Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Redemption with a Minor Kohen

The Pischei Teshuva (Y”D 305:4) cites a Chasam Sofer who holds that one may not redeem his firstborn son by using a Kohen who is a minor. For, generally, the Kohen uses his ability to remove the obligation of redemption from the father; a minor does not have the power to accomplish this.

Reb Chaim Kanievsky proves from our Gemora (Kesuvos 102a)otherwise. The Mishna (Bechoros 51a) states: If one wrote a document to a Kohen which said, “I am obligated to you for five selaim,” he is liable to pay him five selaim, but his son is still not redeemed (one who has a firstborn son is obligated to give five selaim to a Kohen in order to redeem him; since this document is regarded as an admission to a debt, it cannot be used for the independent obligation of redeeming his firstborn; if this document is an unsigned one, and nevertheless, it is regarded as a valid and binding admission to a debt, it would be following the opinion of Rabbi Yochanan and not Rish Lakish).

The Gemora deflects the proof: This case is different because there is a Biblical obligation to the Kohen (this, in turn, strengthens the unsigned document and renders it effective even according to Rish Lakish, just as if it would be a signed document).

The Gemora explains that the son is not redeemed because of Ula’s decree. For Ula said: Biblically, his son would be redeemed when he gives the money; the Rabbis decreed that he is not redeemed because people might mistakenly say that one may redeem a firstborn son with a third-party debt document (and those are Biblically invalid for redemption; his own debt document, like in our case, would be Biblically valid, but the Rabbis were concerned that people would not understand the difference between the two types of documents).

Reb Chaim states: It is evident from the Gemora that the father did not inform the Kohen that he was giving him the document for the sake of redemption, for if he would have done so, it would not be regarded as a new obligation according to Rabbi Yochanan.

It would emerge from here that if one gave money to a Kohen without informing him of the purpose, his son would be considered redeemed. This would prove that the Kohen is not actually effecting anything; it is the father’s giving of the money that accomplishes the redemption. Therefore, one would be able to give the five selaim to a Kohen who is a minor, and his firstborn son would be redeemed.