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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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Question 21.1.11:
Entering the Covenant: When is a pidyon haben required?

Answer:

A pidyon haben is required on the 31st (although check with your Rabbi, for one source says 30th) day after the birth of a first born male child. This child must be an "opener of the womb". That is, a male child born naturally (not a caesarian) and not preceded in any way by another child.

Note that if the father is a Levite or a kohen, (making the child a Levi or a kohen) the pidyon haben does not apply (logically since the father could wind up paying himself). If the mother is the daughter of a Levi or a kohen the child is exempt.

With respect to C Sections: The implication of the verse regarding Pidyon Haben, from a straight translation of the words, is that a boy born by C section would not require a pidyon. Just as a first daugher wouldn't, a child born after a miscarriage, etc. All that said, it's only the actual pidyon ritual that isn't done when the child is born by C section. Pidyon is a "buying back" of the firstborn son from sacred service. In human history, from Cain until Aaron, firstborn sons were drafted to perform sacrifices and Temple worship. (It was Abel's success at offering a sacrifice when the "priest" failed that got Cain's ire.) That changed with the golden calf, when the Torah shifts us to more of a caste-based priesthood from the descendents of Levi, the tribe that refused to succumb to the call of the idol. And from Aaron—a man caught up in the maelstrom, forced by the cult's leaders to perform the actual manufacture of the calf and immediately saught atonement for accepting this role rather than accepting martydom. We therefore redeem the child who otherwise would have served from those who were handed their job. And, for this reason, the child of a Levite or Kohein would not be redeemed in a pidyon haben either. He did not lose his calling.

Pidyon is performed after 30 days, because children who die within 30 days of birth are thought of as being born unviable, and have the laws of stillbirth (no mourning, etc.).


The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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