ויהי ביום השלישי יום הולדת את פרעה ויעש משתה לכל עבדיו וישא את ראש שר המשקים ואת ראש שר האפים בתוך עבדיו מ’,כ
The only birthday party which is recorded in the Torah is that of Pharaoh. Based on this some poskim maintain that the custom to celebrate a birthday was only practiced by non-Jews. Others maintain that it was also a Jewish custom.
The first source to mention the idea of celebrating a birthday is the Midrash Sechal Tov [written by one of the early Rishonim Rabbainu Menachem ben Reb Shlomo] in this week’s parsha – “Most people consider their birthday a special day. They rejoice on this day and make a feast.
The Passuk in Hoshea (7:5) says “יום מלכנו החלו שרים חמת מיין” – “On the day of rejoicing with our king whether in honor of his birthday or his coronation, the officers became ill from the heat of the wine” (Metzudos). We see from here that there was a custom to celebrate the birthday of the Jewish Kings. The Ben Ish Chai (Re’eh 1:17) writes that some have the custom to make every year on their birthday a Yom Tov and it is a good siman, and we do so in our house.
There are different reasons why many are opposed to birthday parties. (1) חוקות הגויים – following the ways of non-Jews. The Yerushalmi (Avodah Zorah 1:1) explains the Mishna “אילו הן אידיהן של עכו”ם וכו’ ויום גינוסיא של מלכים ויום הלידה ויום המיתה” – The birthday of the king is a holiday for the entire nation. Everyone else celebrates their birthday privately in their homes (Pnei Moshe). Celebrating birthdays was a holiday by the goyim. (2) “נוח לו שלא נברא” – The Gemara in Eiruvin (13b) states that it would have been better if a person would not have been created. What then is the point of the simcha? The Minchas Elazar says that celebrating birthdays never existed in Klal Yisroel for the reason stated above. (3) עין הרע – Many refrain from celebrating birthdays not to bring on themselves an עין הרע.
In regard to חוקות הגויים the Bais Yosef in Yoreh Deah (siman 178) brings the Maharik that as long as it is not done to imitate the goyim it is permissible. So to by a birthday when it is done to give thanks to Hashem it is very different than the way the goyim celebrate their birthdays. Therefore there is no issur of ובחוקותיהם לא תלכו.
In dealing with the Gemara in Eiruvin that it is better for a person not to be born the poskim quote tosfos there who says that is only referring to reshaim. For tzadikim however אשריו ואשרי הדור שהוא בתוכו – it is praiseworthy for him and for his generation.
In regard to עין הרע the Gemara in berachos 55b says that one who is afraid of עין הרע should say he is from the children of Yosef that an עין הרע cannot harm them. The meaning of this is that someone who has an עין טובה a good eye, the עין הרע has no control over him.
Reb Aharon Leib Shteinman zt”l was once asked about celebrating birthdays. He answered that it is neither an aveira nor a mitzvah; rather it is a dvar reshus. Therefore because of עין הרע it is better not to make a משתה.
Reb Moshe Feinstein zt”l is also of the opinion that a birthday seuda is a dvar reshus. In Igros Moshe (O.C. 1 siman 104) he discusses if a seudas bas mitzvah is permitted to be made in a shul. Reb Moshe rules that it is not a seudas mitzvah and not any different than the simcha of any other birthday. It cannot be made in a shul. It is interesting to note that on Reb Moshe’s birthday ז’ אדר his children and grandchildren would visit him to wish him ברכת טוב. Those who were unable to come would call on the phone. If one of them didn’t call or come he would ask about them.
The נטעי גבריאל says that even though there are those who are opposed to celebrating birthdays, that is only if it is done with הוללות. However if it is done as a סעודת הודאה with divrei torah and קבלות טובות one can definitely rely on those who hold it is permissible.
The חוות יאיר discusses making שהחינו at the age of seventy. When the Chofetz Chaim turned seventy on י”א שבט תרס”ח he invited Rav Elchonon Wasserman zt”l and Rav Kahanaman zt”l to his home. He served them mezonos and wine and made a שהחיינו on a new article of clothing.
The Ben Ish Chai writes that many people keep their birthday on the day of their bris milah rather than on the day they were born.
Prepared by R’ Avrohom Yehoshua Ziskind