Never Met Peter Chamor

I got a pretty strange text today: “What is Peter Chamor? And why are donkeys dressed up?” Obviously, my response was exactly what anybody else would have responded with: “What are you talking about?”

It turns out that I’m not as learned in weird Jewish customs that I thought I was. Because, the word isn’t Peter, like “my uncle Peter.” It is actually “PEH-ter,” the Hebrew for initiation. With that much knowledge, I could figure out that this question was “What is a donkey initiation?”

But still, that is a pretty weird question to ask. So I did a little bit of googling and found out that I was not the first person to ask this. I came across this response from that gives a pretty good description of what can best be described as the Pidyon Haben for donkeys:

Peter Chamor is to first-born donkeys what Pidyon Haben is to first-born Jews. If the owner disowns ‘em, they go to the Temple. If he wants ‘em, he gives the Temple a sheep or goat instead. Positive Mitzvah #81.

Before “holy cow!” there was “holy donkey!” This mitzvah distinguishes donkeys to pay tribute to their critical pack-animal role in the Egyptian Exodus.

How do I redeem my donkey?

1. Qualifying Criteria

Donkey must be the first born to Mr. and Mrs. Donkey. He must be male. He must be born naturally. He must belong to the Democratic Party. Just kidding. Owner must be an Israelite—Kohanim and Levites are exempt.

2. Hand it Over

Today, the kohen serves as donkey collector in the Temple’s stead. Give him a sheep or goat (as long as it’s not dead, slaughtered or Caesarian-born), and Donkey’s yours to keep.

3. Make a Statement

A special blessing is recited when the exchange animal is designated, even if it hasn’t yet been given to the kohen.

Now all I want is to buy a donkey. And I don’t want some second-rate middle child donkey. I need a first born!

Discover More

Pharoah’s real reason

First born sons have lots of responsibilities: being redeemed (Pidyon HaBen), fasting before Passover, and not losing their birthright to ...

What Are Kohanim, or Jewish ‘Priests’?

Descendants of the biblical figure Aaron, kohanim enjoy special privileges.

Ask the Expert: Jewish Priests

Without the Temple, what do they do?