When a male child is born to a Jewish family – it is cause for great celebration. One of the traditions associated with this blessed event is gathering at the family home for a meal, to ensure the safety of the newborn.
Among the Jews of the East, this event is called “The Night of the Zohar” or “Brit Yitzchak”, and it is held the evening before the bris (brit). All men in and close to the family come and share congratulations, some words from the torah, and light refreshments. Some serve fava beans in cumin, and others serve foods that recieve blessings, with the exception of the “Hamotzi”.
The Ashkenazi version of the event is Shalom Zachar (in Ashkenazi pronunciation: Sholom Zocher). In their tradition, the event is held on the Shabbat eve before the bris (brit), and the most prominent dish served is arbas – boiled and seasoned chickpeas (sometimes sweet and sometimes salty). Why chickpeas? Perhaps because the legume is linked to fertility and abundance. Though popular opinion speaks more to chickpeas round shape symbolizing the cycle of life and the fact that it is traditionally served to those in mourning. But a new baby is a happy occasion, why are we mourning?! According to the torah, the baby knew the entire Torah in his mother’s womb but when he went out into the world, an angel struck the baby on the mouth and it was forgotten. Visitors are there to share in the grief of the baby, who has lost the words of the torah.