Lessons in Memory of my brother Dale Alan Konigsburg
October 25, 2004 – Number 5765-5
Pidyon HaBen and Other Miscellaneous Laws Regarding Birth
Judaism believes that the first of everything belongs to G-d. First fruits were brought to the Tabernacle on Shavuot. The first born of some animals had to be sacrificed at the alter. Animals that were not suitable for sacrifice had to be destroyed. The harvest could not be used until the first tenth was tithed to G-d. Since the first born of human beings could neither be sacrificed or killed, these children had to be redeemed from their obligations from G-d.
In ancient times, the firstborn of each family had ritual responsibilities for the entire family. When these responsibilities were given over to the Levites and the Priests (due to the sin of the Golden Calf) the Torah requires all first born males to be redeemed from their service for the price of five silver shekalim. The ceremony of this redemption is called “Pidyon HaBen” the redemption of the (firstborn) son.
The ceremony only applies to the first born of a woman. If a man has a son by a previous marriage, his son by his second wife, if it is her first born son, can be redeemed. If she has a son by a previous marriage, this new son by her second husband is not redeemed. If the father or the mother carries the title of Levi or Cohen, then the child is not redeemed. If the son is born after a late term miscarriage, the son is not redeemed. (If the miscarriage occurs in the first 40 days then the subsequent birth is redeemed) If a daughter is born first, if the next child is a son, he is not redeemed. If the son is born by Caesarian section, the son is not redeemed since there is no “opening of the womb” that is required by the Torah. If the next son has a normal birth, than he also is not redeemed because he is not the first born.
The boy must be a full 30 days old. This means the ceremony is held on the thirty-first day. One reason for this is because, in ancient times, many children who were born alive, did not live out the first month. Thirty-one days later, there is a presumption that the child will survive. There is a custom that the redemption takes place during the day, but it can be performed at night as well.
Since we no longer use silver shekalim, any five silver dollars can be used. If silver coins are not available, you can use the monetary equivalent. A Cohen must be called upon to redeem the child and many Cohanim who do this ceremony often, may offer special silver coins to be used for the ceremony. The ceremony can be found in any complete Siddur and involves giving the child to the Cohen, the Cohen asking if he should keep the child or will they redeem him. The parents then redeem the child for the five coins and the Cohen accepts the coins in lieu of the child. Since this is an important ceremony, there is a “seudat mitzvah” a meal in celebration of a Mitzvah that follows.
Many times this ceremony is performed because the time needed for a Brit Milah is so short and must be done on time. By giving the family 30 days, they can send out proper invitations and host a proper party. The ceremony is delayed one day if the 31st day falls on Shabbat or on a full holiday. If it falls on the intermediate days of Pesach or Sukkot, it is not delayed. If, for some reason it can not be done on the 31st day, it should be done on the night immediately following.
Other rules relating to childbirth:
While a Brit Milah must take place on the eighth day after birth, if the baby is born by Caesarean Section, we do not perform the ritual on Shabbat. It must be delayed until the following day. If the child is not well and the Brit Milah can not be performed on the eighth day, it must be done on the first day the child is well enough for the surgery. We follow the advice of the baby’s doctor and wait seven days after the child is healed before circumcising.
Adult males who convert to Judaism must be circumcised and must have a Brit Milah. This is usually significant surgery and not done by a mohel. The mohel may assist the surgeon and say the proper blessings or a Rabbi may say the blessings. Usually the surgeon for this surgery should be Jewish. In the rare case where a baby is born without a foreskin, and in the case of a convert who is already circumcised, a special ceremony called “hatafat dam brit” is performed where a drop of blood is taken from the scar of the circumcision (or the place where the circumcision would have been done). This ceremony is not done on Shabbat or holidays.
It is the responsibility of the parents to arrange for a brit milah. If they do not do so, the child, as soon as he is old enough to be on his own, should arrange for it himself.
It is a custom that a mohel be a man but women may train and serve as a mohel as well. A mohel must be Jewish. If the circumcision is performed by a non-Jewish doctor, the circumcision is valid but the ceremony of Hatafat dam brit must be performed.
Next week: Raising Jewish Children