Friday, April 04, 2008

in defense of birthdays

I have heard at various times that celebrating a birthday is not a Jewish thing, a sevara I don’t pretend to understand, but people repeat things until even silly sevaras becomes “canonized” in popular folklore. It came to mind when I saw the discussion of Adar 7 in yesterday’s daf, Nazir 14. The gemara discusses whether making a kabbalah “like Moshe on 7 Adar” constitutes accepting nezirus or not. Tosfos explains the gemara's safeik: on the one hand, 7 Adar is the day Moshe died and many people took vows of nezirus in response to the tragedy; on the other hand, 7 Adar is the day Moshe was born, a day of simcha not in the spirit of nezirus. Which aspect of the day did the person have in mind when he/she made their kabbalah?

If Moshe Rabeinu could be happy on his birthday, and if klal yisrael could be happy on his birthday, what could be wrong with birthdays?

While on the topic, what is the idea of tzadikim being born/dying on the same day? R’ Tzadok haKohen explains in Kuntres Divrei Chalomos that a birthday marks the pinnacle of a person’s mazal’s influence. This power boost to the neshoma can help a person overcome all kinds of obstacles in life on that day. For a tzadik who is already on a high madreiga, this boost elevates the neshoma that it can no longer be held in a physical body in this world. The fact that a neshoma departs the world on a birthday proves that the departure of the neshoma is a result only of a great aliya.


  1. Anonymous1:49 PM

    One of my relatives was once in a class where the teacher told the students it was forbidden to celebrate birthdays. A girl in the class raised her hand, saying that her grandfather sent her a brithday card every year. When the teacher tried to explain how unfortunately, many of the older generation are not so learned, the girl responded, but my grandfather is R. Moshe Feinstein!

  2. Anonymous3:29 PM

    I know where it comes from the only Birthday Party Mentioned in the torah Was Pharo.I know of the forementioned story too.

  3. Anonymous12:01 AM

    I saw in Derech Sicha that there is a concept of commnicable disease in Tzaras, I am perplexed is it spirtual in nature or phisilogical Somoone told me The (Ibn Ezra uses to explain why he must be Michutz Lamachneh)

  4. Anonymous2:43 AM

    Re: Birthday Parties


  5. When I learned that gemara in Nazir about Moshe Rabbeinu's birthday, someone pointed out that as far as Tosfos's pshat, the simcha might have been on the day he was born, not the annual commemoration. But the Rosh is more mashma like you.
    And the Gemara in MK 28 about celebrating the sixtieth, cited in a comment at hirhurim, really is not about the birthday, it's about getting past the time of kareis, and indicates they didn't celebrate 59 or 61.
    But who needs rayos? Do you need a chazal to be happy on a child's or a friend's birthday? If it makes sense, it makes sense, even if we never used to do it. We don't have to be blind robots to tradition.
    And, as noted at hirhurim, Reb Moshe did call his grandchildren on their birthdays and give them a bracha. That's a fact, not an urban legend. So, treif it's not.

  6. To the anonymous who quotes the Derech Sicha from Rav Kanievsky about Tzara'as, the Ramban, Daas Z’keinim, Ibn Ezra, and Rabbeinu Bechaye all write that although tzara’as comes as a spiritual punishment for sins, it is nevertheless contagious. The Meshech Chochmah suggests that it was for this reason that tzara’as was viewed and ruled upon specifically by Kohanim. Because it was contagious, Hashem wanted those who were separated from the rest of the people and enjoyed unique Divine protection to be in charge of its supervision and treatment. (from Parshapotpourri.)
    So it may have a spiritual backstory, but the physical manifestation is reduced resistance to a natural disease. Like getting a Rasha killed by a man who needed the kapara of galus is a natural event that was arranged to deal with spiritual issues.

  7. Thanks, and I like your comparison to the rasha killed b'shogeg.

  8. Anonymous2:14 PM

    See Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society Number 51 (Spring 2006).

  9. Don't have it - is there a particular mareh makom you can share?