Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Bo 5764/ January 31, 2004

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity.
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Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible, gottlii@mail.biu.ac.il


Parashat Bo 5764/ January 31, 2004

Must Children be Educated?

Dr. Yisrael Zvi Gilat
School of Education

From what age is a young child obliged to lay tefillin? [The expression "to lay tefillin" derives from the Hebrew lehaniah tefillin, to don, put on the tefillin.] there are two basic formulations of this issue. The first is Tosefta Hagigah 1.2 (Lieberman edition, pp. 374-375), which is found with variant readings as a baraitha in the Babylonian Talmud (Tractate Sukkah 42a):
A minor ... who knows how to wave [a lulav] is obliged to perform the commandment of lulav; one who knows how to wrap himself, is obliged to perform the commandment of tzitzit; one who knows how to speak, his father must teach him the Shema, Torah, and the holy tongue; ... one who knows how to take care of tefillin, his father gets tefillin for him; ... one who knows how to slaughter, his slaughtering is kosher; [one who knows to eat] an olive's worth of roast, the Passover sacrifice is slaughtered for him.
The second formulation reads: "Whoever knows how to take care of tefillin is obliged to perform the commandment of tefillin" (Sifre Zuta, Numbers 15.38, Horowitz ed., p. 288); "Any minor who knows how to take care of his own tefillin, is obliged to perform the commandment of tefillin (Tractate Tefillin, halakhah 3).

