First-born son of ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbi is presented on silver platter and adorned with jewelry


Pidyon ha-ben (redemption of the first-born) is a relatively rare Jewish ceremony where a firstborn son is brought by his father to a high priest who ‘redeems’ the baby for five silver shekels.

Historically the firstborn son of each family was duty bound to become a priest, as stated in the Bible.

‘You shall give Me the male first-born among your children. You shall do the same with your cattle and your flocks,’ it says in Exodus 22:28.  

This was interpreted so that all firstborn animals were brought to the priests for sacrifice, while firstborn sons entered the priesthood.   

As described in the Book of Exodus, the firstborn Israelite sons were spared from the final plague brought upon the pharaoh, in which God wiped out the firstborn sons of Egypt, an event commemorated every spring at Passover.  

However, the Jewish firstborns later lost their priestly privilege when the Israelites committed idolatry when they joined in the worship of the golden calf, following the Exodus from Egypt.

As described in the Book of Exodus, the firstborn Israelite sons were spared from the final plague brought upon the pharaoh, in which God wiped out the firstborn sons of Egypt, an event commemorated every spring at Passover (pictured: Spanish 15th century, Massacre of the Firstborn and Egyptian Darkness, c. 1490, hand-colored woodcut, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Rosenwald Collection)

As described in the Book of Exodus, the firstborn Israelite sons were spared from the final plague brought upon the pharaoh, in which God wiped out the firstborn sons of Egypt, an event commemorated every spring at Passover (pictured: Spanish 15th century, Massacre of the Firstborn and Egyptian Darkness, c. 1490, hand-colored woodcut, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Rosenwald Collection)

The priesthood was then transferred to the descendants of the prophet Aaron, who did not participate.

At the same time, it was instituted that the firstborn of each family should be redeemed to a descendant of Aaron.

The ceremony is preceded by a the breaking of bread, unlike at a brit milah (circumcision ritual) or wedding where bread is broken afterwards.

The boy is dressed in finery and brought out by his father on a silver platter adorned with jewelry lent for the occasion by women in attendance.

This is to contrast with the golden calf, when gold and jewelry were used for a sinful purpose.

The ceremony is performed by a known kohen – an elite cleric who comes from the Aaronic lineage of the original Temple priesthood.

The father of the boy recites answers to ritual questions, saying that the child is the Israelite mother’s firstborn son and he has come to redeem him as commanded in the Torah.

The kohen asks the father whether he would rather have the child or the five shekels. The father replies that he prefers the boy to the money and then he says a prayer and hands over the coins.

The kohen then holds the shekels over the child and declares the redemption price has been paid and blesses him.

A feast then follows enjoyed by family and friends.

Pidyon ha-ben is reserved only for firstborn males who have been born naturally – not by caeserean section.

It must take place on the 30th day following the child’s birth.

A minyan of ten men is assembled to witness the ceremony. A minyan is also required at other Jewish religious festivities.



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Written by bourbiza

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