Jews redeem firstborn son in ancient ceremony
BEIT SHEMESH, Israel (AP) – Shortly after sunset, Yaakov Tabersky presented his eldest son on a silver platter to a Jewish priest in a ceremony reminiscent of the biblical exodus from Egypt.
The ceremony, known as the “pidyon ha-ben,” or redemption of the firstborn, took place in an ultra-Orthodox community in Beit Shemesh, near Jerusalem. Thursday night’s ceremony had added significance as the baby is the great-grandchild of Aharon Biderman, the chief rabbi of the Lelov Hasidic dynasty.
The firstborn sons were originally the priesthood of the ancient Israelites. As described in the book of Exodus, they were spared from Pharaoh’s last plague, in which God allegedly wiped out Egypt’s firstborn, an event commemorated each spring at Passover.
However, the Jewish firstborn later lost this privilege when the Israelites joined in the worship of a golden calf, after being delivered from Egypt, in defiance of the prohibition of idolatry. The priesthood was then transferred to the descendants of the prophet Aaron, who did not participate. Tradition has it that Jews redeem their firstborn sons from a kohen, a member of the priestly class descended from Aaron.
The ceremony takes place 30 days after the birth of the mother’s first son and is accompanied by a festive meal in the presence of family and friends. Participants dress in their finery and adorn the baby with jewelry to celebrate the blessing. The rite is mainly observed by the ultra-Orthodox.
The father presents the baby on a silver platter to the kohen, symbolically returning his firstborn son to God. The kohen then offers to accept five pieces of silver in place of the child, and once payment is made, the son is redeemed. The kohen then raises a glass of wine and recites a prayer.
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