Pidyon haben: Wikis

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Pidyon haben
Pidyon HaBen P6020102.JPG
Halakhic sources*
Texts in Jewish law relating to this article:
Bible: Exodus 13:12-15, Exodus 22:29, Exodus 34:20, Numbers 3:45, Numbers 8:17, Numbers 18:16, Leviticus 12:2-4
Shulchan Aruch: Yoreh De'ah 305
* Not meant as a definitive ruling. Some observances may be rabbinical, customs or Torah based.

Pidyon HaBen, (Hebrew: פדיון הבן‎; trans. Redemption of the Son), is a ritual in Judaism whereby a firstborn son is redeemed from priestly obligations from a Kohen (a member of the priestly family).

Contents

Biblical references

In the Hebrew Bible the laws concerning the redemption of the first-born male are referred to in Exodus, Numbers and Leviticus. The New Testament also refers to the practice in the Gospel of Luke 2:22-24.

Principles

The Shulkhan Arukh states that when a Jewish woman gives birth by natural means, i.e. vaginally and not by Caesarean section, to her firstborn, if it is a son, then the child must be "redeemed".[1] The father[2] of the child must "redeem" the child from a known Kohen[3] representing the original Temple priesthood, for the sum of five silver Shekels,[1] or equivalent in country's currency (if it has silver currency of the correct weight). The procedure does not apply when the father is a Kohen or Levite, and does not normally apply when the mother is the daughter of one.[4]

This redemption ceremony is performed when at least 30 days have passed since the child's birth. If the 31st day falls on Shabbat or a festival, the redemption is delayed, because any sort of business transaction is not allowed on those days.[5] These days are counted from sunset to sunset, and the day of birth counts as the first day. While the redemption could be performed immediately after dark on the 31st night, it is usually done the next day; but if the 31st day is a Ta'anit, it is done the previous night, so that it can be accompanied by a festive meal.[6] It is also possible to hold the ceremony on the 30th day itself, if it will be impossible to perform it the next day, so long as at least one Synodic month (29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, and 3 seconds) has passed since the moment of birth.[7]

Exemptions

If a woman gives birth to a second son naturally when the first son was born by Caesarean section, that child is not redeemed either.[8] Additionally, a first-born male does not require redemption if his birth was preceded by an earlier miscarriage by the mother that occurred after the third month of pregnancy. However, if the miscarriage occurred during the first 40 days of pregnancy, redemption is required. If the previous miscarriage occurred after forty days, but before the fetus developed distinguishing characteristics, redemption of the first-born is still required, but the blessing said by the father is omitted.[9]

The restriction to initial vaginal birth stems from the Biblical text regarding the redemption, which says a child that is "Peter Rechem Imo", or the "opening of his mother's womb", needs to be redeemed.

Levites, including Kohanim, do not redeem their children through the Pidyon HaBen ceremony. The reason is that the Levites, as substitutes for the first-born, are pledged to minister and assist the kohanim in Divine service, and cannot be redeemed from their service obligation. In Orthodox Judaism and to a lesser extent in Conservative Judaism, Levites remain irredeemably pledged to Divine service to this day, are expected to report for duty in a future rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem, and in the meanwhile have a limited number of special ritual duties and privileges.

The children of daughters of Levites and Kohanim, are not normally redeemed either. According to some authorities, however, a child whose mother is a Bat Kohen and whose father is a non-Jew requires a Pidyon HaBen ceremony.[10]

Ceremony

The baby is surrounded with jewelry

In the traditional ceremony, the father brings the child to the Kohen and recites a formula, or responds to ritual questions, indicating that this is the Israelite mother's firstborn son and he has come to redeem him as commanded in the Torah. The Kohen asks the father which he would rather have, the child or the five silver shekels which he must pay. The father states that he prefers the child to the money, then he recites a blessing and hands over five silver coins (or an equivalent amount of total silver). The Kohen holds the coins over the child and declares that the redemption price is received and accepted in place in the child. He then blesses the child and returns him to the custody of his family.

The ceremony traditionally takes place before a minyan of 10 men. The child is sometimes presented on a silver tray, surrounded by jewelry lent for the occasion by women in attendance.

The event is accompanied by a festive meal, and guests in some places are given cloves of garlic and cubes of sugar to take home: these strongly-flavored foods can be used to flavor a large quantity of food which will in some sense extend the mitzvah of participation in the ceremony to all who eat them.

