Sunday, August 12, 2007

Has anyone ever done this?

In a moment of boredom in shul, I was looking at the text of the Pidyon Haben ceremony (in a Birnbaum Ashkenazic siddur, it's about the same in the Artscroll).

The kohen says:
מאי בעית טפי -- ליתן לי בנך בכורך שהוא פטר רחם לאמו? או בעית לפדותו בעד חמש סלעים? כדמחויבתא דאורייתא
What would you like to do: do you choose to give me your firstborn son who opened the womb of his mother? or do you choose to redeem him for five selaim? as you are required from the Torah.

According to the standard text, the father answers:
חפץ אני לפדות את בני והילך דמי פדיונו כדמחויבתי דאורייתא
I choose to redeem my son, and here is the worth of his redemption that is required of me by the Torah.

But, what if he answers:
חפץ אני ליתן לך את בני והילך בני כדמחויבתי דאורייתא
I choose to give you my son, and here is the my son as required of me by the Torah.

Textual note: I punctuated the kohen's question differently from the siddurim. They put the question mark after כדמחויבתא דאורייתא. I put it before, because both are options available from the Torah, implying that the first option is not in compliance with Torah law.

Note for those who question my sanity: For reasons known to people who know me (or, perhaps to people who pay attention to my blog and comments in other places), I can guarantee you that I will never have the opportunity to actually try it. :-)

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The one time I did a pidyon haben, I was afraid I would end up with a cute newborn to take care of. But fortunately the parents were Sephardi, and their nusach does not have this question. On the other hand, it does include asking the mother to make sure she hasn't had any previous children or miscarriages, which is a more sensible question to ask.

The halacha, clearly, is that if the father refuses to pay the five selaim, he is still responsible for supporting his son, and for redeeming him at a later date.

The nusach for pidyon haben was one of the latest things in our liturgy to crystallize. There are still original brachot (!) being written for pidyon haben in 10th century Ashkenaz.

Artscroll quotes a shu"t that is troubled by this, and writes that we ask the question in order to make the father love his son more... But it would be very interesting to see how this developed historically.

Shabbat shalom.
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^Deleted comment spam. Note to the repeat offending spammer: posting ads for your blog as comments to unrelated posts is not considered acceptable behavior in the blogosphere.
reminds me of how some people like to respond "no!" or "nuh-uh" (for those less inclined to break the silence) when the person about to make motzi’ introduces the berakha with "birshut"

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