar.) The Rama (Yoreh Deah 265:12) cites this minhag as standard, and it is so for Ashkenazim to this day. (Sephardim have a similar observance the night before the brit called a Brit Yitzchak, and some Ashkenazim also do a practice called "vach nacht" that night). The question of whether it is better for the nuclear family to do it alone or for grandparents to have one with greater participation is a good one.

Several explanations are given for Shalom Zachar, and, at first glance, they influence the answer to your question. The Terumat Hadeshen (ibid.) relates it to celebration of the birth, which should include thanks to Hashem, which makes it a seudat mitzva. Anyone who feels connected can thank Hashem for that, but parents most so.

A midrash (Vayikra Rabba 27:10) tells that the timing of a brit mila significantly ensures that babies "experience" Shabbat before undergoing a brit mila. This makes the day significant in the baby’s life, but his presence should not be necessary. Teshuvot V’hanhagot (II:202) similarly says that we find in a few contexts that the Shabbat before a major event captures some of its glory, which makes it fit for looking forward and, in this case, thanking Hashem. The parents are most connected to the baby and the father alone is obligated in the brit (Kiddushin 29a), but, again, anyone who cares about the baby can be connected. Certainly, grandparents, who are expected to have a special connection to the child’s spiritual future (see Shemot 10:2; Devarim 4:9; Rambam, Talmud Torah 1:2) are also significant.

The Derisha (YD 264:2) says that at the Shalom Zachar, we console the baby for the loss of the Torah he studied in his mother’s womb (based on Nida 30b). This could lead to the conclusion that the baby must be at the Shalom Zachar to be consoled (Teshuvot V’hanhagot II:202). The fact that it is often done even without the baby can be attributed to the other reasons (ibid.). Furthermore, even the consoling does not have practical impact (not meaning to insult the baby’s intellect), but is spiritual or perhaps symbolic. So it is possible that "consolation" can be gained when people gather in the baby’s honor and bless him in abstentia.

Is the participation of people outside the nuclear family important? Many sources (including the early ones) refer to people coming. Considering there is no ceremony and the food served is minor (see Aruch Hashulchan, OC 265:37), the visitation is apparently central to the event (see explanations in Osin B’simcha, Ma’amar 4).

Considering the above, it is fully appropriate for you to make a Shalom Zachar. This does not exclude the parents doing something low-key at the hospital, and they can "turn it into" a Shalom Zachar by eating traditional Shalom Zachar foods (e.g., chickpeas, almonds), thanking Hashem for the birth, and discussing the upcoming brit’s significance.

We are reluctant to pressure those dealing with the work that a new birth brings to quickly arrange multiple events. We understand that it may not always be feasible to do a "real Shalom Zachar" (it need not be extensive or fancy). However, a child’s birth is MAJOR in Judaism, and, when possible, the baby and Hashem deserve due regard according to our holy minhagim.

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