Some Complications of Children

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by R. Gidon Rothstein

Peri Megadim: Some Complications of Children

Children are still developing into adults and therefore officially exempt from mitzvotPeri Megadim points out one quick divergence from the prior two categories, a child’s father is supposed to stop the child from engaging in prohibited activities, as hinuch, the rabbinic obligation to educate, an idea some of whose ins and outs we will see here today.

Peri Megadim again makes clear he assumes the heresh and shoteh lack da’at, mental competence, and will not listen to a father who intercedes at his/her violations of the Torah. In his view, the exemption from hinuch stems from its futility. [Last time, I suggested deaf-mutes or shotim are exempt because of how different their experience of life is rather than how inferior, to explain our treating all harashim and shotim the same, even those who seem to have some or much da’at. Here, our topic is the katan, the minor.]

The Beit Din? Daughter? Mother?

Tradition clearly expects the father to teach his son, at minimum to stop the boy from acting in ways prohibited to adults. Beit Yosef Orah Hayyim 343 notes Tosafot and Rashba think the local court will also be required to step in once the minor has reached the age of educability. While Beit Yosef thought Rambam and Terumat Ha-Deshen limited the mitzvah to the father (and not the court) throughout the boy’s childhood, Ba”h included Rambam among those who held the first view.

[Pardon the aside: I fear we often gloss too lightly over the Gemara and halachah’s insistent assumption all communities would have a local court making decisions affecting the community as a whole—independent of specific court cases– sometimes imposing their will on individuals, even where not asked. Like any system, it can be abused, but it is the system halachah assumed, and I think we should begin to think about why we allow ourselves to ignore that.]

Magen Avraham assumes the mother is not included in the obligation of hinuch, although she may not give prohibited items to her sons. (In his view, she is not obligated to stop the child, or work to be sure the child learns about observance, but she cannot herself be the agent of their access to prohibition.) Sukkah 2a shows mothers can (and properly do) educate their sons, but it is supererogatory, them doing what is good and laudable without it being a requirement or responsibility. The story there is of Queen Hilni, who built a sukkah for her sons (this is a third kind of hinuch, training children to perform mitzvot, a different endeavor than the disciplinary action of stopping a child from an action of sin).

Magen Avraham also notes sources either way on the question of whether Hazal instituted hinuch for daughters. [No one would disagree that we have to find a way to teach daughters about observance, because they will one day be adult women, who must keep the Torah. The issue is to what extent Hazal formalized that need into a specific set of rules.]

To Fulfill Obligations

In two places, Magen Avraham seems to think the mitzvah of hinuch does not include what Hilni did, training the child to perform mitzvot. He explains Shulhan Aruch’s ruling to give kiddush wine from shul to a minor (adults should not drink it because it is not their makom se’udah, place they are eating, and we are not supposed to drink before valid kiddush), 269;1, as a matter of kiddush being an aseh, an obligation. Since hinuch does not apply, the adult can let the child act in a way s/he one day will not.

In 616;2, Magen Avraham said a mother is not supposed to give food directly to her minor child on Yom Kippur, because it is like handing over a prohibited item. On Sukkot, however, she may give the child food outside a sukkah, because the food itself is fine, there is just an accompanying obligation to eat it in a sukkah. [I will restrict myself to clarifying his view: the distinction between Yom Kippur and Sukkot shows that when there is an aseh, helping the child act another way does not count as a problem of hinuch.]

Orah Hayyim 37;3 seems at odds with this presentation, because Shulhan Aruch says a father should buy tefillin for his son as soon as the boy understands the proper way to act towards those tefillin. If Hazal obligated the father to train the child to wear tefillin as soon as he can, we would think living in a sukkah—where living outside the sukkah actively neglects the mitzvah– would even more clearly be included in the areas to educate the child. [Peri Megadim leaves it as a question on Magen Avraham’s claim, and so will we.]

A Torah Obligation to Stay Away From Prohibitions

In three cases, the Torah commands adults not to be involved with a child’s violating a certain rule: a child kohen becoming ritually impure, and any child’s eating blood or sheratzim, certain types of vermin or lizards. There is a debate as to what the Torah addressed, whether the adult only may not actively give the child the prohibited matter—in which case we assume all adults are included–or must stop the child, limited to the father.

Often, we take examples of the Torah as paradigms, and would expand this rule to all prohibitions. Three examples is too many, however, because if the Torah wanted one to be a model, it did not need a second [ein shenei ketuvim melamdin, we do not generalize an idea the Torah teaches in two places, because if it was more universal, one place would have sufficed], and definitely not if there is a third verse.

If the Torah set up the rule, it is not explicitly about hinuch, education, and therefore includes those minors we do not think are educable, such as a shoteh or heresh. We expect such a minor will never become obligated in mitzvot, but the Torah’s rule did not hinge on that. [It seems to be about staying away from these actions or foods, regardless of the person’s intellectual capabilities.]

With all other cases of stopping a minor from sinning, where the source obligation is rabbinic and a matter of education, Peri Megadim thinks a minor who is also sadly a shoteh will not have the same rules. [The father of a child with mental disabilities will have more freedom to choose what to allow or not, because the rabbinic rule is not in play.

