Mitvah of Pidyon HaBen
Kedushah of a Bechor
- A bechor is holy to Hashem from birth, as the posuk says (בא י”ג, ב’) “קדש לי כל בכור וגו’ באדם ובבהמה לי הוא.” Because Hashem killed all the firstborns in Mitzrayim, every Jewish bechor has kedushah and there is a mitzvah to redeem him, as the posuk says (במדבר ג, י”ג), “כי לי כל בכור ביום הכותי כל בכור בארץ מצרים הקדשתי לי כל בכור בישראל מאדם עד בהמה לי יהיו.”
- Like bikkurim. Another reason offered is that Hashem wanted to give us the zechus to do a mitzvah with our “first fruit” to make it known that everything is His and all we have in the world is what Hashem apportioned to us in His kindness. This is reminiscent of the mitzvah of bikkurim (חינוך מצוה ח”י).
Mitzvah to Redeem Him
- Every Yisroel man has a mitzvah to redeem with five sela’im a son who is the firstborn to his Jewish mother (שו”ע יו”ד סי’ ש”ה ס”א). This is derived from the pesukim (קרח י”ח, ט”ו) “אך פדה תפדה את בכור האדם,” (משפטים כ”ד, כ”ח) “בכור בניך תתן לי,” and others.
- Giving to a Kohen. The pidyon money is given to a Kohen; it is one of the 24 gifts Kohanim receive. As the posuk says (קרח י”ח, ט”ו), “כל פטר רחם לכל בשר וכו’ באדם ובבהמה יהיה לך, אך פדה תפדה בכור האדם וגו’.” When the money is transferred to the Kohen’s hand, the pidyon takes effect and the mitzvah is done.
Who Is Chayav in Pidyon HaBen?
Only a Yisroel
- Kohanim, Levi’im. Only a Yisroel is chayav in pidyon haben; Kohanim and Levi’im are patur. Even if the mother is a Kohenes or Leviah, there is no chiyuv of pidyon haben. Only if both the father and mother are Yisre’eilim is there a chiyuv of pidyon haben (שו”ע סי’ ש”ה סי”ח).
- Nowadays. One posek writes that since Kohanim and Levi’im today have uncertain ancestry (below, 34) and only have their status due to the rules of chazakah (רמ”א או”ח סי’ תנ”ז ס”ב), they should also do pidyon haben to be safe (שו”ת שאילת יעב”ץ ח”א סי’ קנ”ה הובא בפתח”ת סקי”ב, דברי חמודות על הרא”ש פ”א בכורות אות ט’). He agrees that Kohanim shouldn’t do pidyon haben so as not to degrade their kedushah (שאילת יעב”ץ שם), but according to him, the bechor of a Levi or a bas Kohen/bas Levi should have a pidyon to avoid doubt. This is like any safeik d’oraisa: we try to accomplish whatever we are able to.
- However, most poskim argue and say they should not do pidyon haben even just to avoid doubt. This is the accepted opinion (שו”ת חת”ס יו”ד סוף סי’ רצ”א, ערה”ש סנ”ה, שו”ת מנח”י ח”ב סי’ ל’).
- The father is commanded to redeem his son. This is one of the mitzvos that is incumbent on a father to do on behalf of his son.
- Father’s chiyuv when son becomes gadol. The poskim argue whether a father still has a mitzvah to do a pidyon once the son is a gadol or whether the mitzvah is incumbent on the son.
- Some say that the mitzvah is really on the son when he becomes a gadol. The Torah imposed the chiyuv on the father because the son is a katan when the chiyuv kicks in and cannot do a pidyon himself. Thus, the Torah obligated the father to do a pidyon in place of the son (ריב”ש סי’ קל”א, דרישה סי’ ש”ה סק”ג, ברכת שמואל קידושין סי’ ח”י בשם הגר”ח הלוי, שו”ת אבני צדק יו”ד סי’ קכ”ב). Accordingly, once the son is a gadol, there is no mitzvah on the father (ריב”ש שם).
