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What is the Torah definition of "firstborn"? And who is obligated to do the redemption?

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A baby boy needs to be redeemed if he is the firstborn and he was born to Israelite parents. Let's look at what each of these means in detail.

Firstborn

The Torah's term for the firstborn is "the opener of the womb." This means that it is the mother's firstborn baby, if it is male, who is required to have a pidyon haben (redemption ceremony)—even if the father already has other children.

If a daughter is born first, then no redemption of a subsequent male child is necessary.

If the mother's first pregnancy ended in stillbirth, the subsequent child does not have a pidyon haben. If she miscarried within the first forty days of gestation, and a son is born next, he would need to have a pidyon haben. If she miscarried after the first forty days, a rabbi should be consulted whether the next child is considered "the opener of the womb."

The obligation only applies if both of the parents are IsraelitesIf the firstborn child was delivered via caesarean section, then no pidyon haben is held—not for the firstborn, and not for the next child, even if the next child was delivered naturally.

If twin boys are born, only the firstborn must be redeemed. If a boy and a girl are born, the boy must only be redeemed if he is born first.

Israelite

The obligation only applies if both of the parents are Israelites. If either the father or the mother is the child of a father who is a kohen (priest) or Levite, the pidyon haben is not required.1

If a woman converts to Judaism (even whilst pregnant) her firstborn requires a pidyon haben. If a women who has already had children converts, her first Jewish-born son does not need to be redeemed.

Who redeems the child?

The obligation to redeem the firstborn son rests upon the father. The mother has no responsibility to arrange for her son's redemption. The obligation on the father kicks in when the child reaches thirty days of age, and – in the event that the pidyon haben was not arranged in its proper time – continues until the child's bar mitzvah. Once the child has reached the age of adulthood, the mitzvah transfers to him, and he is required to redeem himself from a kohen. (A rabbi should be consulted for the exact procedure for "self-redemption.")

If the father is unavailable to redeem his son for whatever reason – e.g., he is deceased or is not Jewish – technically no one is obligated to redeem the child until his bar mitzvah, at which point the child is required to redeem himself. Nevertheless, the mother, a grandfather, or even the local Jewish community can redeem the child. (A rabbi should also be consulted in this situation, too, to advise as to the procedure of a "fatherless redemption.")

Footnotes
1.

If the father is a chalal (a descendant of Aaron who had been stripped of priestly status), or if the mother is the child of a chalal, the pidyon haben is required. If the mother is the daughter of a kohen and she has ever had sexual relations with a non-Jew, her firstborn son needs to be redeemed. This is because having a relationship with a non-Jew causes her to lose her status as the daughter of kohen. However, if the mother is a Levite who had a relationship with a non-Jew, there is no change in status and her firstborn son still does not need to have a pidyon haben.

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Chabad.org Staff via chabadone.org February 6, 2017

To Edy Firstborn is a reference to the first child to naturally come through the mother's womb. As the pidyon haben needs to be done thirty days after his birth, whether siblings are born at a later date doesn't signify. Reply

Edy Layson Australia February 4, 2017

Definition of firstborn Does firstborn imply that there are subsequent siblings in all cases? Reply

Eliezer Zalmanov for Chabad.org December 7, 2016

To Iris The son of a Levi's daughter does not have a pidyon haben. Reply

Iris Israel December 5, 2016

My daughter is expecting her first child
Her father is a Levi
Since she is a Bat Levi will her son need pidyon HaBen? Reply

Anonymous January 5, 2016

question on who? My husband and I are expecting our first child. I converted to Judaism; my mother is a non-Jew, however, my father is a kohen. My husband is an Israelite. If the baby is a boy, would he need a pidyon haben? Reply

Chabad.org Staff via mychabad.org March 5, 2013

Re Why This article is about "who", to find out why, please click on 'what &why' on the right side of the page. Reply

Ephraim Jerusalem March 5, 2013

WHY? The article explains what to do, but not why it is done. Reply

Anonymous Tucson, AZ June 1, 2012

pidyon haben A firstborn son has an israelite mother and his father converted after his birth. What is your opinion? Reply

Rabbi Zalman Nelson Tsfat, Israel January 15, 2012

To Pidjon Haben The article states: "The obligation to redeem the firstborn son rests upon the father. The mother has no responsibility to arrange for her son's redemption. The obligation on the father kicks in when the child reaches thirty days of age, and – in the event that the pidyon haben was not arranged in its proper time – continues until the child's bar mitzvah.

