A woman I know mentioned that she is redeeming her firstborn son. This got me thinking. A Pidyon HaBen is mandated for the first male child to "open" the mother's womb. But whose Mitzvah is it?

The Pasuk is in the masculine. Does that mean it is the father's obligation? Do both parents share the obligation? EDIT (NEW SUB-QUESTION): Can the mother fulfill it if it's the father's responsibility?

There is a famous story that a famous rabbi (the GR"A, perhaps?) would, whenever he made the acquaintance of a Kohen, ask immediately for the opportunity to perform a Pidyon for himself (because of a safek that he felt existed in every Kohen's lineage).

Assuming the Safek was strong enough that the rabbi had reason to fear that his previous Pidyon(im) did not fulfill the Mitzvah, was it his responsibility to seek out more Kohanim to try again, or was that the sole responsibility of his father (or parents) to be fulfilled when he was a minor?


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The Talmud (Kiddushin 29a) derives that the obligation to redeem lies solely on the father, and then the son himself if the father did not redeem him.

The Shulchan Aruch rules this way in YD 305:1 and 305:15 and explicitly excludes the mother in 305:2. I don't know of anyone who debates these rulings.

In terms of your story, I have heard a similar story about the Gr"a. This position though is not generally practiced, and we usually assume that our kohanim are good enough. Additionally, there is a rule of 'HaMotzi MeiChaveiro Alav HaRaayah' -- someone who wants to take money from his friend must bring the proof. So here, once the pidyon has been done once (by father or son once he is a bar mitzva) then every future kohen would have to prove it invalid before claiming money for himself. The position of the Gr"a seems to be a personal stringency at best.

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    There's actually some discussion in later commentaries whether it's truly the father's commandment regardless, or the son's but he can't do his own because he's a minor. If pidyon haben wasn't done and the son is now an adult, commentaries would differ whether it's best for father or son to do it (but either would suffice). I've seen a book with the text for a son to do his own, listing the (unfortunate) most-common case this occurred: "my father died and was unable to perform the mitzvah, so I'll do it myself now." Kohen replies" "what do you prefer, your 5 shekels or your own body?"
    – Shalom
    Feb 7, 2012 at 8:32
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    FTR: I have attended the Pidyon HaBen of a Jewish man, a Baal Tshuvah, whose non-religious parents never redeemed him. He redeemed himself. Some slight grammatical changes to the service were made, to reflect the first-person status.
    – user1095
    Feb 7, 2012 at 11:40
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    @SethJ, I would guess that the mother can do it on the father's behalf, via the doctrines of "ishto kegufo" and "zakin le-adam shelo befanav".
    – Isaac Moses
    Feb 7, 2012 at 16:09
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    @IsaacMoses What if she's not Ishto (death, divorce, etc.)? In other words, she'd be doing it as the sole parent. Does the responsibility transfer to her? Does it hold until the child grows up? Does responsibility transfer to another relative?
    – Seth J
    Feb 7, 2012 at 16:16
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    @SethJ Aside from IsaacMoses's suggestion, I have never seen anyone give the mother special status in this regard. There is some discussion what to do if the father dies before the child is 30 days old. The Rema I quoted above (305:15) mentions that we give him a silver necklace that says bechor on it so he knows to redeem himself upon maturity. Some achronim discuss if a Beit Din can redeem the child on the child's behalf through the principle of Zachin leAdam sheLo beFanav (benefiting someone else without their permission), but no one seems to suggest the mother do it.
    – Double AA
    Feb 7, 2012 at 17:16

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