- However, many poskim hold that even after the son is a gadol, there is still a chiyuv and mitzvah on the father to do a pidyon, as the posuk says, “וכל בכור אדם בבניך תפדה” (חינוך מצוה שצ”ב, שו”ת הרשב”א ח”ב סי’ שכ”א, לבוש ריש סי’ ש”ה, מנ”ח שם). The only thing is that if the father does not do a pidyon, the son must do it himself (שו”ת חת”ס יו”ד סי’ רצ”ו).
- A woman is not chayeves to redeem her son (שו”ע שם ס”ב) since only someone chayav to redeem himself is chayav to redeem others and a woman is not chayeves to redeem herself (קידושין כט.).
- Even if a father did not do a pidyon for his bechor, neither beis din nor any other person is commanded to do a pidyon (רמ”א סוף ס”י). Unlike the mitzvah of milah, where beis din must do the mitzvah if there is no father (שו”ע יו”ד סי’ רס”א ס”א), the mitzvah of pidyon haben is on the father alone, not beis din. However, some say beis din can do a pidyon for a bechor while he is a katan (ש”ך סק”כ).
- Some say that a father cannot do pidyon haben with a shaliach (שו”ת ריב”ש סי’ קל”א, רמ”א ס”י, הלבוש ס”י). This is because the posuk “כל בכור בניך תפדה” implies that the father must do it himself (ערוה”ש ס”ו וס”ז, חכ”א שער או”ה בינת אדם סק”ז).
- However, most poskim hold that one can do pidyon haben through a shaliach since a person’s shaliach is like him (ט”ז ש”ך שם סק”א, ס’ צדה לדרך, ר”ן פסחים דף ז’, מחנ”א זכיה סי’ ז’). Lechatchilah though, it is proper to be machmir not to use a shaliach for pidyon haben.
- As a gadol. A bechor whose father did not redeem him must redeem himself when he becomes a gadol (שו”ע שם סט”ו). This can happen when, ל”ע, a katan is orphaned before his father does a pidyon. Even though a chinuch-age katan is chayav in mitzvos on a d’rabanan level, it is better for him to wait until he is a gadol to fulfill the mitzvah if doing the mitzvah now will prevent him from doing it as a gadol (שו”ת זכרון יוסף יו”ד סוף סי’ כ”ו, מזרחי פ’ לך לך י”ז, כ”ה).
- Silver plate hanging from neck. When a katan who did not have a pidyon is waiting to become a gadol and redeem himself, there is a fear that before he becomes a gadol, he will forget he was not redeemed. Thus, some poskim advised making a silver plate with an engraved message that he is not redeemed and hanging it from his neck so he always wears it (מהרי”ל הל’ פדה”ב אות ה’, רמ”א סט”ו).
- However, others were not satisfied with this since most likely the silver plate will get lost in the time before he becomes a gadol. Thus, it is better for beis din to do pidyon haben right away, while he is a katan (ש”ך סק”כ). [This fits with the Shach’s opinion that beis din can do pidyon haben (above, 13).] Others say he should be redeemed twice, with a stipulation. First, beis din should redeem him as a katan out of fear that he will forget to redeem himself – no brachah should be made on this pidyon (פדיון הבן כהלכתו פ”ח אות כ”ט). When he becomes a gadol, he should do a second pidyon to satisfy the opinion that beis din cannot redeem him (above, 13). Between the two pidyonos, he should wear a plate around his neck that says he is a “ספק נפדה” (שו”ת חת”ס יו”ד סוף סי’ רצ”ז).
- Some say a boy’s father’s father is just like the father regarding pidyon haben (ט”ז סוף סקי”א, שו”ת הרב”ך סי’ נ’). Alternatively, the father’s father can redeem his grandson due to the rule that “granchildren are like children” (עי’ שו”ת מהר”ם שיק יו”ד סי’ ש”י).
- However, others hold that there is no preference for the grandfather to do pidyon haben over anyone else. If he does pidyon haben, he is a shaliach like any other, at least according to the opionion that a shaliach can do a pidyon (עי’ שו”ת הרב”ך סי’ נ”א).
Firstborn to His Mother
- A male bechor who is his mother’s firstborn must have a pidyon even if his father previously had children with a different woman. By saying (בא י”ג, י”ב) “כל פטר רחם,” the posuk made a bechor’s status dependent on the mother (משנה בכורות מ”ו ע”א, שו”ע שם סי”ז) [unlike inheritance, where a bechor is defined as the father’s firstborn].
