Cohen-Levi: The Tribe, the Family Heritage

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Pidyon haBen
Redemption of the Firstborn Son

Sanctify to me all firstborn [males]
That open the womb of the children of Israel,
Both of man and of animal shall be for me.

Exodus 13:2

And you shall surely redeem the firstborn male.
He will be redeemed at one month of age
For value of five silver shekels…

Numbers 18:16

Redemption of the firstborn son, Pidyon haBen, is performed by a Kohen. He may retain the redemption money as one of 24 gifts the Torah assigned to be given by the people to the Kohanim.

The Mitzvah of Pidyon haBen combines various elements. Firstly, to commemorate the redemption of the Jewish nation from Egypt, where God saved his chosen “firstborn” nation. Hence, the firstborn son is obligated particular gratitude for the saving of the Jewish firstborn at the plague of the destruction of Egypt’s firstborn to Himself, investing them with an elevated level of Holiness.

A second element is that until the sin of the Golden Calf, the firstborn performed the sacrificial service. Thereafter the service was transferred to the tribe of Levi – in particular to the sons of Aharon who bwcame the Kohanim. Therefore, the firstborn must be “bought” back from the Kohanim who replaced them tin the Divine Service.

Another element is parents’ expression of appreciation for their first son, who having survived thirty days of life is now considered a viable human being.

The obligation of Pidyon haBen falls upon the father of a son who is the first child born to his mother – one who “opens the womb.” A child born through caesarian section, or, in some cases, if the mother had previously miscarried, there is no Pidyon haBen. Likewise, if either parent is a Kohen or Levi there is no Mitzvah in redemption. The obligation for Pidyon must be clearly ascertained before the ceremony.

If the redemption has not been performed by the time the child reaches the age of Bar Mitzvah, he must redeem himself as soon as possible.

The dialogue in the Pidyon ceremony between the firstborn’s father and the Kohen is to emphasize the willing fulfillment of the redemption obligation.

The redemption sum designated by the Torah is five silver shekels, generally accepted to be the value of 100 grams pure silver. Other coins or items of equivalent value are acceptable. Paper money or tickets are not valid.

The redemption is performed on the thirty-first day of the newborn’s life. If it falls on Shabbat or Yom Tov, it is delayed, and it may be performed the following night.

The ceremony is celebrated with a festive meal and with a Minyan. The dialogue between the father (or the first born) and the Kohen, though valid in any language, is traditionally said in Aramaic, the spoken language of Talmudic times.

Customs abound in the Mitzvah of Pidyon haBen. For example, the baby is brought in by the mother on a silver or gold tray covered with gold jewelry as well as sugar cubes and garlic cloves. This custom emphasizes the preciousness of the child and the extent to which this relatively rare Mitzvah is valued.

There is a tradition that if someone eats from the Pidyon haBen meal, he receives the atonement value of 84 fasts.

Procedure for the Redemption of the Firstborn by the father with the child present

Procedure for the Redemption of the Firstborn by the  firstborn himself

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