“It’s a boy!” announced the doctor as he delivered the Jacobs’ first child.
“Baruch Hashem!” exclaimed Mr. Jacobs. “We get to do a bris and a pidyon haben!”
A week after the bris, Mr. Jacobs began arranging the pidyon haben. He bought five Silver Eagle U.S. dollars for the occasion, and arranged with his close neighbor, Mr. Cohen, to serve as the recipient kohen.
During the course of the festive meal, Mr. Jacobs introduced Mr. Cohen to his brother-in-law and sister, who was holding a newborn. “They also just had their first boy,” Mr. Jacobs said. “B’ezras Hashem, they will be doing a pidyon in another two weeks!”
“How nice! Mazel tov!” exclaimed Mr. Cohen.
When the pidyon celebration was finishing, Mr. Cohen approached Mr. Jacobs. “I’d like to return the coins to you,” he said. “You can give them to your brother-in-law to use for his pidyon.”
“Thank you for the offer,” said Mr. Jacobs, “but how can you do that? If you return the money, my son won’t be redeemed anymore!”
Rabbi Dayan, who overheard the conversation, said, “It’s not a problem. The Mishnah [Bechoros 51a] teaches that the kohen is allowed to return the coins as a gift to the father. Once the kohen receives them, they are his and the son is redeemed. The pidyon payment is not annulled when it is returned as a gift [Choshen Mishpat 189:1; 245:10; Yoreh De’ah 305:8].
“However, the Gemara relates an incident about Rabbi Chanina, who would often return the money when the father lingered, indicating that he wanted the money back. Rabbi Chanina commented that the father did not give with full intention and the son was not redeemed because the pidyon payment was never given sincerely [Taz and Shach, Yoreh De’ah 305:6].
“Nonetheless, the Gemara [Kiddushin 6b] teaches that something given on condition that it be returned (matanah al menas l’hachzir) is considered as having been given. Thus, if the father explicitly stipulated with the kohen that he is giving him the coins on condition that he return them, the pidyon haben is valid since the kohen truly owned the coins for a period of time. The same logic underlies the common practice of giving a lulav and esrog to someone else on the first day of Sukkos as a matanah al menas l’hachzir [Choshen Mishpat 241:6; Rashba, Responsa 1:198].
“The Shulchan Aruch writes, though, that the kohen should not consistently return the money nor accept it with a stipulation to return it so as not to cause a loss to other kohanim. Always returning the money may also lead the father to give it without fully intending to transfer ownership or to think that he only has to hand money to the kohen as a formality [Gra, Yoreh De’ah 305:13-14; Aruch HaShulchan 305:27].
“Some Acharonim recommend that kohanim nowadays should return the money since the priestly lineage is not fully certain and he could be withholding money not rightfully his. However, others reject this opinion” [Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh De’ah 305:12].