Celebrating Birthdays – Halachic Analysis


[By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for The Five Towns Jewish Times]

This article is written for Miriam L.’s father

Rav Chaim Kanievsky zatzal was once asked an interesting question by a woman who was in need of surgery (Derech Sicha p, 174):  She inquired of the Rav:  “May I delay my surgery so that it can be done on my birthday?”

Where was this question coming from?  Some people are of the opinion that noticing and or celebrating birthdays is not a particularly Jewish action. They note that the only mention we find of birthdays is in regard to the evil Pharoah. While there are opinions that certainly held this, in this article, it will be suggested that not all opinions conform to this view, and that noting someone’s birthday may very well be a Jewish thing to do.


We must first realize that there exists a Mitzvah of V’ahavta l’rayacha Kamocha, loving others as we do ourselves. It is always important to make these others realize that we care about them individually and that we genuinely value who they are.  It should not be perfunctory, but real.  What better way to do this than to recognize a birthday?


Now for some other sources.  The Gemorah in Moed Kotton 28a records that Rav Yoseph made a party on the occasion of his 60th birthday.  This was because he had avoided the punishment of Kares.  It is unclear, however, if this can serve as a paradigm for other birthday parties or just for a 60th birthday.

The Midrash Saichel Tov (Bereishis 40:20) brings us a more pertinent source.  The Midrash notes that “most people celebrate that day that they were born and are joyous during this time and hold a party.  The Yerushalmi (Rosh HaShana 3:8) tells us that a person does not quickly fall on his “Yom Ginusiyah.”  Rashi in Bereishis (4:20) explains that Pharoah’s birthday is called “Yom Ginusiyah.”  This Yerushalmi indicates that a birthday is a special day, not just for recognition, but it seems to be an auspicious time to avoid harm.  Rav Tzadok HaKohain (Rsisei Laila Divrei Chalomos-20) writes this explicitly.  The Ben Ish Chai states that some have the custom to make the birthday a kind of “yom Tov” and a Siman Tov – then he adds, “and so we conduct ourselves in our home.”

Yes, the Ben Ish Chai had birthday parties.

Nor was he the only one.  The Ksav Sofer writes in his responsum (Yore Deah Vol. II #148) that he held a fiftieth birthday party.   He writes that he made a special siyum on the tractate Psachim for the occasion.  He states there that his father, the Chsam Sopher, did the same thing – he made a siyum on Chumash with his students on the occasion of his birthday on the 7th of Tishrei – and he gave out coins so they can purchase lachmei chalav (an early prototype of the now ever popular cupcake).  The Chsam Sopher’s own Rebbe, Rav Natan Adler, (See Igros Sofrim p. 83) held a birthday party for his mother on her 80th birthday and invited the whole town!

It says in the biography of the Chofetz Chaim that he held a birthday party on his 90th (or 80th) birthday on 11 Shvat 5688 and finished his manuscript entitled, “Beis Yisroel” for the occasion.  In 1909, on the afternoon of Rosh Chodesh Shvat, on the occasion of Rav Shmuel Salant’s 93rd birthday a party was held at his house right after Chatzos with greetings, celebration and a cake.  Virtually all of Yerushalayim was in attendance including the staff of the Bikur Cholim hospital, the Chevra Kadisha and the BaDatz of Yerushalayim.  The event was reported in the February edition of Chavatzelet p. 235.

In the HaMaayan (Tammuz 5731) the ethical will of Rav Yisroel Lipshitz (1782-1860), the author of the Tiferes Yisroel commentary on the Mishna and the Rav of Danzig, is cited where he tells each member of his family that on the occasion of their birthdays all the siblings should send birthday greetings of Mazal Tov!  He also writes that this custom should not be negated, only if there is absolute emergency should it be curtailed.


Another issue is the intent, the Kavana, of the birthday party and of the greeting.  The intent should be one of Hakaras HaTov to Hashem – thanking Hashem for yet another year of existence.  Let’s not foget that Hakaras HaTov is one of the fundamentals of the Torah way of life.  Why was Adam HaRishon punished during his short sojourn in the Garden of Eden?  Contrary to popular thought – It was not because he ate of the Eitz HaDaas – the forbidden fruit.  Rather, it was his lack of Hakaras HaTov, being someone who expresses gratitude.  How so?  He responded to Hashem, “The woman that You gave me, forced me to eat of the fruit..”  It was for the lack of appreciation for the gift that was Chava that caused the decline of mankind.  Celebrating the birthday out of a sense of Hakaras HaTov would involve very lofty thoughts of Hakaras HaTov – a moral pre-requisite for all the Mitzvos in the Torah.


It is true, however, that the Munkatcher Rebbe (Divrei Torah 5:88) and others too, expressed the view that birthdays are a foreign thing and have no precedent in Judaism.  The Munkatcher Rebbe writes that the reason is because of the notion that, “it is better for a person not to have been born in this world, but now that he is born he should do his duties and serve Hashem..”  Therefore, he concludes, we should not be celebrating birthdays.  If we can rely on the Derech Sicha who cites Rav Chaim Kaniefsky on this issue as well, he was of the opinion that birthdays should not be celebrated either – against our citations from the Chsam Sofer, the Ksav Sofer, the Chofetz Chaim and Rav Shmuel Salant.

What then do we do with all the above sources? There is a Tosfos HaRosh that qualifies this thought (Eiruvin 13b) of “better for a person not to have been born” that it refers only to people whose ways have not been determined that they are destined to perform and do good.  So for evil people a birthday party would be wrong, for regular people who are more good than bad – it is the right and proper thing to do.


