The Pidyon Haben: a Little explanation on this Jewish tradition

The Pidyon Haben: a Little explanation on this Jewish tradition

As we all know the Jewish traditions are very common and well known by everybody. The number of these traditions is hard to calculate and some of them are still happening and some of them have disappeared.

Today we are going to talk about a tradition that is done to new-borns on the 31st day after they are born. It is called the Pidyon Haben which means “redemption of the firstborn son”.

Exactly, the Pidyon haben is a ceremony where the father of a firstborn male redeems and offers 5 silver coins to a priest that is descendent of Aaron in the day number 31st  after the baby is born. The reason for this procedure is that the Jewish firstborn are the ones that were sanctified to be priests and to be part of the priest world.  The first born were taken into god´s world when their lives were pardoned at the time when there was a plague in Egypt. After some while, the firstborn rejected their status by committing a sin and the priesthood was transferred to another tribe, specifically the Levites, the children of Aaron.

So, god is the first born and the first being in the world so it is logic that the first babies are attached to him forever. It is a particular ceremony that still goes on today and in Israel, every first born has to redeem himself with a kohen through a pidyon haben ceremony.

One of the reasons for this ceremony is that this reminds people that all the things that can be found in this world belong only to god. Our first born also belongs to god and the ceremony represents that “purchase” that we make from god to have him and use him in our world and make him a disciple of god´s teachings.

There are some Biblical Sources to support such ceremony.  In the Exodus from Egypt, Moses talked about this commandment:  that every firstborn will be redeemed. And if the son one day asks why is this ceremony happening? The father shall say that god was fierce to take the Jewish people out of Egypt and out of the hands of the oppressors. And it came the time when god had to slew all the firstborn in Egypt.

Remember the Golden Calf test where everybody adored the golden calf? Well, most of the people and including many Jews sinned with the Golden Calf and at that moment their status was transferred to the people that did not adore the golden calf. God commanded that the  Levites were taken and not the firstborns of Israel and that each person had to pay 5 shekels per head. And this is how the commandment to redeem the firstborn was born.

Image courtesy of mulan at

There is a dilemma. Why only the firstborn which are males have to be redeemed and not the females?  At that time all the people was spiritually in the hands of Egypt and everybody was combined as one, in a way of speaking. When the plague arrived both male and female firstborns that were native Egyptians died, but as for the rest of the population, only the firstborns had the risk of dying so males where the only ones that were spared.

Also, Jewish women were not similar to Egyptian women and they were spared from the plague because all the righteous women were spared. So, that fact was not as impressive as the fact that the male firstborn were spared thus it is not commemorated.

Another reason to not redeem females is that this traditional ceremony has to do with the jobs that a male would perform at the temple. The coins are given to the kohen and he is in charge of doing everything that the male was supposed to do at the temple and that was taken from him when he committed the sin with the golden calf. Women do not serve at the temple anyway so there is no need to be redeemed.

It is the father´s obligation to redeem the firstborn and the mother has nothing to do with such ceremony.  The father has to take action when the 30th day arrives and if it is not possible to have the pidyon haben in the timetable that it is supposed to be, the responsibility continues until the son´s bar mitzvah. As soon as the child becomes a grown up, he can do a Self-redemption by going to a kohen. Another case is when the father is not Jewish or is not present. In that case, the mother, a relative or even the Jewish community around the child can take the child to the Kohen and a Fatherless Redemption should take place.

Be sure to also read this very interesting post about the branches of Judaism

* Featured Image courtesy of Dr. Wendy Longo at