When we talk about "redeeming" a first-born son or a captive, we use "pidyon" (root פדה). When we talk about what God does for us we use "goel" (גאל). My dictionary translates both of these roots as "redeem" with no further differences. Are they synonyms (with customary usages) or is there some deeper difference between them?

  • Re "When we talk about what God does for us we use "goel" (גאל)": Note that we also refer to Him as פדהing (as in Jer. 31:10).
    – msh210
    Nov 7, 2011 at 21:48

3 Answers 3


Malbim (to Ps. 69:19) draws the following distinction:

גאל means to redeem someone or something because of your relationship. (The cases in Lev. 25 where a person has to sell his property, or even himself into slavery, and is "redeemed" by himself or a close relative, are all described with this root.)

פדה means to redeem someone or something because of its intrinsic value.

  • 4
    Malbim is a good source for distinguishing apparent synonyms generally.
    – msh210
    Nov 7, 2011 at 21:52
  • 1
    There's also a three-volume work called Beur Shemos Hanirdafim ("Explanation of Synonymous Terms"), by Rabbi S.A. Wertheimer (available on Hebrewbooks: vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3). I haven't found anything about גאל vs. פדה there, though.
    – Alex
    Nov 8, 2011 at 2:34

These definitions are taken from Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, compiled by Rabbi Matityahu Clark, based on the teachings of Rabbi Shamshon Raphael Hirsch. (Feldheim, 1999)

גאל means "release" or "purge;" more specifically, to (1) "redeem from existing danger," [Shemot 6:6, Bereishit 48:16] (2) to "ransom," [Bamidbar 35:12] (3) "pollution requiring cleansing," [Yeshayahu 59:3] or (4) "redeemer" [Vayikra 25:25, Bamidbar 5:8].
Cognate meanings of the word include "activate/deactivate," as seen several related words.

פדה, on the other hand, means to "liberate; extract from control." More specifically, (1) "redeeming" [Shemot 21:8, Bereishit 9:27] or (2) "deliverance" [Shemot 8:19].
One cognate meaning of the word is given: to "react to externals."

The difference then, I suppose, would be that גאל is used to mean "saving," where there is some existing negative force (danger, pollution, etc); whereas פדה is used in cases where a party is saved from another's control.

  • What do you mean by "cognate meanings"? Are those Arabic/Aramaic/etc or within Hebrew? Jan 8, 2015 at 17:56
  • 1
    That's what the dictionary calls them -- there's a few for every entry. I'm pretty sure it means "within Hebrew."
    – MTL
    Jan 8, 2015 at 18:01

Just a thought. Generally when you "pode" (the action of pidyon) it includes a transaction e.g.money. Like in pidyon shevuim (captives) or the first born. Goel seems not to require such a transaction and is a one sided act.

  • Interesting. What led me to this question was Avram's rescue of Lot, which seems like a case of pidyon shivuim, but that was not a transaction. So I wonder if it's incorrect to characterize that event that way? Nov 8, 2011 at 4:10
  • I think that what he did is more a rescue. We don't find any evidence that there was any negotiations on the matter which is part of the Pidyon. BTW even on the Pidyon of the first born the Cohen asks the father if he is sure he wants the son. Now I realize that this may be a kind of "negotiation".
    – rony
    Nov 8, 2011 at 5:04
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    I don't know if this is accurate. We have גאלה תהיה לארץ referring to buying back the land, and פלוני is called the גואל for buying back Elimelech's land.
    – Double AA
    Aug 20, 2014 at 14:50

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