Pidyon HaBen: Redemption of the First Born

The first and best of all things belong to G-d. This is true even of the firstborn of children. Originally, it was intended that the firstborn would serve as the priests and Temple functionaries of Israel; however, after the incident of the Golden Calf, in which the tribe of Levi did not participate, G-d chose the tribe of Levi over the firstborn for this sacred role. This is explained in Num. 8:14-18. However, even though their place has been taken by the Levites, the firstborn still retain a certain degree of sanctity, and for this reason, they must be redeemed.

The ritual of redemption is referred to as pidyon ha-ben, literally, Redemption of the Son.

A firstborn son must be redeemed after he reaches 31 days of age. Ordinarily, the ritual is performed on the 31st day (the day of birth being the first day); however, the ritual cannot be performed on Shabbat because it involves the exchange of money. The child is redeemed by paying a small sum (five silver shekels in biblical times; today, usually five silver dollars) to a kohein (preferably a pious one familiar with the procedure) and performing a brief ritual. This procedure is commanded in Num. 18:15-16.

The ritual of pidyon ha-ben applies to a relatively small number of Jews. It applies only to the firstborn male child if it is born by natural childbirth. Thus, if a female is the firstborn, no child in the family is subject to the ritual. If the first child is born by Caesarean section, the ritual does not apply to that child (nor, according to most sources, to any child born after that child). If the first conception ends in miscarriage after more than 40 days' term, it does not apply to any subsequent child. It does not apply to members of the tribe of Levi, or children born to a daughter of a member of the tribe of Levi.

Last updated on: 03/31/2020
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