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Shabbat Parashat Acharei Mot Kedoshim 5773

Ask the Rabbi: Staging a Fake Pidyon Haben

by Rav Daniel Mann

Question: I often serve as the kohen for pidyon haben. A friend told me he was a kohen at a fake pidyon haben: the mother had previously miscarried, and they were embarrassed to tell, so they faked the pidyon. If such a situation arises, what should I do?

 

Answer: Poskim (see Yabia Omer, VIII, Yoreh Deah 32; B’er Moshe VIII:237) discuss the case of a woman who had been pregnant before marriage. Her husband did not know, so he assumed their firstborn boy required a pidyon haben. Could she allow him to do so, including two berachot l’vatala, to save embarrassment and possible repercussions to the marriage? The consensus is that considerations of k’vod hab’riyot (preserving human dignity- see Berachot 19b) allow her not to tell.

One factor of leniency is that most Rishonim hold that a beracha l’vatala is only a rabbinic prohibition (see Tosafot, Rosh Hashana 33a; Mishna Berura 215:20), and k’vod hab’riyot overcomes rabbinic laws (Berachot 19b). (The content of most berachot, e.g., Hashem commanded us, generally, in the mitzva of pidyon haben, is always true and positive.)  Also, the wife just did not stop her husband from making a mistake, and the Rosh (Kilaei Begadim 6) says that in such cases, k’vod hab’riyot supersedes even a Torah law.

This case is worse in a few ways. First, the father knowingly is making a non-mandated beracha. Granted, he can make Shehecheyanu over new clothing and mumble the beginning of the main beracha and not utter Hashem’s Names. Still, there is a problem that those assembled will answer Amen to what is not a valid beracha, which is forbidden (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 215:4 and a parallel case of answering a non-beracha in Minchat Shlomo I:9). One cannot invoke the aforementioned Rosh because the father is presenting a “beracha” to which it is forbidden to respond. This ostensibly violates the Torah-level prohibition of lifnei iver – facilitating a person’s act of sin, certainly when one consciously causes others to do so unknowingly (see Dagul Meirevava to Shach, YD 151:6).

Yet there still may be grounds for leniency. It is forbidden to daven when one has to use the facilities, and if the need is acute, his tefillot and berachot are invalid (Shulchan Aruch, OC 92:1). Yet, the Biur Halacha (ad loc.) says that a chazan in that situation who will be very embarrassed to walk out in the middle may continue davening. Here one knowingly makes improper berachot to which people will answer Amen, and it is permitted due to k’vod hab’riyot. On the other hand, that case may be better, as the berachot are intrinsically valid, just that there is a side violation due to his physical state, one which k’vod haberiyot can lift. Here, the nonsensical nature of the beracha should make the amen problematic.

There are further reasons for leniency. According to some, Amen l’vatala is not nearly as severe as a beracha l’vatala (see Pri Megadin 215, Eshel Avraham 1.) Perhaps more fundamentally, saying Amen is not intrinsically problematic and much depends on context. Possibly, if from the perspective of the person who is saying it, there is every reason to believe the beracha was appropriate, then the responder did nothing wrong even if it was not a good beracha, (see Yabia Omer ibid. who cites those who use this logic even regarding a beracha). Additionally, a “non-beracha” that people considered a beracha may be better than a beracha l’vatala (see similar matter in Yechaveh Da’at II:68). Finally, since the exact parameters of lifnei iver are elusive, setting up such a situation may not be forbidden.

Nevertheless, it pays to encourage people not to make a fake pidyon haben when not necessary. Not always is the fact that a few close friends and relatives find out about a miscarriage as embarrassing as it seems. Furthermore, one can say the delivery was caesarian, which exempts from a pidyon haben (Yoreh Deah 305:24), or that the delivery was with forceps, which calls for a pidyon without berachot (Otzar Pidyon Haben 1:16). However, every case and every person are unique.

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