Pidyon HaBen is a Jewish ritual associated with the birth of a baby boy. It literally means "redemption of the firstborn" and comes from the ancient custom of dedicating a firstborn son to the service of God in the Temple.
During the ritual, which took place thirty-one days after the child was born, the father would pay a priest (Kohen) five silver shekels so that the child would be released from the obligation to serve in the temple. Today parents who observe this custom will use five silver dollars to symbolically pay a descendant of the Kohanim (plural of Kohen). The payment is symbolic because the Temple is no longer standing and hence, there are no priests to run it.
The practice of Pidyon HaBen is referenced in Exodus 13:2. Here the text reminds us how God spared the firstborn of Israel, and killed the firstborn of Egypt, during the last of the 10 Plagues. In remembrance of this fact, God declares that firstborn sons belong to God: "Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine."
Who Is Firstborn?
Although it seems like "firstborn" would simply refer to the first son born to a couple, there are specific qualities that would qualify a baby for service in the temple. Thus, Pidyon HaBen is only necessary if the following four things apply to the baby:
- He is the first child born to his mother.
- His parents are neither Kohanim or Levites.
- He was born naturally (vaginally), not through a C-section.
- His mother has never had a miscarriage more than 40 days into a pregnancy