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Shalom Rabbi, what is the Jewish perspective on birthdays and birthday celebrations? Thank you.

, 4 weeks

Answers

  1. I don’t know why, but whenever I hear the word birthday, I’m not sure if it refers to the yearly date on which a person is born or if it refers to the one specific event when that person came into the world. I’ll never forget when our first grandchild was born and our son-in-law came to visit his wife and baby in the hospital with a big, colorful balloon that said on it, “Happy Birth Day!”

    Judaism teaches that there are two main aspects to one’s birthday. These aspects may seem quite different but they are very much related (pardon the pun).

    We are taught that a birthday is a “lucky day” for a person. A biblical proof of this is from the Amalek war against the Jewish People. When they attacked Israel immediately after the Exodus, they only chose soldiers with birthdays as the same day of the attack. They understood that a person’s birthday is a lucky day for him, and would help him succeed in battle. Fortunately for us, God protected us and Amalek lost.

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

    But there is another aspect to one’s birthday. Others emphasize the more serious side of birthdays. Rabbi Avraham Binyamin Sofer (author of Ktav Sofer responsa) used to sequester 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?”

    (If you are asking this because of an upcoming birthday for you or a family member, the Gateways Family would like to express our wishes for a happy, healthy and successful year to come, and many, many more to follow!)

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team