19 Oct HAPPY BIRTHDAY
people have always
on birthdays. On
Pesach, we celebrate
of the Jewish nation.
We say in
Mussaf that the
world was created
on Rosh Hashana.
Many question whether making
a birthday party is a Jewish custom. Indeed,
there are customs for the day of a
birthday which are not well known. In
this issue we will discuss these issues
and many others.
Early Sources on non-Jewish Birthdays
The only birthday party which is recorded
in the Torah is that of Pharaoh. The
posuk says, “It was on the third day, Pharaoh’s
birthday, that he made a party for
all his servants…” Based on this, some
poskim maintain that the custom to have
a birthday party is in fact an issue of “following
in the ways of the non-Jews” and
is not the practice of Jews. The Yerushalmi
says that when Amalek attacked
klal yisroel, they used warriors whose
birthday was the same day.
The Mishnah in Avodah Zarah says
that non-Jews would celebrate the
birthdays of their kings.
This has ramifications regarding Jewish
people making birthday parties.
Early Sources Regarding Birthdays
The posuk in Hoshea says, “The day
our king….” The Metzudas Dovid
says that the custom of Jewish kings
was to make a simcha and Yom Tov on
The Gemorah says that when Rav Yosef
reached sixty years old he made a
party since he had avoided kares.
The posuk in Tehillim says that the
life expectancy of a person is seventy
years and if he is stronger it is eighty
years. Therefore, some celebrated their
Others did not necessarily like the day
they were born, as was expressed in
Yirmiyahu, “Cursed should be the day
I was born.”
In Koheles it says, “The day of death (is
better) than the day of birth.” However,
the Medrash Sechel Tov says, “Most
people are happy and make a seuda on
the day they were born.”
Growing at Certain Stages
The Mishnah lists the following regarding
stages of growth:
A five year old begins learning Chumash:
a ten year-old begins Mishnah:
a thirteen year old begins mitzvos; a
fifteen year old begins studying Gemorah;
an eighteen year old gets married;
a twenty year old begins running after
(parnasa); a thirty year old attains full
strength; a forty year old receives understanding;
a fifty year old can give advise;
a sixty year old is considered old; a
seventy year old attains ripe old age; an
eighty year old shows strength; a ninety
year old become hunch-back; a hundred
year old is considered as if he is not alive
and has gone from the world.
Relevance of a Birth Date Among
Early Jewish Luminaries
We find early sources regarding the
benefits of the day one was born. Yitzchok
was born on the fifteenth day
of Nissan, and that is the day we left
Mitzrayim. Moshe Rabbeinu was born
in Adar, and this protected us during
the miracle of Purim. On Shavuos we
focus on the birthday of Dovid Hamelech.
On Lag B’omer we celebrate the
birth of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai(all
of the above three individuals died on
the day they were born). Moshiach
was born on Tisha B’av.
The Gemorah says that the mazal of the
day and hour he is born has an impact
on his mazal. We know that “ein mazal
l’yisroel,” which means that the Jewish
people have the ability to overcome any
ill effects that a mazal may have.
We wish a person mazal tov when he
reaches a milestone in his life, such as
a bris milah, bar or bas mitzvah, or an
engagement telling them there mazal
should continue to be good.
Those In Favor of Birthday Parties
Throughout the ages, birthdays were celebrated
by Jewish people, even Gedolim.
Their views will now be detailed below:
Some seforim say that the Tiferes Yisroel
instructed in his will that his children
should write letters to each other
on their birthdays.
The Leket Yosher records that the Terumas
Hadeshen made a siyum on the day
he turned sixty years old.
The Ben Ish Chai says, “Some have
the custom to make every year on their
birthday a Yom Tov and it is a good
simon, and we do so in our house.”
In addition, he says that when one
reaches sixty or seventy it is proper to
wear a new garment or eat a new fruit
and make a shehechiyanu and have in
mind his age as well (see below).
The Ben Yehoyada says that one should
make his birthday like a Yom Tov.
The Ba’al Shem Tov zt”l was known for
making a seuda on the eighteenth day
of Elul which was the day he was born.
Many Chassidim make as seuda on this
day as well to commemorate his birth.