After a Neifel [Miscarriage/Stillbirth]
- Neifel. A neifel, ל”ע, who was a bechor does not need a pidyon, and a subsequent son also does not need a pidyon since he is not his mother’s first. However, the neifel’s limbs must have already taken form to exempt the next child, as will be explained. One should consult a posek with any shailah. It is advisable to consult a posek at the time of the miscarriage/stillbirth, when the details are clearer, rather than waiting until a boy is subsequently born.
- Less than forty days. If it is certain that forty days have not elapsed from conception [the way it is defined by halachah], the embryo is not considered an offspring, and a subsequent son must have a pidyon haben with a brachah (שו”ע סכ”ג).
- Three months. If it is certain that three months have elapsed from conception and it was considered a recognized pregnancy by halachah [“הוכר עוברה”], the baby is a regular offspring and a subsequent son does not get a pidyon haben.
- Between forty days and three months. If more than forty days but less than three months have elapsed from conception, the fetus should be examined by experts and a rav at the time of the event (שו”ת חכם צבי סי’ ק”ד, חי’ בית מאיר על השו”ע). If the limbs took form, i.e., the hands and feet developed (ע”פ הגמ’ נדה דף כ”ה ע”ב), a subsequent son does not get a pidyon haben.
- Some say that if there was no real limb formation, just thin, flesh-like tissue, and the fetus is not considered an offspring, a subsequent son needs a pidyon haben (שו”ת מהרי”ק שורש קמ”ב, הכנה”ג בהגה”ט אות כ”ו, רמ”א סכ”ג, מגדל עוז פ”א אות כ”ה, שו”ת נודב”י תנינא יו”ד סי’ קפ”ח). Others hold we do not rely on our examination. At the very least, it is a safeik, which is not enough to require a pidyon for a subsequent son (שו”ת חכ”צ, שו”ת שבות יעקב ח”א סי’ פ”ג, שו”ת דברי חיים ח”ב יו”ד קי”ג, שו”ת מהר”י אסאד אבהע”ז רס”ד אות ב’, שו”ת אבני צדק יו”ד קכ”ז).
- In practice. Since the leading poskim argued about this, many Acharonim rule that the halachah follows the opinion that a subsequent son needs a pidyon haben. However, since it is not clear-cut, no brachah should be made (שו”ת שאילת יעב”ץ סי’ מ”ט, שו”ת חכ”צ הנ”ל, שו”ת חת”ס יו”ד סי’ רצ”ט).
- Pidyon haben ceremony. When there is a safeik regarding a pidyon haben, one should give the pidyon money to the Kohen to avoid doubt, but there is no need for a ceremony with a seudah and garlic if doing so is difficult. However, sometimes the situation calls for a pidyon haben ceremony with a brachah, e.g., the parents want to make a normal pidyon haben or it is the son of a distinguished person, etc. After consulting a posek, sometimes one may even make a brachah on the pidyon (מו”ר בעל שבט הקהתי).
- Only a baby delivered in the usual way is called a bechor regarding pidyon haben, as the posuk says “פטר רחם.” A baby delivered by yotzei dofen i.e C-section is not a bechor regarding pidyon haben since it is not called a “פטר רחם” (שו”ע סכ”ד).
- Delivery began normally. If the delivery began normally and progressed to the point that the baby was halachically considered “born,” then even if a C-section became necessary at a later stage, the son must have a pidyon haben since he was already a פטר רחם.
- However, the poskim argue which stage constitutes “birth” for these purposes (שו”ת עטרת משה יו”ד ח”ב סי’ רי”ט אות ב’, שו”ת חשב האפוד ח”ב סי’ ק”נ, הגר”ח קנייבסקי בספר דרך אמונה בכורים פי”א ס”ק ק”ה, מו”ר בשו”ת קנה בשם ח”ב סי’ צ”ג צ”ד, היכל הוראה ח”ז כת”י). Therefore, one should consult a posek who is familiar with the topic. In a situation of safeik, a pidyon haben should be made without a brachah.
