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Help! I’m Superstitious About My Jewish Friend’s Baby Shower

Dear Bintel Brief,

My friend, who is Jewish, is pregnant — and has decided to have a baby shower. She is not superstitious about such events, and is fine with receiving gifts more than a month before her due date. I, however, believe strongly in the Jewish tradition of withholding gifts until the baby arrives. Should I attend the shower? And, if so, is it okay to arrive sans gift?


Dear Superstitious,

Let’s consider what’s really at stake here. Withholding gifts until the baby arrives is, as you say, just a superstition. It has no more meaning in Jewish law than holding your breath when you pass a cemetery, or throwing salt over your shoulder after you sneeze (my grandmother’s favorite).

On the other hand, that baby does not really need more of those “gifts.” Life will proceed on track for little Eli or Sadie without that extra Lamaze octopus, or the Baby Einstein bouncer. Baby showers are propelled by the same impulse that founded Mother’s Day and made diamond rings mandatory for engagements. Once, I imagine, friends showed up with diapers and a basic layette. Now, they collect down payments on an Italian crib or a $900 Bugaboo stroller. The last baby shower I was invited to was a cocktail party. A cocktail party? Can you imagine? The commercial culture of baby rearing … well, I digress.

What’s important here is not so much your clinging to the tradition or your friend needing that extra gift, but your relationship with this friend. People can be awfully tender about their first child, and do weird things out of prenatal craziness, or blind, irrational baby love. (I speak from experience; my husband and I made a 24-by-24 blow-up photo of our first baby and gave it to all of the relatives).

Your friend might read your declining to show up or give a gift as sign that you’re not really on board with her new adventure. Unless you are truly offended by the sight of new gifts for a baby, here is what I would do: I would go to the shower but save the gift. Then, with good, self-deprecating humor — that part is important — I would tell her that you’re superstitious and you just can’t help it and you’ll bring the gift later. (“I know; I throw salt over my shoulder, too,” you can say). The trick is to make her believe that you love this baby too much to hand over the gift now. But that’s it’s on your kitchen table, wrapped and ready.

Hanna Rosin is a writer for the Atlantic and DoubleX, and the author of “God’s Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007). The Israeli-born, Queens-reared Rosin lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband and their three children.

If you have a question for the Bintel Brief, e-mail Questions selected for publication are printed anonymously.




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