Getting ready for baby
Rabbi Julia Weisz found herself in a bit of a conundrum when she became an expectant mother.
On the one hand, the rabbi and director of education at Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas was cautious about holding a baby shower. In the earlier stages of her pregnancy — she is due to have her first child in July — she said, “It seemed uncomfortable for me to celebrate something that wasn’t here.”
However, her Reform congregation wanted to honor her pregnancy. Ultimately, she agreed to have one in May.
“A baby shower is a good way to bring the community together around something positive,” Weisz said. “I wanted to give them the opportunity to do something to help.”
When it comes to Jewish laws and customs, there are many different opinions on every lifecycle event — from birth to marriage to death. Baby showers are no exception.
While some Jews and clergy have no problem with throwing baby showers, others won’t even select a name for a baby prior to birth. There are no textual laws banning celebrations before the baby is born, but in some circles, it’s customary not to hold them.
“It’s a little bit arrogant to assume the baby is going to be born,” said Rabbi Chaim Bryski of Chabad of Thousand Oaks. “Traditionally, we don’t tell anybody about the pregnancy, not even until the third or fourth month. To make a party to honor the baby would be uncomfortable from a traditional perspective, but there is no law that says you can’t.”
Some believe that if a baby’s name is uttered or his or her life is celebrated before birth, the evil eye, or ayin harah, might harm it, according to Rabbi Noah Farkas of Valley Beth Shalom (VBS), a Conservative shul in Encino.
“In our tradition, there is the theological and religious idea that a new life is very tenuous,” he said. “One of the superstitions is that the evil eye knows who to run after because they know the name of the person. If someone gets really sick, they can change their Hebrew name to escape the angel of death. We don’t do a lot to celebrate the baby in order to protect it from the possibility of its own demise.”
After a baby is born, more traditional Jewish families will celebrate by sponsoring Kiddush meals at their synagogues or hosting a shalom zachar, or a drop-in party for a baby boy, on the Friday night after he is born.
Bryski suggests registering for gifts, and once the baby is born, they can be delivered. He said that if something happens to a baby, it adds to the pain the parents experience to be surrounded by presents.
Still, Rabbi Jonathan Hanish has no hesitation about having a baby shower, particularly because of modern medical advances.
“In today’s world, where you know a baby is healthy and you have such a high rate of successful pregnancies, a baby shower is totally acceptable,” said the rabbi at Temple Kol Tikvah, a Reform congregation in Woodland Hills.
One of Hanish’s congregants, Sarah Knopf, a mother of three, had a baby shower for her first son. Although she grew up with a superstitious grandmother, she wasn’t convinced that there was anything negative about it.
“I needed to have everything done and organized before he came,” she said. “I’m a planner, so that made me feel better. I would have gone crazy.”
Farkas said that at VBS, which has 5,000 members, traditions vary.
“Most of the congregation does do baby showers of different types. In our community, it’s not homogeneous by any means,” he said. “Some in the community will give babies names, and then there are some who [won’t do anything before a baby is born]. Some are in between. That reflects the larger Jewish community.”
Like Knopf, VBS member Nikki Eigler chose to hold a shower because she wanted to plan before the baby arrived. She said, “I’m a person who needs to be prepared. I did not want to come home from the hospital without having anything in the house.”
Allison Lotterstein, a congregant at Kol Tikvah, had no concerns either. She, like many expectant mothers, just wanted a way to commemorate a new life coming into the world.
“Every pregnancy should be celebrated,” she said. “In my mind and in the minds of the people who threw me a shower, my baby was a blessing.