(This should not be relied upon for practical halacha. When a question arises a Rabbi should be consulted.)
The mitzvah of Pidyon Haben, redeeming of the firstborn, is a rare mitzvah than can only be performed once in a lifetime and does not apply to everyone (kohanim, leviim etc.), as we shall discuss. In addition, performing this mitzvah serves as a segula to protect the child from illnesses that afflict children (Sefer Chassidim cited in Yabia Omer Y.D. 6:26). In this article we will discuss many of the relevant hallachos pertaining to the mitzvah of Pidyon Haben and its procedure.
Which Child Requires a Pidyon
- The mitzvah is performed once the child reaches thirty days old. The Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 305:11) writes that we should perform the mitzvah immediately on the thirty first day. If that day is Shabbos the mitzvah should be pushed off until Sunday.
- The mitzvah applies to the “peter rechem”- first born of the mother, even if the father has children from a previous marriage (Aruch Hashulcan Y.D. 305:2).
- A child from a cesarean section is exempt from the mitzvah. The next child born to the parents is exempt as well, even if he was born through a natural childbirth delivery (Shulchan Aruch 305:24).
- If the father is a kohen or a levi, or if the mother is the daughter of a cohen or a levi, there is no mitzvah of pidyon haben (Shulchan Aruch 305:18).
- If a boy is born from a non-Jewish father and a bas levi, there is also no mitzvah of pidyon haben since his mother is the daughter of a levi. However, if a boy is born from a non-Jewish father and a bas kohen, a pidyon haben is performed. Since the daughter of the kohen has violated her kedusha by having relations with a gentile, she loses her hallachic status as a bas kohen (Shulchan Aruch 305:18). Similarly, if a bas yisroel has a child with a non-Jew, a pidyon haben is performed. The Aruch Hashulchan comments that in this scenario it is difficult to ascertain who is obligated to perform the pidyon haben. The father, who is not Jewish, is obviously not obligated to perform this or any mitzvah. The mother is exempt as well, as this mitzvah is never the obligation of the mother (as we shall explain). Rather, in this case the child should perform his own pidyon when he reached the age of thirteen. Other poskim disagree and feel that the beis din should perform the pidyon right away- see Igros Moshe Y.D. 195 and Sheilas Yeshurun page 140. For normative halacha, a rabbi should be consulted.
- We have previously explained that if a bas kohen has relations with a non-Jew she loses her rights as the daughter of a kohen. Therefore, if a yisroel married and had a child with a bas kohen who lived with a gentile before the marriage, a pidyon haben is performed. The Aruch Hashulchan comments that unlike the previous hallacha (where the child is required to perform his own pidyon when he reaches the age of bar mitzvah), we require the father to perform the pidyon after thirty days.
- Many Baalei Teshuva face an interesting predicament. After having their first child they wish to fulfill the mitzvah of pidyon haben. However, many of them are unaware if they are kohanim, leviim or yisraelim and are thus unsure if they are indeed obligated to perform the mitzvah at all. For reasons beyond the scope of this article, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igros Moshe Y.D. 188) and Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l (Yabia Omer 9 Y.D. 25), both advise that they perform pidyon haben without reciting any brachos.
Who Is Obligated To Perform the Pidyon
- The Gemara (Kiddushin 29) tells us that the obligation to perform the pidyon haben rests solely on the father. The mother is not obligated to perform the mitzvah. The Aruch Hashulchan (Y.D. 305:4) writes that the Beis Din is also not required to make sure that the child has a pidyon.
- If the father refuses to perform this mitzvah we force him to do so.
- Once the child reaches bar mitzvah he is obligated to perform his own pidyon haben. If after the son reaches the age of thirteen both the father and the son both wish to perform the pidyon, the Rashba (cited in Aruch Hashulchan 305:54) rules that the father should perform the pidyon and not the son. However, the Rivash (131) disagrees, he feels that once the child reaches adulthood the mitzvah rests solely on his shoulders and we do not allow the father to do the mitzvah.
- The Aruch Hashulchan comments that if the father refuses to perform the pidyon or he is unable to do so we allow others to perform the mitzvah in the father’s stead. He prefers this from the alternative, which is waiting until the child reaches bar mitzvah and having him perform his own pidyon haben. He quotes, however, the opinion of the Taz that if the father dies or is unable to perform the pidyon we should wait until the child reaches bar mitzvah and he should then perform his own pidyon. What’s more, the opinion of the Maadanei Yom Tov is that if the Beis Din or others perform the pidyon they have not fulfilled any mitzvah and the child must repeat the pidyon when he reaches the age of bar mitzvah. The Chasam Sofer rules that one may perform the pidyon for the child without a bracha and when the child reaches adulthood he should reperform the pidyon without a bracha as well. For normative halacha, a rabbi should be consulted.
Which Kohanim Can Receive the Pidyon
- The child should be redeemed from a kohen and not from a kohenes (Aruch Hashulchan 305:3).
- The poskim differ as to whether a kohen under the age of thirteen can receive the pidyon, (see Rav Akiva Eiger and Aruch Hashulchan 13).
- Rav Shmuel Wosner shlit”a (Shevet Halevi 2:172) writes that a kohen who desecrates shabbos publicly cannot be used to redeem the first born. However, since many non-observant Jews do not have the status of public desecrators of shabbos (because they have the status of Tinuk Shenishba etc. see Umekareiv Biyamin 2) and therefore a Rav should be consulted.
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