Jews and Baby Showers

Are they okay?

Baby shower or no baby shower?

If that's the question, the answers are varied. In Jewish tradition, baby showers were taboo. Gifts for an unborn child are not forbidden by Halakha, or Jewish law, but custom effectively prohibits them.

Such gifts once were thought to draw the attention of dark spirits, marking the child for disaster. To this day, many Orthodox Jews will not so much as utter the name of a baby until that baby is born, for fear of inviting the evil eye.

In liberal Jewish circles, however, attitudes are more relaxed. "I don't think there is anything wrong with giving gifts," said Rabbi James S. Glazier of the Reform Temple Sinai in South Burlington, Vt.

In his view the traditional reluctance to hold a shower "is based more on superstition than anything else. It's all Ashkenazik medieval superstition. I don't denigrate it, but on the other hand I don't put a lot of stock on it either."

While the rabbi and his wife had baby showers for both their children, they deferred to tradition in so far as they did not decorate the nurseries until after the babies were born.

Like many modern rationalists, Rabbi Glazier said he respects the psychological imperative behind the custom of not holding a shower--a custom that arose in a time when infant mortality was high.


"I can see where you don't want to have a whole room waiting, in case something terrible should happen," he said. "Today people have concluded that since infant mortality in childbirth is so infrequent, they think every child will be healthy. I don't agree with that. In our case we didn't want to be faced with a complete room before the baby came home healthy."

At the Conservative Temple Beth Shalom in Mesa, Ariz., meanwhile, Rabbi Bonnie Koppell said her mom warned her against buying "so much as a receiving blanket" before her first child was born. The rabbi went shopping anyway, but she agreesthat full-scale pre-natal nursery design may not be appropriate.

"My sense is that preparing a whole suite of furniture and decorating the room might be a bit much," she said. "However, a few receiving blankets, stretchies, diapers--God forbid, if the infant does not come home, these few things won't make terribly much difference in the face of such overwhelming grief."

Yet there are many in the observant community who will not buy so much as a sock. Some say that the tradition of shunning the baby shower is not just ancient superstition: it serves a deeper communal need.

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Adam Katz-Stone
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