The author of the Sdei Chemed made
a birthday party when he reached seventy
The Chasam Sofer says that Avraham
Ovinu made a party each year on the
day that he had a bris milah. The Ben Ish
Chai says the custom in his house was
not to make a party on the day that his
bris was performed.
It is stated in the Ginzei Yosef that “anshei
ma’ase” recite a shehechiyanu on
a new fruit or garment each year when
they reach their birthday (which brings
them joy, see below). It is definitely
proper to give thanks to Hashem on the
day of your birthday.
The Kesav Sofer made a siyum every
year on his birthday, and when he turned
fifty he made a shehechiyanu and made
a siyum on Meseches Pesachim.
When the Chofetz Chaim zt”l reached
the age of ninety he finished the kuntres
“Bais Yisroel” and invited some close
friends and made a seuda.
The opinion of Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”;
is that a birthday party made with divrei
Torah and shevach to Hashem would
turn the party into a seudas mitzvah.
There were many Chassidishe Rebbes
who celebrated their birthdays as well.
Those Opposing Birthdays
Although many opinions maintain that
there is nothing wrong with celebrating
a birthday, there are some who take issue
with this. These opinions will be brought
The Gemorah says that it is preferable
not to be born. This would support the
argument that celebrating a birthday is
not advisable, since it is not a good thing
that one was born.
Based on this, the Divrei Torah maintains
that we have no tradition of our
holy Rabbis or fathers to make a birthday
In addition, some bring a proof from the
fact that Pharaoh made a birthday party
that it is a non-Jewish custom. Indeed,
the Gemorah says that one of the holidays
of a non-Jew is their birthday.
Some poskim note that there is no mention
in the Gemorah, Geonim, Rishonim
or Achronim about a party on the day
one was born. The only mention regards
Pharaoh. The friends of Harav Spector
zt”l wished to make him a 50th anniversary
of his job in Rabbonus, but he declined.
The Otzer Kol Minhagei Yeshurun
says that people make these parties
because they want to be like their neighbors,
but what is the purpose of the joy?
What is the Joy of a Birthday?
A birthday is a good time to give
thanks to those who have contributed
to your very existence, Hashem and
your parents. Birth is a great miracle.
Just as we recite a beracha when we
experience a miracle, we should give
thanks for being born.
We rejoice over a birth and mourn a
death. Logically, the opposite should
be true, since a newborn faces uncertainty,
while a dead person has fulfilled
his mission. Regarding this, Koheles
says, “The day of death (is better) than
the day of birth.” However, each Jewish
person has a chazaka that he will do
well (chezkas kashrus) therefore, we
are happy when a person is born. This
is the joy of a birthday as well, as we
celebrate the opportunity to fulfill mitzvos
and improve ourselves each year.
Shehechiyanu When Turning Seventy
Some poskim are of the opinion that
when one reaches seventy he should
make a shehechiynau, while others disagree.
One should make the beracha
without the shem or malchus.
Practices on a Birthday
On one’s birthday, it is proper to:
Give thanks to Hashem.
Give berochos to Others.
Give extra money to tzedaka.
Make a siyum.
Receive an aliyah to the Torah.
Set aside extra time to learn Torah.
Daven for the amud.
Go to a tzaddik and receive a beracha
(common in many Chassidishe circles).
Engage in introspection and seek ways
to improve himself.
Visit the Kosel Hama’aravi.
Which Tefillos to say on Specific
From age seventy and on one should say
Tehillim chapter 103 on every birthday.
“Live Until 120”
A common beracha we give to people is
that they should live until 120 years old.
Moshe Rabbeinu lived to 120.
Blowing out Candles on a Cake
The practice of putting candles on a
birthday cake corresponding to the celebrant’s
age does not stem from a Jewish
custom and should not be done. Candles
in the Jewish religion represent the soul.
When extinguishing the candles, one
should not blow it out with his mouth.
The poskim say it is a danger to do
so, especially since this custom stems
from the non-Jews. The custom seems
to be lenient with this, but one should
avoid it if possible.
Although some poskim say that making
a birthday party is not a Jewish
practice, the custom is nevertheless to
make birthday parties. However, these
parties should not be turned into jokes