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|Shulchan Aruch:||Yoreh De'ah 305|
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The pidyon haben (Hebrew: פדיון הבן) or redemption of the first-born son is a mitzvah in Judaism whereby a Jewish firstborn son is "redeemed" by use of silver coins from his birth-state of sanctity, i.e. from being predestined by his firstborn status to serve as a priest.
Exodus 13:13–16 Every firstborn of man among your sons, you shall redeem. And it will come to pass that if your son asks you in the future, saying, “What is this?” you shall say to him, “With a mighty hand did God take us out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. And it came to pass when Pharaoh was too stubborn to let us out, God slew every firstborn in the land of Egypt."
The redemption price was set at 5 shekels for each of 273 surplus firstborn Israelites over and above the Levite totals (there was no separate census for firstborn Levites):
Numbers 3:45–47 Take the Levites instead of all the firstborns among the children of Israel . . . You shall take five shekels per head, according to the holy shekel, by which the shekel is twenty gerahs.
The redemption has been seen as part of the "natural evolution from animal sacrifice to a money substitute," and the concept of redemption money occurs also in Akkadian and Ugaritic (Canaan) texts, but not in the same function. Specific references to redemption of the first-born son in Ugaritic texts are disputed.
The Shulkhan Arukh states that when a Jewish woman gives birth to a firstborn male by natural means, then the child must be "redeemed". The father of the child must "redeem" the child from a known Kohen representing the original Temple priesthood, for the sum of five silver Shekels, 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.
This redemption ceremony is performed when at least thirty 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. 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 fast day, it is done the previous night, so that it can be accompanied by a festive meal. 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 2.9 seconds) has passed since the moment of birth.
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. 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.
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 this service obligation.
The children of daughters of Levites and Kohanim are not 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.
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. If the family is sephardic, the Kohen asks the mother if the child is indeed her firstborn son and if she did not miscarry in the past. 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 of the child. He then blesses the child. (Note: The Kohen would not receive the child if the father would refuse to redeem the boy. The function of the question is merely to endear the mitzvah to the father.)
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. This is to contrast with the Golden Calf, when gold and jewelry was used for a sinful purpose.
The event starts by beginning a festive meal, (unlike a Brit Mila or Wedding  where the meal follows). If the family is sephardic, the event starts with the ceremony. 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.
If a first-born son reaches bar mitzvah age without having been redeemed, he is responsible for arranging the mitzvah himself as soon as possible.
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 is not necessary for it to be a coin per se.
Though the silver coins are the payment to the Kohen under torah law and are one of the twenty-four kohanic gifts, they are sometimes returned by the Kohen to the family as a gift for the child, although halachic authorities stipulate that – for the Pidyon to be valid – the choice of returning the coins as a gift rest entirely upon the Kohen whereas pressuring the kohen to do so would render the redemption invalid.
Unlike the redemption money, which can't be via a check, the purchase of the coins can be via check.
Some kohens officiating for the pidyon ceremony will present the father with a "Pidyon HaBen Certificate" of the pidyon transaction, the certificate will usually be framed for display and may serve as a receipt (and evidence) that the transaction was done according to halacha (i.e. the kohen was not pressured to return the coins), with the kohen and two witnesses ("Eidim") affixing their signatures at the time of the pidyon ceremony.
Women and Pidyon HaBen
Some Orthodox authorities,[who?] 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. 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 following a lengthy responsa on the topic by Joseph Saul Nathanson.
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 if either grandfather is a Kohen or a Levi.
Traditional Jewish interpretation
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 Kohanim, that is: 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 an ass, if not redeemed, was to be put to death (Exodus 13:13; 34:20). There is no need for redemption by any other unclean animal, for the firstborn status only applies to clean animals (Leviticus 27:27. See Rashi there. Also see Rashi to Exodus 34:19).
- Eugene Joseph Cohen (1984), Guide to ritual circumcision and redemption of the first-born son, Volume 1: "The Redemption of the First-Born – A mother's first-born is to be dedicated to the service of God, in accordance with the verse, "Sanctify the first-born who opens the womb." This sanctification was the result of an historical event."
- Michele Klein (2000), A Time to Be Born: Customs and Folklore of Jewish Birth, p. 224: "They have attributed healing properties to the stick. 54 Redemption of the First-Born Son. A first child has special significance for both parents, and this was as true in biblical times as today, but then only when the child was male"
- Mark Washofsky (2001), Jewish living: a guide to contemporary reform practice, p. 148: "Redemption of the First-born Son (Pidyon Haben) – In Jewish tradition, the first-born son is to be "redeemed" from God. This originates in the belief that God "acquired" the Israelite first-born by sparing them from makkat bekhorot"
- Ruth Langer (2005), To Worship To Worship God Properly: Tensions Between Liturgical Custom and Halakhah in Judaism (Monographs of the Hebrew Union College Series), p. 73 ("Redemption of the First Born").
- R. J. Thompson Penitence and Sacrifice in Early Israel Outside the Levitical Law 1963, p. 102 "natural evolution from animal sacrifice to a money substitute, which is seen, for example in the redemption of the first-born.1 The Ugaritic references to 'dSdm have been claimed to support the view, both of an offering, and of a monetary ..."
- The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas - 2000 p. 144 "3:47–51. redemption money. The concept of ransom or redemption money occurs both in 'Akkadian (Babylonian) and 'Ugaritic (Canaanite) texts, though not in this same function. The nation here bought back its firstborn from God by "trading" ..."
- Nick Wyatt Religious Texts from Ugarit 2nd Edition. p. 123 "Your son will have the appetite of a bull calf 39" footnote "39 Alternatively, may this be construed as the lung of a calf (npS 'gl) which will be offered as a sacrifice of redemption for a first-born son? (Cf. Exod. 13.11–15.) But such an interpretation would not be compatible with the threat of Mot's next words."
- i.e. vaginally and not by Caesarean section
- Shulkhan Arukh Yoreh De'ah 305:1
- Shulkhan Arukh Yoreh De'ah 305:2
- Shulkhan Arukh Yoreh De'ah 305:3
- Shulkhan Arukh Yoreh De'ah 305:18
- Shulkhan Arukh Yoreh De'ah 305:11
- Shach 305:12
- Shach 305:19, at the end, citing the Bach.
- Shulkhan Arukh Yoreh De'ah 305:24
- Donin, Hayim Halevy (1972). To Be a Jew. Basic Books. p. 277. ISBN 0-465-08624-1.
- "Orthodox Union, NCSY Newsletter Torah Tidbits, Parshat Chukat 5762". ou.org. Archived from the original on 6 June 2011. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
- Siddur Nachlas Shimon/ The Artscroll Weekday Siddur. Mesorah Publications, Ltd. p. 220. ISBN 0899066682.
- "What are some customs observed at a Pidyon Haben? - life cycle pidyon haben mitzvot". www.askmoses.com. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
- "Pidyon Haben". kveller.com. 16 September 2010. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
- Responsa "Chsam Sofer", to Yoreh Deah, Chap. 291
- http://www.yeshiva.co/midrash/shiur.asp[permanent dead link]
- http://www.dinonline.org/2011/07/07/buying-pidyon-haben-coins-for-cheap and the price can be lower than the Pidyon amount
- e.g. Eichlers.com Archived 2011-06-12 at the Wayback Machine. NOTE: This reference to Eichler's was already in place before the buy-from-Kohen edit
- "All About the Five Shekels". www.chabad.org. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
- Midreshet Lindenbaum, Bnot Kohanim: Our Holy Daughters Archived 2009-01-18 at the Wayback Machine.
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