# 2904 This Takes the Cake


Q. Shalom Harav, We are currently learning Chukos HaAkum in the Link Kollel in Los Angeles under Rabbi Lebhar.
It was brought to our attention that birthday cakes and candles have a possible source in avoda Zara. If the source is avoda zara, do we aser the minhag of cakes now? If not for hamon ha’am, then do we aser for bnei Torah? The following is the information that was provided to us.
The ancient Egyptians are credited with “inventing” the celebration of birthdays. They believed when pharaohs were crowned, they became gods, so their coronation day was a pretty big deal. That was their “birth” as a god.
Ancient Greeks borrowed the tradition but rightfully realized that a dessert would make the celebration all the more meaningful. So they baked moon-shaped cakes to offer up to Artemis, goddess of the moon, as a tribute. They decorated them with lit candles to make the cakes shine like the moon. Hence, the reason we light our birthday cakes on fire.
Like cakes themselves, the tradition of lit candles adorning a cake goes back thousands of years, but did not necessarily become associated with birthdays until much later.
Artemis Greek Goddess of Hunting
In Ancient Greece, Artemis was the goddess of the hunt, as well as the moon (Her twin brother, Apollo, was god of the sun). It is said that cakes brought to the temple of Artemis were adorned with candles to make them glow like the moon. Many ancient cultures and many religions also believed that smoke was a vehicle to carry prayers up to the gods, and it is possible that this idea is the basis for our modern “make a wish” tradition.
Modern birthday parties are said to get their roots from the 18th-century German celebration “Kinderfeste.” On the morning of a child’s birthday, he or she would receive a cake with lighted candles that added up to the kid’s age, plus one. This extra candle was called the “light of life,” representing the hope of another full year lived.
And then, torture—because no one could eat the cake until after dinner. The family replaced the candles as they burned out throughout the day. Finally, when the moment came, the birthday child would make a wish, try to blow out all the candles in one breath, and dig in. Like modern tradition, the birthday girl or boy wouldn’t tell anyone the wish so it would come true.
A. K’sav Soffer (Y.D, 148) mentions that he would celebrate and thank Hashem on his birthdays. However, Chassam Soffer (Parshas Vayero) writes that the ‘mishte gadol” made by Avraham Avinu was on the day of the bris of Yitzchak. He kept on observing this seuda from year to year, being similar to the birthday commemorated by Pharaoh. He adds that it was done on the day of the bris to avoid the following chukos hoamim issues, when doing it on the ‘yom huledes’ as the Pharaohs did.
Ben Ish Chai (Reeh 17) sponsors the same idea and asserts that this minhag was popular in various places.
Minchas Elozor (Divrei Torah 5: 88) writes that; we haven’t heard that our holy Rebbes and ancestors celebrated any birthdays. He reasons that it is due to the statement of our Sages (Eiruvin 13b), that it would have been better for man not to have been created. Nevertheless Tosafos (ibid.) maintains that this does not apply to Tzadikim.
See Moed Kattan 28a on a 60 year birthday celebrated by Rav Yosef.
Kuntres ‘Yom Huledes’ (Sefer Hazikaron – Zichron Shlomo, p. 195-218) quotes extensively different articles from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Horav N. Gestetner, Horav D. B. Aisenshtein and others, the maintain different opinions regarding the celebrations of birthdays, depending also when and for whom. See also question 2462, regarding the use of a Chanuka Menorah for lighting birthday candles.
Horav Shlomo Miller’s Shlit’a opinion is that it is difficult to prohibit birthday celebrations especially for children in our days, since it has become already an established tradition for many. However, if one does, it should be observed in a proper way and in the spirit of


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