Jun 11, 1997 - 12:02 -
I have a question:
Thanks for your question, Ruth. The ceremony is called Pid-yon ha-Ben (The Redemption of the [First-Born] Son). You may hear Yiddish-speakers say it like this: "pid-na-ben". It is done at the end of thirty days because thirty days is the age of viability for newborns.
This ritual is done in memory of the Egyptian first-born sons slain during the last plague of the Exodus, and also reflects that the life-long special responsibilities originally required of first-born sons have been transferred (since shortly after the Exodus) to the Levites. A Pid-yon ha-Ben is only done if both your husband and your father are a Yis-ra-eil. If either are a Ko-hein or Lei-vi you don't do it.
During the ceremony, five silver coins are given to a ko-hein. In modern times, ko-ha-nim generally give the money to charity. (A coin shop can sell you common silver dollars that are worth no more than their bullion value.) The ritual is usually done at home and is short and simple, and it is nice to accompany it with a festive kosher meal. The text of the Pid-yon ha-Ben can be found in the back of the Siddur (prayerbook).
Your wish to add some ritual to your home life is a traditional Jewish instinct, and people often grow in this way when they marry, and again when they have children. The family is the traditional Jewish institution for religious expression, education, performance of ritual, and sanctification of life's events. The practice of traditional Judaism is centered around the home. The home is the Temple, the parents are the priests, and the dining table is the altar. Eating (and just about everything else a Jew does) is transformed into a holy act, augmented by rituals and related to fundamental values. The core practices that traditionally define Jewishness are all home-centered.
This meritorious instinct to add some ritual practices to life stems from the soul's yearning to cleave to God. Holiness, and the demands of the soul, are often more directly experienced by women (who are more God-like to begin with) than by men, and traditional Judaism places most of the responsibility for the sanctity of the home upon the wife. The core rituals of traditional Jewish lifestyle (Shabbat, Kashrut, and Taharah Mishpacha) are for the most part under the control of the woman.
For people who have neve r tried any home practices before, "The Shabbat Seder" and "The Passover Seder", both by Dr. Ron Wolfson, are warm friendly introductions to the home celebrations for the Sabbath and Passover. And "The NCSY Bencher" has transliterations of all the most popular Sabbath songs for singing around the table. But the best way to become comfortable is to seek invitations to the Shabbat tables of families that do things you'd like to learn. Your local rabbi can help you do this.
You may also wish your home to have some books to enable appreciation of the weekly Torah portion. The best starter set for Torah study in English is "Studies in Torah" by Nechama Leibowitz. (About $110 for the complete 7-volume set.) Books by Aryeh Kaplan and Abraham Twerski, are also fairly accessible for all readers regardless of background.
One of the most effective ways to grow Jewishly is through Jewish eating. There are zillions of cookbooks featuring traditional Jewish recipies, or specializing in non-Jewish cuisines using only kosher ingredients. Some of the very best are: "The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews" by Edda Servi Machlin (also available in paperback), "The Jewish Holiday Cookbook" by Gloria Kaufer Greene, "Millie Chan's Kosher Chinese Cookbook" by Millie Chan, and "Spice and Spirit" by Lubavitch Women's Cookbook Publications.
I have been keeping kosher for about seven years. My personal expereince is this: If you ever decide to go "whole-hog" so to speak, you will discover that the discipline effected through kashrut (dietary laws) will become part of your personal strength and permeate all your other endeavors and be a blessing. Most folks who did not grow up experiencing kashrut as the normal way of life, myself included, only get to this stage through a long progression of little steps, including some backsliding.
For a concise handbook of the complete traditional Jewish lifestyle, the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, by Rabbi Ganzfried, is the classic quick reference and is available in at least three English translations. Most modern Jews are not yet able to do all that's in there but it's an important resource.
I hope this information is helpful. Let me know if there are other areas of Jewish learning (history, music, crafts, folklore, etc.) where specific recommendations could be helpful.