It seems to this author that there exists an argument between the Tosfos HaRosh and the Tosfos in regard to how to resolve the following apparent contradiction:  The Gemorah in Avodah Zarah states, “Let us give thanks to our forefathers for if they did not sin we would never have arrived in this world!”  Yet the Gemorah in Eiruvin states, “better for a person not to have been born.”  These two Gemorahs seem to contradict each other.


Tosfos seems to resolve it by stating that the Gemorah in Avodah Zarah refers only to the Tzadikkim.  Tosfos HaRosh seems to learn that the Gemorah in Eiruvin refers only to those who have not chosen the path of good.  The difference between them lies in the regular, average person.

It would seem that those authorities who advocated celebrating birthdays in general would hold like the Tosfos HaRosh, while those who were against it would hold like Tosfos in resolving the contradiction.

Originally published on 5TJT.com

The author can be reached at [email protected]


  1. What can we learn from Birthday’s? Why did Hashem invent a day to celebrate a persons birth? There’s nothing wrong or goyish with having a birthday cake or party. The lesson we can learn is, that last year on this day i was (fill in your age), today i became a year older. A complete year has just gone by. What have i accomplished during this time? Was my time spent wisely? (Wisely does not need to mean Learning & Davening etc.., going shopping & spending family quality time is also considered time spent wisely & actually very important to raise a happy & healthy family) Can I actually face Hashem now & say truthfully that I spent this past year wisely? Maybe we can learn that every minute counts & is so precious & now another full year is gone forever.

    some notes on the side about birthdays:

    1)I don’t know about everyone else here, how often we think about our life, most people make an account of their life once a year-before Yom Kippur- Tzaddikim make an account once a month-before Yom kippur Kotton. a few years ago a Yungerman approached me for guidance & told me that he makes a account of his life almost everyday of his life. He told me this is the final last thing he thinks about almost every night AFTER saying Krias Shma al Hamita he makes an account thinking did i learn today, daven, give tzedaka, help another yid etc… is Hashem going to say to his Malachim i have Charata (pity) i gave this yid an extra day to live. How precious life is. Hashem doesn’t just say this yid will live to 98 this one to 108 & this one to 110, every day & hour is a gift from Hashem, U’vacharta B’chaim-you should choose life-lets learn this now while we are still young.

    2)the age of 60 is the year when a person starts to look back at his 40 years of Adulthood (from 20 to 60). Statistics say that 90 percent of people feel bad that they’re time was not spent wisely-a person promises Hashem, if you turn me back into a twenty year old (if he gets back his 40 years) i promise i will spend my time more wisely-NOW THATS BAD NEWS. How precious life is & every hour is a gift from Hashem. (how lucky i am that i got this message already at my younger years, many years ago) LET US WAKE UP NOW & START TO LIVE A REAL LIFE BEFORE ITS TOO LATE. A day gone is gone forever & cannot be made up. Anything pushed away or delayed because of laziness is too late to make up for.

  2. The question I have is, from where did so many people get the idea that on the day of their birthday, they have “special powers” to give brachos?

  3. BTW – lighting and blowing out candles צשט נק a biblical transgression of
    בחוקותיהם לא תלכו
    since it’s clearly one of those things that are בלא שום טעם
    See Avoda Zara 11a and Rishonim there.

  4. Look at the Ben Yehuda on Berchos when Rebbi Elezer ben Azarah became Nasi for a day; it was on his birthday. Based on that, he said a birthday has a special mazel.

  5. http://www.shturem.org/index.php?section=cols&id=513

    Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky: “My birthday is the 15th of Kislev, the same day of the Rebbe’s wedding (the wedding was called for Yud Daled Kislev but the Chupah took place un the evening when it was already the 15th of Kislev). Around 20 years ago when I brought the Rebbe back to his house from the Ohel (he would visit the Ohel every 15 of the month) the Rebbe went out of the car in the driveway and entered the house through the kitchen in the back of the house.

    As he was walking towards the door he turns around to me and says: “Today is your birthday, have they prepared a birthday cake for you?” I shrugged with my shoulders as if to say “I don’t know.” I really didn’t know and the truth of the matter is that I really didn’t care. The Rebbe then said “you should also have a birthday cake.” When I got back home I discovered that they indeed had prepared a birthday cake for me. The next day when the Rebbe saw me he asked smilingly, “well, did you have a birthday cake?”

  6. It says ברוך אתה בבואך ברוך אתה בצאתך a person is blessed when one came to world, if one is blessed when leaving the world. This is why the tzadikim as Moshe Rabbenu complete their years of life from day to day. We don’t know but hope that our birthday will be blessed. David Hamelech emphasizes this by reversing it ה’ ישמר צאתך ובואך Hashem protects one’s leaving and then one’s coming.

  7. Yanky55 – This comes from perek 2.7 in Tehillim. The pasuk end ‘Ani Hayom yelidaticha’ and the very next passuk starts with ‘Shi-al V’Eteina’.. Ask and I will give… This alludes that on your Tom Genusa you have the special ‘power’ to ask.. its not a stretch to see how the ‘Give’ (bentch) part started.

  8. The Lubavitcher rebbe says that a Jew should regard his/her birthday as his/her own personal Rosh Hashanah. I do not know the basis of his opinion, but his word is good enough for me.