"For Educational Purposes Only"
One might have thought that there is a basic difference between "his father gets tefillin for him" and "is obliged to perform the commandment of tefillin". Is the father obligated, or the son? According to the posekim, however, these differences of formulation are insignificant. The reason for this is that the minor's obligation is purely mi-shum hinnukh, for reasons of "education," and therefore Shulkhan Arukh, in a seeming combination of the sources, writes that any "minor who knows how to take care of tefillin, his father must buy him tefillin in order to teach him" (Tur, Orah Hayyim, par. 33). The duty to educate devolves specifically upon the father, and to this end alone he must buy his son tefillin.
It is interesting to note, however, that neither the baraitha nor the tosefta mention the duty of educating. It is hard to argue that if a minor "knows how to slaughter, his slaughtering is kosher" only for educational purposes; rather, it is kosher in every respect, even for an adult to eat. Likewise, when a minor who "knows how to eat an olive's worth of roasted meat" slaughters the Passover sacrifice, his slaughtering is considered perfectly fit for all those who eat the Passover; so, too, with the other commandments listed - lulav, wearing tzitzit and laying tefillin; once a minor reaches an age where he is capable of performing these commandments, he is obliged to do so no less than one who has reached majority.
Tannaitic Sources
Moreover, the idea that educating is a commandment appears in Tannaitic sources only three times, and in all these instances the duty of educating is not specifically made with respect to minor sons, who are not obliged to perform the commandments in and of themselves, but also includes older sons and other members of the household, who are obliged by the commandments. Thus, in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin (30a) we find a disagreement among the tannaim over the interpretation of the verse, "Train a lad in the way he ought to go" (Prov. 22:6): "Rabbi Judah and Rabbi Nehemiah [disagreed] - one of them said from twelve until twenty and thirty, and the other said from eighteen until twenty-four," but at such ages, according to all opinions, a son is obliged to perform the commandments. The Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Rosh ha-Shanah 29b, cites the tannaitic halakhah, that "one should not slice bread for one's guests unless one eats with them, but one should slice for one's sons and household in order to train them in the commandments." In this source, as well, the members of one's household and sons are not necessarily those who are exempt from the commandments because of their age. Only the Mishnah, Tractate Yoma 10.1, and Tosefta Kippurim 5.2 (Lieberman, p. 249) mentions education in connection with sons who are minors: "Infants should not be made to fast on the Day of Atonement, but they should be taught [to do so] a year or two beforehand, so that they become accustomed to the commandments." That source, however, does not say that the duty of educating devolves upon the father alone, rather, it may apply to any Jew who has reached majority.
As we said, aside from these sources, nowhere have we found the term "education" or "educating in the commandments" in tannaitic sources. We have, however, found various criteria of time by which a minor is expected to perform certain commandments, each commandment having its own criterion. Regarding the commandment of pilgrimage, the houses of Shammai and Hillel disagree in the Mishnah, Tractate Hagigah 1.1, whether the obligatory age is from the time the infant "can ride on his father's shoulders," or whether from the time he can "hold his father's hand and make the pilgrimage to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem." Or, another example: "A minor who does not need his mother is obliged by the commandment of sukkah."
The Babylonian Talmud
It appears that only in the Babylonian Talmud did the concept of education acquire the specific meaning of an obligation to accustom minors to perform the commandments even though they are exempt from performing them. Thus, Rabbi Abbaye (Hagigah 4a) resolved the contradiction between a minor being exempted from the commandments of pilgrimage, according to what we read in Mishnah Hagigah, and the midrash halakhah on the verse, "all your males shall appear before the Lord" (Deut. 16:16): "'All your males,' including minors ... Abbaye said: there is no problem here; one (the midrash halakhah) refers to a minor who has reached the age that he can be taught, the other refers to a minor who has not reached the age he can be taught. Asks the Talmud: But in the case of a minor who has reached the age he can be taught, is not the requirement rabbinic (mi-derabbanan, and how can it be learned from a biblical verse)? Answers the Talmud, indeed it is, and the verse is only an asmakhta ( a hint ).
Thus, in Abbaye's opinion, the criteria given in the Mishnah of being "able to ride on his father's shoulders" or "able to hold onto his father's hand" do not indicate the age at which a minor actually becomes obliged to do the commandment, rather they indicate the point at which one becomes obliged to educate a minor, even though he is exempt from performing the commandment.
A similar seeming contradiction is discussed in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sukkah 28b, regarding a minor being exempt from the commandment of sukkah, as it says in the Mishnah, as opposed to his being obliged by this commandment according to the interpretation of the verse, "all citizens in Israel shall live in booths" (Lev. 23:42): " 'All' including minors... There is no difficulty here, for one case refers to a youngster who has reached an age at which he can be taught, and the other refers to a minor who has not reached an age at which he can be taught. Is the obligation on a minor who has reached the age at which he can be taught rabbinic? Yes, rabbinic, and the verse is only a hint". According to this reasoning, the age at which a young child "no longer needs his mother" does not mark the age when he begins to be obligated to perform the commandment of dwelling in the sukkah, rather the age when he begins to be obliged to learn to perform this commandment, even though he is exempt from it.
It follows that there is a difference between the tannaitic sources and the amoraic sources. The tannaitic sources actually list various ages at which a minor becomes obliged to perform certain commandments himself, whereas the amoraic sources note these ages only as marking the point at which the father becomes obliged to begin educating his son in the commandment. This difference between the tannaitic and amoraic sources which we have cited (and other sources not cited here), was noted by my father and teacher, Prof. Isaac D. Gilat,[1] where he discussed the question of when a Jew becomes obliged to perform the commandments. In his opinion, there is a difference between the earlier and later sources:

The early halakhah did not recognize thirteen as the age when a son is obliged to observe the commandments of the Torah. Quite the contrary, early halakhah moved this obligation up as far as the age of a toddler, in accordance with the child's physical ability to actually perform the given commandment... In the time of the amoraim, however, a trend emerged towards introducing uniformity in the age at which a minor was obliged by the commandments. The age the commandments became obligatory and the age at which the child was subject to punishment was set at thirteen (for a son, twelve for a daughter), and the commandments that a child observed before this age were defined as commandments of rabbinic authority (mi-de-rabbanan).

