Pidyon haben is a ceremony
that recognizes the first born male child (to be specific,
the first born male child that was born naturally).
The ceremony arose due to the special status of the
firstborn in biblical society. Traditionally, the firstborn
of Israel were supposed to be dedicated to God (Exodus
13:1-2), and expected to perform religious services
for the priests (Kohanim). According to the biblical command,
they could be redeemed with five shekels. This redemption
is the purpose of pidyon haben.
A pidyon haben is required on the
30th day after the birth of a first born male child.
Today, the child is typically released from his obligations
by the payment of five dollars in coins.
If the father is a Levite or a Kohen,
(making the child a Levi or a Kohen) the pidyon haben does not apply (logically, since the father could wind
up paying himself). If the mother is the daughter of
a Levite or a Kohen the child is exempt.
Pidyon haben is observed in traditional
communities, and in the conservative community. It tends
not to be observed by Reform Jews.