At first glance, it seems the Torah does not have a lot to say about birthdays. In their fascinating essay "Birthdays, Jewishly," Lisa Farber Miller and Sandra Widener point out that the Encyclopedia Judaica is very blunt on this topic: "The celebration of birthdays is unknown in traditional Jewish ritual." In fact, they say, the encyclopedia says the only birthday party mentioned in the Bible is for Pharaoh! (Genesis 40:20). www.ritualwell .org/Rituals/ritual.html?docid=936
Rabbi Yanki Tauber points out at www.chabad.org/
magazine/article.asp?AID=58234 that Judaism traditionally observes the death (yahrzeit) of an individual, while the anniversary of a birth did not get as much attention. He explains that is logical since a yahrzeit commemorates a lifetime of achievement. However, Tauber then suggests that the birth of a child does merit celebrating in our tradition. "Birth marks the point at which your body received and fused with your soul, the point at which you attained your individuality."
The Ohr Somayach site — http://ohr.edu/ask_db/ask_main.php?id_number=222 — mentions several sages who marked their birthdays as an auspicious day. "Rabbi Yisrael Lifshitz instructed his children that when one of them has a birthday the others should visit and bless him. Similarly, distinguished members of Jerusalem's Jewish community used to visit Rabbi Shmuel Salant on his birthday and offer him their blessings."
The Chabad site — www.chabad.org/calendar/birthday.asp — goes even further and suggests that a Jewish birthday can be considered in some ways "even a mini-Rosh Hashanah! The Talmud informs us that on our Jewish birthdays our mazel (good fortune) is dominant. The Jewish birthday is the perfect day for reflection about our lives as Jews and is an auspicious time to make new resolutions to perform good deeds and to deepen our commitment to Torah and the role it plays in our lives."
How can you help your child celebrate the day in a Jewish manner? In the "Birthdays, Jewishly" article mentioned above, the authors have several suggestions: Plan a Shabbat dinner dedicated to the person celebrating a birthday; have a tzedakah party where kids are given extra money to put in a tzedakah box; or start a Saturday slumber party with a Havdallah ceremony.
Have you lost track of your Jewish birthday? Don't worry, it's easy to figure out. Just go to the Jewish birthday calculator — www.chabad.org/
calendar/birthday.asp?AID=6228 — and type in the English date and whether you were born in the morning or in the evening or night. Click the button to find out the Jewish date to find out when it next occurs. And if someone you know is about to celebrate a big day, you can e-mail them a free card with "Yom Huledet Samayach" greetings at www.yourpage.org/yom.html
If you are marking a milestone birthday in the coming year, you may want to check out related wisdom found in Pirkei Avot, the Teachings of our Fathers (Avot 5:24). Judah ben Teima used to say:
"At 5 years old a person should study the Scriptures,
at 10 years for the Mishnah,
at 13 for the commandments,
at 15 for the Talmud,
at 18 for the bridechamber,
at 20 for one's life pursuit,
at 30 for authority,
at 40 for discernment,
at 50 for counsel,
at 60 to be an elder,
at 70 for gray hairs,
at 80 for special strength…"
I'll leave it to you to check out what Judah ben Teima had to say about turning 90 and 100 at www.shechem.org /torah/avot.html#chap5
While we're in the stratosphere of Jewish aging, one of the most famous blessings that Jews bestow on each other is "Bis hundert und tzvantzig — Until 120!" The age of 120 is considered the ideal life span because Moses was 120 years old at the time he died
(Deut. 34:7). www.jewfaq.org/ moshe.htm
In that vein, I'll leave the last word to Rabbi Lewis John Eron, director of Religious Services at Jewish Geriatric Home in Cherry Hill, N.J., found at www.jrf.org/recondt/
One Shabbat morning the rabbi announced that a well-loved resident of the home was about to celebrate a milestone birthday and he wished that she live to the age of 120. At that moment, a friend of hers raised her voice and corrected him. The friend said firmly, "No, Rabbi, you should wish her 120 years and three months."
"Why the extra three months?" the rabbi asked.
"Rabbi," she declared, "Why should she spoil her last birthday? Don't you want her to enjoy her party?"