“We’re expecting our first child in a few months and some friends have offered to plan a baby shower for us. I’m not Jewish but my husband is, and we agreed to raise our children Jewish. My mother-in-law has told us that we can’t have a baby shower because “Jews don’t have baby showers.” Is that true? I really would like a baby shower. We had one for my sister and it was really sweet.”
Congratulations on your pregnancy!
Yes, it’s true that there’s a strong Jewish cultural taboo against celebrating the birth of a baby before the baby is born. This custom is based on a superstition that held that celebrating the child before he or she is born could endanger his or her safe and healthy arrival. In addition, this taboo developed in a time of high infant mortality. Many people feel that facing an abundance of baby-related items in the home compounds the devastating loss felt by a couple who experiences a miscarriage or stillbirth. While the risk is significantly lower today, we must acknowledge that a tragic outcome is still a possibility.
Today, many Jewish parents-to-be (including those who do not consider themselves superstitious) will not purchase or bring baby items into the home until after the baby’s birth. Instead, joyful celebrations are planned for after the baby’s arrival. (By the way, a related Jewish custom is to say to the expectant parents “B’sha’ah tovah,” a Hebrew phrase meaning “May the child be born at an auspicious time,” saving “Mazal tov,” or congratulations, for after the baby’s arrival.)
All that being said, yes, you (and your husband) may choose to have a baby shower while respectfully considering your mother-in-law’s—and perhaps other guests’—discomfort with the idea. Allow me to offer a potential compromise: some expectant couples defer a baby shower and instead have a “couple’s shower” or a “mom’s shower,” where friends give you items to enjoy the last few months before children, or to make the last few months of pregnancy more comfortable.
One last note: you can anticipate that as new parents you will receive lots of unsolicited advice about all sorts of matters, from family members, from friends and even from strangers. You might view this particular difference of opinion as an opportunity for you and your husband to model how you will handle other disagreements together, and to set the tone for open, respectful and empathetic communication with your in-laws.
For additional resources on pregnancy and birth ceremonies, please visit InterfaithFamily.
Rabbi Julie Zupan is the associate director at Reform Jewish Outreach Boston, which welcomes interfaith couples and individuals exploring Judaism. She is also an instructor for Parenting Through a Jewish Lens, a program of Hebrew College.