Giving Pidyon Ha-Ben to a Woman or Minor
The Weekly Mitzva
Yeshivat Har Etzion
Giving Pidyon Ha-Ben to a Woman or Minor
By Rav Binyamin Tabory
Earlier in Chumash, in Parashat Bo, the Torah (Shemot 13:13) mentioned in general terms the mitzva of pidyon ha-ben, the obligation to "redeem" one's firstborn son: "you must redeem every bekhor" (oldest son). However, the specific details of this mitzva are not presented until the book of Bamidbar. We are instructed in our parasha to give the money to Aharon and his sons (Bamidbar 3:48), and in Parashat Korach we are told that the obligation is to give five shekalim when the son is one month old (ibid. 18:16).
Inasmuch as there are also other sections in the Torah which relate to this mitzva, it is interesting to note which verses the Rishonim cite in their listing of the mitzvot as the source of this mitzva. The Sefer Yere'im (140) writes that the mitzva is to fulfill the Torah's command in Parashat Korach. He apparently felt that the section of pidyon ha-ben in our parasha deals only with the mitzva's performance in the desert. The eternally binding mitzva, however, is expressed most clearly in Korach. In his Sefer Ha-Mitzvot (mitzvat asei 80), the Rambam cites the Torah's general statement in Parashat Mishpatim (Shemot 22), but adds that the details of this mitzva were stated in Korach. Elsewhere, however, in Hilkhot Bikkurim (1:10), the Rambam cites our parasha as the halakhic source regarding the details of pidyon ha-ben. He writes: "The pidyon ha-ben is to be given to male kohanim, as it says (in our parasha), 'You should give the money to Aharon and his sons.'" The Yere'im did not cite this verse, which requires giving the pidyon ha-ben money specifically to male kohanim, perhaps indicating that in his view, pidyon ha-ben may be given to a female kohenet, just as other priestly gifts such as teruma may be given to females.
While the opinion of the Yere'im is open to speculation, we find two explicit opinions of Tosafot regarding this issue. The gemara tells that Rav Kahana accepted a turban as payment for pidyon ha-ben (Kiddushin 8a). Tosafot note that Rav Kahana was not a kohen but was married to a kohenet. How, then, did he receive the turban as pidyon ha-ben? One answer suggested by Tosafot is that there were two different people named Rav Kahana, and the Rav who received the turban was indeed a kohen. But Tosafot then suggest a different answer, namely, that Rav Kahana acted as an agent for his wife, who was a kohenet, and received the turban on her behalf. This explanation is based on two novel assumptions: that a kohenet can accept pidyon ha-ben, and that she may even appoint a shaliach (agent) to receive it on her behalf.
The Chatam Sofer was once "accused" of allowing a kohenet to receive pidyon ha-ben, but he denied ever doing so. He said that he had merely mentioned in casual conversation the theoretical possibility of conducting a pidyon ha-ben without a male kohen, but then rejected such a notion. Inasmuch as the husband who is not a kohen enjoys rights to his wife's monetary assets (kinyan peirot), giving pidyon ha-ben to his wife would, presumably, deprive the clan of kohanim of money rightfully owed to them.
Despite this objection and other reservations, the Chatam Sofer ruled (responsa, Y.D. 301) that if no kohen is readily available, one may give the pidyon to a kohenet. However, since there is an opinion (Rambam and others) that a kohenet may not receive the pidyon, this should be done without a berakha. And when the opportunity arises at some later to give the money to a kohen, the father should repeat the ceremony with a kohen.
Optimally, a father is obligated to give the pidyon to a kohen who can trace his lineage all the way to Aharon Ha-Kohen. Since today most kohanim cannot do so, we rely on the presumption that people recognized as kohanim are indeed kohanim (kohanei chazaka). The Chatan Sofer, a grandson of the Chatam Sofer, recommended giving the pidyon to a kohen who is married to a kohenet. This would increase the probability of having a proper recipient, as it could either be the kohen or the kohenet (Responsa Chatan Sofer 25).
According to the Rambam (op cit.), the pidyon must be given to "Aharon and his sons." Does this refer specifically to benei mitzva? May we give the pidyon to a minor? The Peri Chadash pointed out that the gemara implies that other priestly gifts may be given to minors. The gemara in Masekhet Yevamot (99b) comments that one should not allot teruma from the granary to a katan. Rashi explained that it is inappropriate to treat teruma so casually in a public place; proper respect would entail giving it more formally to an adult. Seemingly, according to strict Halakha, a katan may receive teruma if it is done in a respectful manner, and so perhaps a katan may receive pidyon ha-ben, as well. However, the Peri Chadash himself pointed out that there are some halakhic complications involved in a katan's performance of a kinyan (formal act of acquisition). This engendered a long halakhic debate regarding the kinyan of a katan in general (R. Akiva Eger Shulchan Arukh Y.D. 305 cited the Peri Chadash; the Ketzot and Netivot et al debate these points in Choshen Mishpat 343). The Chatam Sofer, however, felt that the entire problem may not be relevant. The Torah merely told us to "place" (ve-natan) the pidyon in the kohen's hands, perhaps referring simply to the physical act of placing, rather than a formal kinyan (Chatam Sofer Shulchan Arukh Y.D. 292). This brings to mind the opinion of the Ketzot (200:5) that a "get" (divorce document) must merely be placed in the woman's hands, and need not be legally acquired by the woman, since regarding "get," too, the Torah says "ve-natan."
What remains for us to determine is the extent of the kohen's involvement in the mitzva. If we view the kohen as playing an active role in the process of pidyon, beyond simply receiving the money, and he must be "motzi" (fulfill the halakhic obligation for) the child, then clearly we would not allow giving the pidyon to a katan. The Chatam Sofer pointed out that the various statements made by the kohen during the pidyon ceremony (although they are not found in the gemara at all, and were enacted by the Geonim) imply that the kohen has an active role in the pidyon, which therefore may not be done by a katan.
Moreover, there is a general principle that requires performing this mitzva in as dignified a manner as possible. One should try to find a kohen who is a talmid chakham (Mahari Assad, responsum 55), and one should stand as a sign of respect towards the kohen, who should be seated during the ceremony (Yam Shel Shelomo, Kiddushin 1:54). It would thus seem more appropriate to have an adult involved in this mitzva (Arukh HaShulchan 305:12). If it is impossible to find an adult, it seems preferable to perform the mitzva on time with a kohen katan.