This week, Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet tackles egg matzah, seder songs and “baby redemption”.

Read Rabbi Schochet’s blog at shul.co.uk/rabbi or follow him on Twitter @RabbiYYS.[divider]

  • Redemption for my grandson?
Rabbi Schochet

Rabbi Schochet

Dear Rabbi

My son is celebrating the arrival of his first baby – a boy! We have had the bris which was lovely, but now we’ve been told do something called “baby redemption”.

What is this all about? I’m guessing a scam conjured up by kosher caterers! My parents did not do this for me.

John

Dear John

Mazeltov! I’m glad the bris was lovely, although I wonder what the baby would say about it.

“Baby redemption”, otherwise known as a pidyon haben, takes its source from the Torah (Number 18:16). The father of the firstborn male redeems his son by giving five silver coins to a Kohen 30 days after the birth.

It’s particularly timely that you ask the question because the reason for this Divine instruction is that originally the Jewish firstborn were the sanctified priestly class who were inducted into God’s service when they were spared from the Plague of the Firstborn that struck Egypt.

However, when the Jews – firstborn included – served the Golden Calf, the firstborn forfeited their status. The priesthood was transferred to the tribe that did not participate in the Golden Calf hoopla – the Levites, and particularly the children of Aaron.

The underlying theme for this ritual is that when we consecrate our very first and very best, we are reminded that everything really belongs to our Creator, and that therefore we must “purchase” it from Him before using it. The timing for this ceremony is on the 31st day after the boy’s birth. Both the day of birth and the day of the pidyon haben are included in the 31 days.

Although the obligation technically begins at nightfall following day 30, the custom of Ashkenazic Jews is to hold the pidyon haben in the afternoon of the 31st day. For the record, the obligation remains incumbent upon the father until the boy’s barmitzvah. After that, the boy is obligated to “redeem” himself. The caterer will make his money, one way or another.

If you are a firstborn and never had a pidyon haben you could and should still do one (and no, the Kohen cannot do a two-for-the-price-of-one deal). The same goes for anyone else reading this.

  • Seder song gets my goat!

Dear Rabbi

Can you explain why we sing a song at the end of the seder about a father buying a goat?

My sister and her family sing it with great fervour. I refuse to get dragged into such childishness.

Ronald

Dear Ronald

This song is no mere Dr Seuss nursery rhyme. It is a song of great significance, that has been preserved for centuries. It tells the Jewish story.

One observation: the kid is minding its own business. Along comes the cat and attacks, so the dog that bites the cat is defending the kid, making him a good guy.

Therefore, the stick that hits the dog is bad, which makes the fire good; the water that extinguishes the fire bad, the cow that drinks the water good, while the slaughterer who kills the cow is bad – making the angel of death who takes the life of the slaughter good. That then means God, who terminates the angel of death, is on the wrong side of the law!

How do we explain this? The answer is simple yet profound. The goat and the cat are having a fight. Maybe they’ll make peace, maybe they won’t. But the dog asks you to make a judgment call and mix into the fight!

Mr Kerry, the UN et al, are you getting involved because you are sensitive to the plight of the goat or because you are looking for a good fight and a good bite?

It doesn’t matter what is going on in Syria or Ukraine. Let’s condemn Israel! In Rwanda, 800,000 people were butchered; we had Darfur where another 400,000 were killed.

But let’s condemn Israel! Thousands of rockets fired on Israel but when we respond, let’s condemn Israel! The dog is guilty which in turn reverses the order, making God good. For all their pretentious moral indignation, God sees through it all, and He will enable us to prevail amid the hostility.

What better way to finish your seder?

  • Uncle marv’s egg matzah

Dear Rabbi

My uncle Marv turned up to our seder with his egg matzah because he said he’s fed up breaking his teeth and torturing his stomach on our hand-baked. Of course others at the table objected and told him it was not allowed – kicking off a whole debate, especially as it says on the box ‘Kosher for Passover’.

What’s the deal with egg matzah?

Ricky

Dear Ricky

The Torah refers to matzah as lechem oni – “poor man’s bread”, so the matzah used at the seder should be made of only flour and water. Egg matzah is made from egg or fruit juice and flour which is why it tastes so much nicer and is less of a gastronomic ordeal – but is then by definition “rich bread.”

An exception could be made for the elderly or unwell, who are allowed to eat egg matzah certified kosher for Passover.

So if your uncle forgot his false teeth, there may be scope for leniency.

• Read Rabbi Schochet’s blog at shul.co.uk/rabbi or follow him on Twitter at @RabbiYYS