Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 24 March 2007 / 5 Nisan 5767

Birthdays

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman - www.rabbiullman.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

From: Martin Appel
Dear Rabbi,

What is the Jewish perspective on birthday celebrations? The Torah refers explicitly to only one such celebration, that of Pharaoh. Do we have a tradition for birthday celebrations, and if so, what is it?

Dear Martin,

The Talmud Yerushalmi relates that when the Amalekites attacked the Jewish people, they chose soldiers whose birthday fell out on the day of the battle. They perceived that a person’s birthday is a lucky day for him, and therefore he will be successful in battle.

The Ben Ish Chai (Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad) writes that some people celebrate their birthday because the day is a good sign for that person. He personally celebrated birthdays in his home. Rabbi Yisrael Lifshitz (author of the Tiferet Yisrael commentary on the Mishna) instructed his children that when one of them has a birthday the others should visit and bless him. Similarly, distinguished members of Jerusalem’s Jewish community used to visit Rabbi Shmuel Salant on his birthday and offer him their blessings.

Others emphasize the more serious side of birthdays. Rabbi Avraham Binyamin Sofer (author of the responsa Ktav Sofer) used to seclude himself on his birthday and ‘soul-search’. The day a person is born he receives the most precious gift of all — Life! Therefore, it is a day for introspection, a day for asking, “Am I using this gift to its utmost potential?”

Sources:
  • Ben Ish Chai, Parshat Re’eh 17
  • Talmud Yerushalmi, Rosh Hashana 3:8
  • Iggeret Tiferet Yisrael 6, Sefer Mayim HaHalacha
  • Sefer Chut HaMeshulash

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