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Recent Questions:

Kiddush Without Wine

I am allergic to grapes. Is there an alternative way I can make Kiddush – perhaps on a different beverage?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Yes, although Kiddush is preferably made on wine, there are acceptable back-up choices. There is an important distinction in this between the Friday night Kiddush and that of Shabbat morning, as follows.

On Friday night we recite Kiddush as a way of “remembering” Shabbat, as Exodus 20:8: “Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it.” We “remember” Shabbat by reciting Kiddush at the start of the day and Havdalah at its conclusion. Note that “Kiddush” literally means sanctification. We sanctify the day by making mention of its sanctity at its onset.

This commemoration is ideally done on wine (Talmud Pesachim 106a), which the Sages consider a means of lending importance to the declaration. If, however, wine (or grape juice) is not available, one may take an alternate food of importance. And the next most important food of the Shabbat meal is the challah (Shulchan Aruch 272:9). Here is the order of precedence:

(a) Wine (or grape juice)

(b) Challah: One first washes and then holds the two challahs in his two hands for the entire Kiddush. In Kiddush he replaces the blessing “borei pri hagefen” with “ha’motzi lechem min ha’aratez.”

(c) Chamar Medina: This literally means “the wine of the country.” It refers to any beverage which is considered important locally. There are a wide range of opinions regarding what drinks fulfill this definition. In virtually all western countries, beer and hard liquor (e.g. whiskey, scotch) definitely rate. If you are uncomfortable with those, tea or coffee are also acceptable.

(This final choice of chamar medina would not normally be relevant on Friday night – perhaps for a person who's allergic to both grapes and grain products.)

On Shabbat morning, Kiddush fulfills a different purpose. It is not to remember the Sabbath, as that is done at the start of the day. Rather, it is a means of lending importance to the Shabbat meal. This is done by beginning it with a special drink. As on Friday night, the drink which would lend the most importance to the meal is wine. But if that is not feasible, Chamar Medina may be used.

Challah, however, may not be used for this purpose. This is because simply taking the challah you were going to start your meal with anyway does not distinguish the meal in any way and lend it importance (Shu”a 272:9). (The verses we recite at the day Kiddush are just customary. The primary Kiddush is the blessing on the wine itself (see Shulchan Aruch 289:1 and Mishna Berura 2).

The order of precedence for the day Kiddush is therefore:

(a) Wine or grape juice

(b) Chamar Medina

Therefore, in your case, you should recite the Friday night Kiddush on challah, and the day Kiddush on an important drink.

In Vitro Fertilization

I’ve been married for three years and have yet to get pregnant. I’m getting on in age and don’t want motherhood to pass me by. We are considering IVF but thought it may be circumventing God's will.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

I commend you for consulting with a rabbi before moving forward.

IVF is not a problem of circumventing God's will, because it was God Himself who gave mankind the wisdom and tools to develop IVF in the first place.

Many contemporary Sages allow IVF under certain circumstances, such as when other options have been exhausted. But there are Jewish legal issues involved with IVF which can be problematic, and therefore it must be conducted under strict rabbinic supervision of the process.

(See Rabbi Nebenzahl – Assia 34, Tishrei 5743; Rabbi Ovadia Yosef – Yabia Omer EH 8:21; Rabbi E. Waldenberg – Tzitz Eliezer 15:45; Nishmat Avraham – Vol 3, p. 15)

Redeeming First Born

We have a new baby boy and I heard something about having to "buy him back from a kohen." What do I have to do – and how much is this going to cost?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Mazal Tov!

You heard right. Pidyon Haben refers to the "redemption of the first born son," and is commanded in the Torah (Numbers 18:15). The reason we perform this mitzvah is to remind us about the Exodus from Egypt and how God killed the Egyptian first born, yet spared our first born. Also, since a person loves his first born so much, it is a fitting time to re-acknowledge the fact that everything we own in fact belongs to God. (Numbers 3:13)

The background for this mitzvah is somewhat complex, but here goes:

Originally, God intended that the first-born of each Jewish family would be a kohen – i.e. that family's representative to the Holy Temple. (Exodus 13:1-2, Exodus 24:5 Rashi)

But then came the incident of the Golden Calf. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai and smashed the tablets, he issued everyone an ultimatum: "Make your choice – either God or the idol." Only the tribe of Levi came to the side of God. At that point, God decreed that each family's first-born would forfeit their "kohen" status – and henceforth all the kohanim would come from the tribe of Levi. (Numbers 3:11-12)

Thus the mitzvah of Pidyon HaBen. Since the first-born child is technically a "kohen" whose potential cannot be actualized, then he has to be replaced (so to speak) by a kohen from the tribe of Levi. This is accomplished by the father of the baby offering the kohen a redemptive value of five silver coins for the boy.

There are many factors which determine when and if to perform this mitzvah. You will need to find a rabbi well-versed in Jewish law who can guide you through this procedure.

In general, Pidyon HaBen only applies to the son who "opened his mother's womb." Therefore, all the following conditions must apply:

1) The mother is Jewish, and she has never had a baby before, male or female.

2) The baby was delivered in the normal way, not via C-section.

3) The mother had no abortions or miscarriages prior to this birth.

4) The father of the baby is not a Kohen or a Levi, and the mother's father is not a Kohen or a Levi.

If the above conditions check out, then:

1) Find a kohen with a very strong tradition in his family that he is indeed a Kohen.

2) Get five silver coins. The specific kind of silver coins depends on where you are in the world. Ask your rabbi.

3) The Pidyon Haben ceremony is held after the baby is 30 days old, on the 31st day. It does not take place on Shabbos.

4) The ceremony is held in the context of a festive meal, and basically goes like this: The father attests to the fact that this is indeed his first born son. The Kohen then asks the father: "What do you want to do, give me your first born or redeem him?" (As far as I know, the father has never chosen to give up his son!) The father then makes two blessings, and gives the coins to the Kohen. Additional blessings are said; the full text is printed in the siddur.

If your baby does not meet the conditions for having a Pidyon HaBen, don't be concerned – there is no defect in his status. In fact, only about 1-of-10 families ever meet all the conditions for Pidyon HaBen.

As far as the cost of this mitzvah, don't let it worry you. The eternal reward for following God's will is much greater than five silver coins!

By the way, if someone was supposed to have a Pidyon HaBen as a child, but never did (i.e. their parents neglected to do so), then the obligation remains – and they should contact a rabbi ASAP to perform the ceremony.

May your new son grow up to be a great source of pride to your family, to the Jewish people, and to the Almighty!