Thus 30 days is only when the obligation begins, not that it must be done on day 30 like bris on day 8, and even then it's the father who brings the boy for the ceremony. If the pidyon wasn't done before the bar mitzvah, the boy brings himself.

Thanks for reading and commenting! Reply

Anonymous apeldoorn, Netherlands January 9, 2012

pidjon haben according to Bamidbar 18:16 redeeming has to take place after 30 days. But in Vaykra 12:1 it says 'a woman shall be contaminated for a seven-day period'. In v 4 Hashem says for thirty-tree days she shall remain in blood of purity, and she may not enter the sanctuary. So we speak of a total of 40 days while pidjon-haben speks of
30/31 days. How is this problem handled in the old days? Reply

Gavriel brooklyn, ny August 9, 2011

The son redeems himself when he comes of age since he has no father. Reply

Anonymous Pittsburgh, PA August 8, 2011

Non Jewish Father? Does a first born male of a Jewish Israelite mother and a gentile father need a pydon haben? Reply

Gavriel brooklyn, ny August 4, 2011

In answer to Levite mother The mishnah explains that in the wilderness, G-d took the levites to work in the Beit Hamikdash under Kohanim in exchange for the first-born israelites.

So since then the levites were 'hallowed' instead of the now 'redeemed' first-borns who were actually the ones spared by the plague of the first-born in Egypt. All future first-borns must also be redeemed for money.

So it's clear based on the above that Levite men don't need to redeem their first born sons since they are hallowed.

The interesting thing is that even if the mother is a levite it exempts the son. This is harder to understand and is discussed in the Talmud. The reason given is that since it all relies on first of the womb (as opposed to first-born of inheritance which does not rely on the womb) and the womb is the mother even the mother being a levite exempts the child. Reply

Malkie Janowski for Chabad.org Coral Springs July 18, 2011

It's only the mother's firstborn that needs a pidyon haben, not the father's. The verse clarifies this by saying, "the opener of the womb." The womb, of course, is in the mother, and thus the pidyon haben is for her first child. The father (who does actually perform the redemption) states, "among my sons," because it is his child, but the criteria is still the mother's first child who opened her womb. Reply

Matityahu Philadelphia, PA July 4, 2011

pidyon haben what if a woman had her first male child through a first marriage, divorces, remarries to man who has never had children, she conceives and gives birth to the new father's firts born male? From verses in Exodus is seems like there are two distinct types of redemption-one dealing with the opener of the womb and another being the firstborn male of the father. -Exodus- And it shall be when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying: What is this? that thou shalt say unto him: By strength of hand the Hashem brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage; and it came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go that the Hashem slew all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the first-born of man, and the first-born of beast; therefore I sacrifice to the Hashem all that openeth the womb, being males; all the first-born of my sons I redeem.--It seems like the qualifier of " my sons" allows for a father to perform pidyon haben.in such a case as this. Reply

Malkie Janowski for Chabad.org Coral Springs January 11, 2011

If the father is a Levi, a pidyon haben is not performed. Reply

Sarah silver spring, md January 11, 2011

Jew-by-choice mother and Levite father When the mother of the 1st born son is a Jew-by-choice, and the father is a Levi, is pidyon haben required? Reply

kathy Roswell, NM January 10, 2011

Levite Mother The explanation given here makes clear what a pidyon haben is but does not explain why a Levite is exempt. Can anyone give a scriptural reference or other explanation? Reply

Malkie Janowski for Chabad.org Coral Springs January 7, 2011

A pidyon haben is performed for "the opener of the womb." It's contingent on the mother, not the father. Since the Levites are not obligated to redeem their firstborn sons, and the mother is a Levite, her child does not require a redemption. Reply

Anonymous roswell, NM January 5, 2011

Levite Mother Please explain why being a Levite excuses the mother from having a pidyon haben for her first born son. Reply

Pidyon Haben: We are commanded to “redeem” firstborn sons after they reach 30 days of age. What is the significance of this rite, and how is it done?
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