Coins

Contemporary religious authorities believe that the Shekel HaKodesh (Holy Shekel) of the Temple was larger and of purer silver content than the standard Shekel used for trade in ancient Israel. Halakha requires that the coins used have a requisite total amount of actual silver. There are varying opinions as to the correct amount of silver, they fall in between 100 grams and 117 grams. Coins which do not contain the requisite amount of silver do not result in a valid redemption.

The Israeli Mint has minted special edition 23.4 gram silver commemorative coins for the purpose, five of which would come to exactly 117 grams of silver. Pre-1936 American silver dollars weigh 26.73 grams of 90% silver content and hence contain 24.06g of pure silver, although such coins have become increasingly rare (modern U.S. coins contain no silver). Four American Silver Eagle coins, specially minted coins sold to collectors and investors which contain 31.1035 grams of 99.9% pure silver, or five of the above-mentioned specially minted silver coins of Israel are commonly used for Pidyon Ha-Ben in the United States. One May use silver bullion as well, it isn't necessary to be a coin per se.

Though the silver coins are the payment to the Kohen under Jewish law, they are usually returned to the family as a gift for the child, as the coins themselves are often commemorative in nature. There are many examples of artistically crafted gift boxes or display cases made for the child to have as a memento of the occasion. The father then usually offers a gift or fee of more conventional cash to the Kohen.

Some Kohanim sell coins of sufficient weight and purity of silver to facilitate the ceremony, as such coins are usually not readily obtainable.

Women and Pidyon HaBen

Some Orthodox authorities, citing a passage in the Talmud (Kiddushin 8a) describing such an event, permit a male non-Kohen married to a Bat Kohen (daughter of a male Kohen) to accept Pidyon HaBen money on the Bat Kohen's behalf.[11]. The question of a Bat Kohen accepting Pidyon HaBen money on her own behalf is a matter of discussion in Modern Orthodox Judaism but is not currently done in practice. No branch of Judaism currently accepts a Pidyon HaBat (redemption of a first-born daughter) ceremony.

In Conservative Judaism

Conservative Judaism requires a Pidyon HaBen ceremony under the same circumstances as Orthodox Judaism. The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) permits a Bat Kohen (daughter of a male Kohen) to perform the Pidyon Haben ceremony on her own behalf.[12] The CJLS, however, concluded that a Pidyon HaBat ceremony for a daughter was "prohibited by the Torah" and suggested, as an alternative, that parents recite the text "Rabbi Akiva interpreted: By virtue of the reward due the righteous women of the generation of the Exodus were our forefathers redeemed from Egypt" for a first-born daughter, as part of the regular Simchat Bat ceremony.[13]

In Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism

Consistent with their views that Temple- and priesthood-related rituals and statuses are archaic and inconsistent with modern egalitarian values, Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism generally do not perform the Pidyon HaBen ceremony.

Frequency of ceremony

Pidyon HaBen is a relatively rare ceremony. It is not performed if the firstborn is a girl, born by caesarian section, preceded by a miscarriage, or either grandfather is a Kohen or a Levi. In addition, it generally not performed in Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism, which have generally abolished the status of Kohen and special traditional ceremonies involving it.

Traditional Jewish interpretation

The silver tray, the silver coins and the glass for the wine

According to the traditional rabbinic interpretation, in the early part of the Bible, as recorded in the Book of Genesis, the duties of a priest fell upon the eldest son of each family. The first-born was to be dedicated to God in order to perform this task.

Following the Israelite Exodus from Egypt, after the nation had sinned with the Golden Calf, the priesthood was taken away from the first-borns, and given to the tribe of Levites, specifically to the Kohenim, High Priest Aaron, his children, and their descendants. At the same time it was instituted that the first born of each family should be redeemed; i.e. they would be 'bought back' from the dedication to God that would previously have been required of them. Levites were substituted for the first-born and wholly given to Divine service:

And thou shalt give the Levites unto Aaron and to his sons; they are wholly given unto him from the children of Israel.
And I behold, I have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of every first-born that openeth the womb among the children of Israel; and the Levites shall be Mine. For all the first-born are Mine: on the day that I smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt I hallowed unto Me all the first-born in Israel, both man and beast, Mine they shall be: I am the LORD.' (Numbers 3:9, 12-13)

The first-born male of every clean animal was to be given up to the priest for sacrifice (Deuteronomy 12:6; Exodus 13:12, 34:20; Numbers 18:15-17). The first-born of unclean animals, however, was either to be redeemed or sold and the price given to the priest (Leviticus 27:11-13, 27). The first-born of an ass, if not redeemed, was to be put to death (Exodus 13:13; 34:20).

See also

Footnotes

External links

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