R, Eisenberger, note 163, points us to Peri Megadimin his commentary on Magen Avraham and Taz, where he also comments on these issues. In one place, he says a father does have to educate a heresh minor, because harashim have da’at, however weak. Minhat Hinuch, Mitzvah 5;2, thought there was no obligation of hinuch with a heresh or shoteh.]

The Age of Hinuch

For most mitzvot, the age of education comes at five or six years old, depending on the child’s intellectual development. For fasting on Yom Kippur (Peri Megadim assumes there is no need to train the child for the other fast days, s/he can pick it up at adulthood), we start having the child fast an hour or two from age nine or ten (for girls earlier, since they will become adults earlier) and then doing a full fast at eleven or twelve.

Peri Megadim points out what might be hinuch at the other extreme. Shach Yoreh De’ah 371;1 quotes Rokeah, who allowed the pregnant wife of a kohen to be in places with ritual impurity only because of a sfek sfeka, a double doubt, as to the gender and viability of the fetus. Peri Megadim there disputes the double doubt (R. Eisenberger tells us), but does infer the idea of hinuch for this kohen already from birth.

[As R. Eisenberger notes, though, that is because keeping child kohanim from such tum’ah is one of the three examples of the Torah warning adults about children. If so, it’s not a matter of hinuch but Torah law. I would add that there, it’s like feeding it to the child directly, since the mother is taking the child to a place that confers or conveys such ritual impurity.]

For other mitzvot, the age is whenever the child is prepared to fulfill the mitzvah. A child who knows how to keep two tzitzit in front and two in back (more of a challenge with a tallit than the small tzitzit we have today) and—as per Rema, OH 17;3—to hold them in his hands during the recitation of Shema.

Peri Megadim here notes the obligation of hinuch applies to rabbinic rules as well. This idea explains how a boy can recite Grace After Meals for his father (if the father does not know how). Although Birkat Ha-Mazon is a Biblical obligation, the Gemara says if the father did not eat enough to sate himself, and is therefore obligated only rabbinically, the boy can recite it and the father listen. That assumes the boy has a rabbinic obligation as well.

[This way of saying it assumes the obligation of hinuch rests on the boy to some extent, because otherwise he is still a not-obligated person. Usually, we speak of it as the father’s responsibility. Probably, the father’s obligation makes it as if the boy himself must do it. Second, Magen Avraham points out the boy might also have eaten less than the amount for full satiety, in which case he has a double de-rabbanan, it’s “only” rabbinic for him to say Birkat Ha-Mazon at all, and then it is also “only” rabbinic to recite Birkat Ha-Mazon for this amount of food. MA thinks it doesn’t matter.]

Fixed Age or a Sliding Scale

Peri Megadim had assumed five or six as the age of educability was a matter of intellectual development, the child was too young to learn before. Levush instead attributed it to the child’s independence; before five, children are still completely attached to their mothers, so the father cannot take them away to be taught.

Peri Megadim thinks he implies that if the mother is obligated in a particular mitzvah, she would have to educate the child about it as well, where Magen Avraham thought she is not included in this responsibility at all. A bit later, Peri Megadim notes the rule in Orah Hayyim 414;2, a child under six can rely on his mother’s eruv (to go places ordinarily outside his Shabbat limits). The need to include the child in an eruv implies (to Peri Megadim) he is implicated in the rabbinic rule of not travelling too far outside one’s town on Shabbat, as well as that the mother has some hinuch obligation to the child.

Beyond the question of the significance of the age of five, Beit Yosef and others quote Ran, who said education is mitzvah-specific, comes into play when the child is ready for that mitzvah. When the child is old enough to leave his mother and go to Jerusalem for the holiday, the father must educate him about re’iyah, appearing at the Beit Ha-Mikdash for holidays; when the child can wear tefillin properly, shake the lulav, wear tzitzit, etc., the father introduces those practices.

In that view, the ages of five or six for a sukkah were about the child’s ability to spend the night away from his mother. For other mitzvot, where no separation is needed, the father might already need to start earlier, each child according to his readiness.

Reaching the age of hinuch has practical ramifications, such as whether the child can help others with a rabbinic obligation (like hearing the child recite Birkat Ha-Mazon, as we mentioned earlier), or for whether an adult would answer amen to the child’s berachah (for a child younger than the age of hinuch, the berachah is just practice or training).

Becoming an Adult

Adulthood generally comes at twelve for a girl, thirteen for a boy. Those ages assume the child has also developed physically, expressed as two hairs in the reproductive areas (a reason, for example, we are loath to have a newly adult child serve as the agent of a community’s fulfillment of a Biblical obligation, such as reading Parshat Zachor).

The child who does not develop those characteristics remains halachically katan, a minor, until there is clear evidence s/he will never develop them. There are ins and outs of that topic, but I am out of space and the issues do not matter for Peri Megadim’s main concern, the category of katan in halachah. More of whose characteristics we will see next time, and then move on to adult women and their halachic standing and idiosyncracies.

About Gidon Rothstein

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