Pidyon Haben

Pidyon Haben – The Redemption of the Firstborn Son

The Pidyon Haben ceremony is full of deep meaning, spiritual symbolism, joy, and a fulfillment
of the Mitzvah (commandment) given to the Jews while they were in Egypt.
When a firstborn son, under specific conditions as explained below, is one month old, his father
redeems him by giving five silver coins to a Kohen, in what is known as the Pidyon Haben.
It reminds us that everything, even our firstborn children, belongs to and is a gift from Hashem

Why Do the Firstborns Need to be Redeemed?

The firstborns have a special status. During the tenth plague in Egypt, Hashem killed the
firstborns of the Egyptians but not the Jewish firstborns, giving them an exceptional distinction of
having been spared by G-d.
Hashem (G-d) originally chose all the firstborn males to serve Him and perform special duties in
the Beis Hamikdash (The Temple). When the Jewish nation sinned in the desert after leaving
Egypt by creating the Golden Calf, the firstborns participated as well. Hashem took away their
privilege and gave it instead to the tribe of Levi who did not partake in the sin.
Since the firstborns were originally selected to serve, they need to be redeemed from a Kohen
who serves in their stead.

Who Receives a Pidyon Haben?

A Pidyon Haben is not very common, as not every firstborn male qualifies. Only those who fit
the following criteria need to be redeemed:
● The baby is a boy.
● The baby’s mother is Jewish.
● The baby is his mother’s first baby. (If the mother had a miscarriage before the firstborn,
a Rabbi should be consulted as to whether a Pidyon Haben is required. It may depend
on how far along the miscarriage occurred). It does not matter if the baby’s father has
older children.
● The baby was born naturally and not via cesarean section. Since the commandment
refers to a firstborn who “opens his mother’s womb”, a baby born via cesarean does not
receive a Pidyon Haben.
● The baby’s mother is not the daughter of a Kohen or Levi.
● The baby’s father is not a Kohen or Levi.

When is the Pidyon Haben Performed?

When a firstborn baby boy is one month – 31 days old – he is redeemed at the Pidyon Haben.
If the 31st day falls out on Shabbos or a major Jewish Holiday, the Pidyon Haben is held on the
following weekday.
If a firstborn boy who fits all of the criteria required never received a pidyon haben, he should be
redeemed as soon as possible, even as an adult. If he is over bar mitzvah, he should redeem
himself by giving the silver coins to the Kohen.
The Pidyon Haben Ceremony
While only the baby, his father, and a Kohen are required for the ceremony, it is a joyful
occasion and many invite family and friends to participate. It is customary to have a minyan (10
Jewish men) and to serve a celebratory meal at the ceremony.
The father will need to bring five silver coins of approximately 100 grams, which he will give to
the Kohen to redeem the baby. US silver dollars are commonly used and there are also special
Pidyon Haben silver coins from Israel.
The baby is traditionally dressed nicely in honor of the occasion, and carried out to the
ceremony on a silver tray. It is customary for the baby to be surrounded by jewelry and the
women guests often place their jewelry around the baby on the silver tray or pin them to the
baby’s outfit (and take them back after the ceremony).
Some people have the custom of placing sugar cubes and garlic cloves on the tray, which they
then give out or cook with to feed others after the ceremony, thereby including more people
indirectly in the celebration.
At the ceremony, the father confirms that his son is a firstborn and that he wishes to redeem him
to the Kohen in exchange for the five silver coins. The father then recites two blessings and
gives the silver coins to the Kohen.
The Kohen blesses the baby and recites the blessing over wine.
A festive meal is usually served after the ceremony to all of the participating guests.

Mazel Tov!

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