Pidyon HaBen (Firstborn Redemption)

1. 1722 copper color etching The Firstborn Redemption by Bernard Picart (14.5×20.5 cm), MAJH1, Paris.
2. Silver and enamel tray by Henryk Winograd (1917-2008) with scene of Binding of Isaac (24.5 x 19 cm), Jonathan Greenstein & Co, New York.
3. Silver box and five silver coins minted in 1955 by Vivian Cohen (⌀ 3.5 cm, 21.05 gr), WorthPoint Corporation Digital Media Sales, Atlanta.
4. Goblet for kiddush, clear and cobalt blue Murano glassware enhanced with moldings and filigrees in gold and platinum (⌀ 8.5 сm, H 29.7 сm).

Qora’h (קרח), Numbers 16:1–18:32. In chapter 18, it is written:
טז וּפְדוּיָו, מִבֶּן-חֹדֶשׁ תִּפְדֶּה, בְּעֶרְכְּךָ, כֶּסֶף שְׁקָלִ שְׁקָלִים בְּשֶׁקֶל הַקֹּדֶשׁ: עֶשְׂרִים גֵּרָה, הוּא.
16 As for redemption, you shall grant it from the age of one month,
at the rate of five shekels of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, worth twenty ghera.

In Jewish law, every father2 must redeem his firstborn son. This prescription is observed by all Jewish communities whether orthodox, traditionalist or liberal. Parents gather a minian3 and offer a seudat mitzvah4. Depending on the denominations, the ceremony takes place before, during or after this meal.

Running of the ceremony: The kohen takes the child. The father having placed the required 5 shekels on a tray, gives this tray to the kohen. The cohen then returns the child and places the tray above the child’s head and says “this in compensation for this child”. The kohen then lays his hands on the child’s head and blesses it. The Cohen then makes a blessing over a cup of wine.

If the father for whatever reason is unable to redeem himself, the child will have to redeem himself when he is old enough to do so.

1 Museum of Jewish Art and History.
2 It is is one of the 613 mitzvot. It falls to the father (like circumcision for that matter), even if the status of firstborn depends on the mother. The firstborn of a Kohen, a Levite, or the daughter of a Kohen or a Levite is not redeemed.
3 Quorum of ten men.
4 A seudat mitzvah (סעודת מצווה – mitzvah meal) means a meal that is in itself a (biblical or rabbinic) prescription, such as Shabbat meals or a meal held on occasion of a mitzvah, such as the Pidyion haBen.

Shalom Al Yisrael, Jericho


Shelach Lekha (שלח לך send for you), Numbers 13:1–15:41.

God grants the request of the people to send explorers who, with the exception of Caleb and Joshua, consider the conquest of Canaan impossible1. Forty years later, Joshua commissions two explorers (haftara Joshua 2:1–24):

א וַיִּשְׁלַח יְהוֹשֻׁעַ-בִּן-נוּן מִן-הַשִּׁטִּים שְׁנַיִם-אֲנָשִׁים מְרַגְּלִים, חֶרֶשׁ לֵאמֹר, לְכוּ רְאוּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, וְאֶת-יְרִיחוֹ
1 And Joshua the son of Nun sent secretly from Shittim two explorers, saying to them,
“Go, examine the land, especially Jericho”. […]

Tel Jericho is the site of the ancient city conquered by Joshua. Located near Tel Jericho, the Synagogue2 Shalom Al Yisrael (Peace on Israel) dates from the end of the 6th century century. The mosaic inscription at the entrance to the synagogue is a blessing for all members of the community. This blessing is crowned with 32 (gematria of לב – heart) circles (symbol of the unit) and 32 squares (symbol of rigor). Red (emotion) and green (logical) hearts dot the rest of the mosaic. In the middle of the mosaic, a circle. In the center of this circle, a menorah (holiness) flanked by a shofar (prayer) and a lulav (unit). Below the menorah is the inscription שלום על ישראל (Shalom Al Israel – Peace on Israel) and above, a parallelogram of colored squares surmounted by a semicircle, strangely resembles the plan of a synagogue with the ark.

1 This denigration and lamentations of the Children of Israel will cause the people to wander, for 40 years old, in the desert.
2 Discovered in 1936 by archaeologist Dimitri Constantine Baramki (1909-1984). One tradition holds that this is the place where Joshua met the leader of D.’s militia before setting out to conquer Jericho (Joshua 5:13).

South Hiking Trail, Amsterdam

Beha’alotekha (בהעלותךwhen thou shalt raise), Nbr 8: 1–12: 16
ב דַּבֵּר, אֶל-אַהֲרֹן, וְאָמַרְתָּ, אֵלָיו: בְּהַעֲלֹתְךָ, אֶת-הַנֵּרֹת, אֶל-מוּל פְּנֵי הַמְּנוֹרָה, יָאִירוּ שִׁבְעַת הַנֵּרוֹת.
2 Speak to Aaron and tell him:
When you arrange the lamps, it is opposite the face
of the candelabra that the seven lamps must project the light.

Designed by Amsterdam-based architectural firm SeARCH1, the liberal synagogue on the Zuidelijke Wandelweg (Southern Hiking Trail) offers two large windows in the shape of a stylized menorah that cast their lights the outside. Bricks from the old synagogue were salvaged and included in the building, linking history with modernity.

This is the second synagogue built in the Netherlands since the Holocaust during which 75% of the Jewish community was wiped out. On the holy ark is inscribed a verse from Isaiah chapter 40:

ח יבש חציר, נבל ציץ, ודבר אלוקינו יקום לעולם.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our Gd endures forever.

1 Stedenbouw En ARCHitectuur (Town Planning & Architecture) was founded by Bjarne Mastenbroek in 2002

Biella, Italy

Shavuot (שבועות) is one of the three pilgrimage festivals, prescribed by the Torah, during which we celebrate the beginning of the wheat harvest and the giving of the Torah. The 304,805 letters1 of the Torah are scrupulously reproduced by a sofer (סוֹפֵר – scribe) on a klaf2 (קְלָף – parchment). The oldest 3 Torah scroll (1250), still in use, is in Biella, northern Italy. The synagogue where it is kept is located in the ghetto on the top floor of a building that stands in the courtyard of a house that cannot be identified from the outside. The age of the Séfer Torah is an indication of a Jewish presence from the 13th century. A stable Jewish community is attested4 in 1577. The ghetto was established by the House of Savoy in 1723, in the medieval quarter where the Jews were settled. In 1761, there were 5 26 people. With the emancipation of 1848, a hundred Jews resided in the city. Today, a small community still remains.

Inside the synagogue, you can admire at the bottom a holy ark (ארון הקודש – aron ha-kodesh), from the 18th century, in carved wood painted in light blue and center a podium (תֵּבָה – tevah) in walnut carved with plant motifs dating from 1868. The ceiling is decorated with a fresco in the neoclassical style and the floor is in Venetian mosaic, the wooden chandeliers date from the 18th th century.

1 5,845 verses and 79,976 words.
2 It takes about 60 skins of a kosher animal to make a sefer.
3 Carbon 14 dating conducted by the geochronology laboratory of the University of ‘Illinois.
4 Appointment of Mosè Ebreo di Massera (Jewish Moses of Massera) as representative of Duke Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy.
5 First general census of the Biella ghetto, six families were counted.