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    Birthdays – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Does Judaism believe in celebrating birthdays?

    A. The Torah has very few references to birthdays of any kind.

    From the story in B’reshit 40, we see that it was gentile kings’ birthdays that were celebrated, and by the time of the Maccabees such occasions had become a problem for Jews because they could be forced into eating forbidden food and other acts contrary to Jewish teaching.

    The Mishnah Avodah Zarah warns against doing business with a heathen close to the date of idolatrous festivals, including the Roman ruler’s birthday.

    From the Jewish point of view, one of the few birthdays recognised was the 60th, since then a person was freed from the possibility of karet, which some explain as dying young.

    Obviously tradition has come to attach great significance to a girl’s 12th and a boy’s 13th birthday because they mark the passage into religious adulthood.

    As a general rule, it is probably more important to celebrate the anniversary of an achievement than to mark the coincidental date of one’s birth. This has the added advantage of ensuring that people do not take seriously the astrological calculations based on the zodiac sign of the date one was born.

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