- Son after a C-section. If the first son was born by C-section and is not the bechor for pidyon haben, even though a subsequent son is the first child delivered regularly, he is not a bechor for pidyon haben either since he is not the first child (שו”ע סכ”ד).
- Son after a neifel delivered by C-section. If the first baby was delivered by C-section and ל”ע was stillborn, clearly unable to survive, or had a fatal defect [טרפה], the poskim argue about the status of a subsequent son. Some say the second son must have a pidyon since he is a bechor for inheritance (הג’ רע”א בשו”ע, סדרי טהרה עמ”ס נדה דף כ”ו); however, others say the second does not get a pidyon since he is not the first child (חי’ הרי”ם על שו”ע יו”ד סי’ ש”ה סכ”ד).
Kashrus of a Kohen
- “Meyuchas.” For a Kohen to have the status of “meyuchas” [verified ancestry], two witnesses must testify that he is a Kohen, son of Ploni Kohen, son of Ploni Kohen, etc. all the way back to a Kohen who did the avodah on the Mizbeiach (רמב”ם פ”כ מאיסו”ב, טור אבהע”ז סי’ ב’ בשם הרמ”ה). We do not have this today. Due to the duration of the galus and the harsh decrees and expulsions we faced, most or next to half of our ancestry is jumbled (יש”ש ב”ק פ”ה סי’ ל”ה). There is also a concern that Kohanim became invalidated [חללים] (רמ”א או”ח סוף סי’ תנ”ז).
- “Muchzak.” If one knows he is a Kohen from his father – he does Birkas Kohanim and gets the first aliyah – a father may use him for pidyon haben. He may also eat terumah and challah d’rabanan, but not terumah d’oraisa (שו”ע אבהע”ז סי’ ג’). Kohanim today are of this type.
- Known families. Although we do not have verified Kohanim today and all our Kohanim are kosher due to chazakah, there are nevertheless certain families with verified Kohen ancestry, e.g., Rappaport, Kahane, descendents of the Shach, and descendents of the Semichas Chachamim. Therefore, if it is possible, one should use one of these Kohanim for a pidyon haben (זוכר הברית סי’ ל’ ס”ד).
- Kohen-talmid chacham. Lechatchilah, one should use a Kohen who is a talmid chacham for a pidyon of his bechor. The same is true for all the gifts given to Kohanim (גמ’ חולין דף ק”ל ע”ב) wherever possible (שו”ע יו”ד סי’ ס”א ס”ז, מגדל עוז להריעב”ץ פ”ו אות ב’). However, a Kohen who is a close relative has precedence over a Kohen-talmid chacham (שו”ת חכם צבי סי’ ע’).
When to Do Pidyon HaBen
- The time for a pidyon is after 30 days pass, as the posuk says (קרח י”ח, ט”ז), “From one month you shall redeem” (שו”ע סי’ ש”ה סי”א).
- “One month.” Some hold that when the Torah writes “one month” here, it refers to a lunar month, i.e., 29 days, 12 hours, and 793 chalakim (רמב”ם פ”ו קדה”ח), and that is what determines when to do a pidyon haben (יראים סי’ ק”מ, תשובת הב”ח סי’ קכ”ה).
- However, most poskim hold that this “month” means 30 days. I.e., once 30 days pass, the boy is chayav to have a pidyon (האשכול פדיון הבן סי’ מ”א, מג”א סי’ של”ט סק”ח).
- Many poskim hold that one must wait until the 31st day for the pidyon, and this is standard practice. They hold that there is no need to wait 30 full days, to the minute. For example, if a boy was born on Monday, the pidyon will be four weeks from that Wednesday. However, many people make the pidyon in the middle of the day or the afternoon of the 31st day to ensure that 30 full days passed according to everyone.
Bein hashemashos. If a boy was born at bein hashemashos, i.e., between shekiyah and tzeis, the 30 days are counted from the day after the birth. Therefore, the pidyon should be done on Day 31 from the day after the birth (שו”ת מנחת יצחק ח”ה סי’ ל”ג). For example, if a boy was born bein hashemashos between Monday and Tuesday, the pidyon would be four weeks from that Thursday.