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Secular Israelis are expressing increasing interest in the pidyon haben (redemption of the firstborn son) religious ritual, according to Tzohar, an organization of Religious Zionist rabbis. The group, which is known among secular Israelis for its marriage ceremonies in which couples work with a rabbi to prepare a ceremony which is meaningful to them, is now working to respond to that interest.
The group held a conference in Jerusalem on Sunday in an attempt to provide people with the answers to crucial questions concerning the practice.
The ritual concerns the laws of redemption of an eldest son born by natural means, not by Caesarean section or following an abortion. During the ceremony, which is performed on the 31st day after the birth of the child and accompanied by a festive meal, the father redeems the child from a known kohen(member of the priestly class) who represents an original Temple priest.
The transaction is completed using the sum of five silver shekels or the equivalent in the country's currency. The silver shekels are bought nowadays from special stores who produce them for NIS 400-500. The procedure is not performed when the father is a kohen or Levite himself, or when the mother is the daughter of one.
The conference dealt with issues such as how to identify a firstborn according to halacha (Jewish law), who is a kohen or Levite nowadays, and how to perform the ceremony.
Hagai Gross, Tzohar's chief executive, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that during the last few years the group has performed more than 10,000 marriage ceremonies among secular Israeli couples. According to Gross, as these young families mature, Tzohar is a natural place to turn for questions of a religious nature.
"These couples are becoming a young community and they turn to us whenever they have questions concerning religion, customs and traditions. In the last two, three years there has been great interest in the pidyon haben ritual, which is interesting because this commandment is not very familiar to most people and many see it as folklore as opposed to, for example, the circumcision ritual," Gross said.