My father's theory also explains another matter: the nature of educating towards performance of the commandments. In the ancient tannaitic sources the age criteria cited above were aimed at the minor, indicating the point at which he himself became obliged to observe the commandments. The role of the mother or father, mentioned in respect of these age criteria, is only to help define the minor's ability to perform the commandment. For example, the commandment of pilgrimage is imposed on a minor from the point that he can "ride on his father's shoulders" or "hold onto his father's hand." The commandment of dwelling in the sukkah applies from the time he "no longer needs his mother," for a young child who still needs his mother cannot dwell in the sukkah, since the mother herself is exempt from this commandment. Even the ruling that a child who "knows how to take care of his own tefillin, his father gets tefillin for him," is only to indicate the age when a minor becomes obliged to lay tefillin and not necessarily to indicate an obligation of the father. The same goes for the rule, "A child who knows how to speak, his father must teach him the shema, Torah, and the holy tongue." Although this deals with the commandment of teaching Torah, the father being obliged to teach him, nevertheless the obligation on the father is compounded by the obligation of the minor himself to learn Torah as soon as he knows how to speak.
Thus in the tannaitic Mishnah we find no specific obligation placed on the father to educate his son in the commandments. Regarding what we learned in Sifre Zuta (above) -
'Speak to the children of Israel'[meaning adults] ... and on the other hand it says 'children of Israel,' to enjoin the adults in respect of the minors, training them in the commandment of tzizit [an apparent contradiction]. Hence they said that any infant who knows how to dress must put on tzitzit, and any child who knows how to wave a lulav must perform the commandment of lulav, ... and any one who knows how to take care of tefillin must lay tefillin...

--we note that the obligation to train the youngster in the commandments was not placed specifically upon the father, but upon any adult Jew who has to do with the child. All adults in Israel are cautioned to train the youngster of requisite age in performance of the commandments, even though this obligation of the adult is only ancillary and secondary to the obligation of the minor himself; it is in the same class as the responsibility of every Jew for his fellow Jews to perform the commandments, perhaps even being able to force performance on his fellow. In the case of minors, however, who are not capable of doing this themselves, all adults are admonished that they must watch after the minors and see to it that they do what is obligatory upon them.
How the Talmud interpreted the earlier sources
It was only in the time of the amoraim that the obligation of all male Jews to perform the commandments began from the time of physical or intellectual maturity, or the age of thirteen. As a result, the various criteria in the tannaitic sources came to be interpreted as marking the age when the minor becomes obliged to begin learning. Whose duty is it to see to this education, if the minor himself is not actually obliged to perform the commandments himself at these ages? One would say the father, since he is mentioned in the tannaitic Mishnah in connection with the minor's obligation. That is to say, it is the father who is obliged to bring his son to Jerusalem, to "appear before the Lord," even though the son himself is not obliged to do pilgrimage. It is the father who must acquire tefillin for his son in order to educate him, as soon as his son is capable of taking care of his tefillin, even though the son himself is exempt from laying tefillin until he reaches the age of thirteen. It is the father who must see to it that his son who no longer "needs his mother" dwells in the sukkah, even though the youngster himself is exempt from this commandment.
It appears that the criteria given in tannaitic sources regarding the obligation to begin performing various commandments were deduced by the tannaim on the basis of the statement: "A child who knows how to speak - his father should teach him the shema, Torah, and the holy tongue," which is a prime example of a commandment that the father is obliged to do for his son. Just as this obligation devolves upon the father, so too the duty of educating in the other commandments is placed on the father alone.[2]

[1] Perakim be-Hishtalshelut ha-Halakhah, Bar Ilan University, 1992, p. 31.
[2] For further reading, see my article, "Al mi mutelet ha-hovah le-hanekh et ha-ben ha-katan le-kiyyum mitzvoth?," Sidra 11 (1995); Dinei Mishpahah ve-Yehahsei Horim ve-Yeladim, Hoshen le-Mishpat, 2001, 315-334.