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Redemption Costs

We recently discussed the halacha that for a positive commandment one is only obligated to spend up to a fifth of his funds. We pointed out that the mitzva of having chidren is an exception to the rule and explained why.

There is another exception to this rule. The gemara in kiddushin [29] teaches that one must spend every last penny in order to give the kohen money [five selaim] for pidyon haben [redeeming the first born son]. Why? Shouldn't we be obligated to redeem our son only if it will cost us up to one fifth of our funds but no more. Why must we spend everything we have?

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Surely pidyon haben is not a chiyuv. The parents do not have to redeem the son, they can leave him as the property of the Kohen. Therefore, they do not, in fact, have to pay anything. If however they choose to redeem their son, they must pay the full amount required.

According to the Chazon Ish, it's because the amount for pidyon haben is explicitly stated in the Torah (the Chofetz Chayim holds that it is subject to the one-fifth limit).

Gidon -
The Rishonim and Acharonim are very adamant that despite the language of "mai ba'is t'fei", the father has no choice in the matter. Nor is it literal that the son actually belongs to the kohein or, alternatively, to the sheivet as a collective. The fact that the language of the takkanas Gaonim is misleading is why many Rishonim rejected it. (Vide Tur/Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deiah 305ff.)

Ezra -
There are many amounts that the Torah mentions explicitly. Would one, for example, be mechuyyav in the chatzi shekel if it was more than 20% of one's total assets? I just don't know.

The more one sees pidyon haben as a chov (a la GR"A) the more a sense of urgency exists in paying it. The fact that there are shi'abudim, that the chov may continue after death, etc., all point to the fact that pidyon haben is mostly characterized as a chiyuv mammoni, or that it is also a chiyuv mammoni in addition to its other aspects.

Thanks R' Hillel R' Ezra and R' Gidon

Tyere Will - I have said it before and I will say it again. You are an ilui.

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  • I'm Rabbi Ally Ehrman
  • From Old City Jerusalem, Israel
  • I am a Rebbe in Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh.
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