QUESTION: An intermarried couple knows that their first child will be a boy. They are thinking about a pidyon haben. The mother is Jewish. Her mother's family are kohanim. Her father's are Israelites. What status does the child have if his father is not Jewish? (Rabbi Avi Magid, White Plains NY)
ANSWER: The question essentially here is whether the status of kohen is passed through the female line. It is clear that in the first generation it is passed through both the masculine and feminine line at least as far as pidyan haben is concerned although not in other matters. So neither the son's first born male child nor the daughter's first born male child need to be redeemed if their father was a kohen and if both are married to Israelites (Bek 47a). On growing up, however, the children of the male are considered kohanim while those of the female are Israelites (Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 305.18).
In this instance we are one generation further down the line and the status of kohen does not continue; the woman is an Israelite who has married a non-Jew. If they are part of a more traditional family they would then have to consider a pidyon haben. Of course, in Reform Judaism this is somewhat incongruous as we do not provide a special status to kohanim. Nevertheless some families continue the practice simply as a tie to tradition. This may also be the initial act which begins the identification of the child.