Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Emor 5762/ April 27, 2002

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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Parashat Emor 5762/ April 27, 2002

Children and the Performance of Mitzvot

Dr. Michael Hellinger
Paul and Helene Shulman Center for Basic Jewish Studies

"The Lord said to Moses: Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: None shall defile himself for any [dead] person among his kin" (Lev. 21:1). The redundant expression, "Speak and say," was interpreted by the Sages as follows: "Speak and say - this is to caution the adults regarding the children" (Yevamot 114a). This interpretation recurs with respect to several subjects:

1) The proscription against eating creatures that swarm upon the earth:
"You shall not eat ... anything that crawls on its belly, ... for they are an abomination" (Lev. 11:42). The Sages interpreted this: "You shall not feed them [lo ta'akhillum] - to caution the adults regarding the children" (loc. sit.).

2) The proscription against eating blood:
"Therefore I say to the Israelite people: No person among you shall partake of blood" (Lev. 17:12). The Sages interpreted this: "To caution the adults regarding the children" (loc. sit.).

3) Observing the Sabbath:
"But on the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your G-d; you shall not do any work - you, your son or daughter" (Ex. 20:10). Rashi on this verse explains:
You, your son or daughter - does this refer to children, or to sons and daughters as adults? If as adults, they have already been warned [by the word "You"]. Rather, it is worded this way precisely to caution the adults regarding the children, as we have been taught (Shabbat 121a): "If a minor comes to put out a fire, one does not listen to him because his Sabbath rest is your responsibility."

The responsibility of adults vis-à-vis minors can be explained in one of the following ways:

1) Adults are commanded not to lead minors astray by their own hands, for example, not to give them something non-kosher to eat; but they are not commanded to prevent minors from committing transgressions on their own initiative - "If a minor eats a carcass [i.e. non-kosher meat], the beit din (court) is not obligated to stop him."

2) Adults are commanded to educate their children to uphold the commandments and avoid transgression. Therefore adults are obliged to stop their children from transgressing as part of the education to uphold the commandments.

Although these two principles seem to lead to contradictory ends, by the end of the article we will see how they are reconciled in actual practice.

Maharal relates to this matter in his commentary on the Torah.[1] In his opinion one may conclude from the discussion in the Talmud (Tractate Yevamot 114a) that adults are indeed commanded not to lead children astray but they are not commanded to prevent children from violating proscriptions on their own. The Tur, in contrast, distinguished between various types of proscriptions, as we see from his ruling on this subject. For example, in Hilkhot Tum'at Kohanim, which is the first subject in our Parasha, the Tur wrote:

Just as the Priest is cautioned against defilement, so too he is admonished to caution minors against defilement, ... and he must actually remove him [from the source of defilement]. This follows from the rabbinic interpretation, "Speak and say - this is to caution the adults regarding the children," which means that they [the children] must be cautioned against defilement.[2]

Thus regarding the proscriptions against priestly defilement, the Tur ruled that the priest is not only commanded to avoid defiling minors with his own hands, but must also actively prevent youngsters from becoming defiled. A closer look at the Tur in Orah Hayyim, however, shows a different view in his discussion of proscriptions regarding the Sabbath:

Even in cases of proscriptions stemming from the Torah, the court does not order [a minor] to be removed [from the actual violation]. For example, take the case in the chapter Heresh in Yevamot 113b, where the keys of the Study Hall were lost in the public domain [on the Sabbath], and Rabbi Johanan said, 'Let them bring young children to the spot'. [Actually, the Talmud tells the story about R. Pedat, who ordered that young boys and girls be brought to the site to play, and when they would find the keys they would carry them to the adults on their own.] The reason given was that 'a court is not commanded to remove a minor from eating non-kosher meat', in other words, even regarding proscriptions from the Torah.[3]

This halakhic ruling indicates that in the Tur's opinion adults are not commanded to prevent minors from committing various transgressions of Sabbath observance (and apparently other proscriptions, as well, save for those concerning priestly defilement), even if the proscriptions are from the Torah. In his commentary on the Torah the Tur explained the difference between proscriptions concerning defilement and other proscriptions:[4]

It seems to me that regarding ritual defilement we are surely commanded to stop minors from transgressing even if they act on their own accord; hence the Rabbis did not use the usual expression "if a minor eats a carcass, the court is not obligated to stop him," since in the case of tum'ah [ritual defilement] we are surely obliged to prevent him. But with respect to blood and crawling creatures [i.e. 'non-kosher' foods] the derasha reads [Lev. 11:42] "You shall not eat them [lo tokhlum]" as if it were written "You shall not feed them [lo ta'akhillum]," which means we are not to feed children non-kosher food with our own hands; but if he eats [such things] himself, one is not commanded to remove him [from the food]. However, regarding priestly defilement, we learn from "Speak and say - this is to caution the adults regarding the children", meaning that this applies under any circumstance, so even if a minor transgresses of his own accord, adults are commanded to remove him [e.g. from a cemetery] - the reason being the sanctity of the priesthood.

In the Tur's opinion, due to the sanctity of the priesthood, priests must prevent minors from defiling themselves, but the same does not hold for other proscriptions (even if they are from the Torah, such as the proscriptions against eating crawling creatures, blood, or desecrating the Sabbath), regarding which adults are cautioned not to lead minors astray by their own (the adults') hands, but are not commanded to prevent minors from transgressing themselves.
Who are these children (qetanim) that adults do not have to remove from doing transgressions, how old are they? According to the Tosafists,[5] we are dealing with minors who are not yet old enough to be taught, for adults are commanded to instruct minors who have reached school age in the commandments, and as part of the precept to educate, surely adults are commanded to prevent them from committing any transgression, even if the initiative for the transgression comes from the child.[6] "Old enough to learn" or "School age" is not a fixed age, but varies depending on the commandment. Here are several examples:

1. Recitation of the shema and studying Torah - as soon as the child knows how to speak.
2. Tzitzit - as soon as the child knows how to wrap himself in a tallit.
3. Laying tefillin - as soon as the child knows how to take care of his own tefillin.[7]
4. Sukkah - as soon as he no longer needs his mother.[8]
The rabbis of the Talmud believed that the obligation to educate one's children in the commandments is a rabbinic precept.[9] Rashi believed that the object of this requirement is to train the youth, making them accustomed to observing the commandments that they will be responsible for upholding when they reach maturity. This obligation apparently stems from the verse, "Train a lad in the way he ought to go; he will not swerve from it even in old age" (Prov. 22:6). Indeed, Maimonides ruled:

Even though the court is not obligated to remove a minor from transgressing, his father is commanded to reprove him and prevent him, in order to instruct him in the ways of holiness, as it is said, "Train a lad in the way he ought to go [Prov. 22:6]."[10]

Thus, according to Maimonides, educating one's children is a positive commandment deduced from the above-cited verse in Proverbs. Rabbi Meir Simhah Cohen of Dvinsk, author of the biblical commentary Meshekh Hokhmah, however, is of the opinion that the commandment to educate one's children is a biblical, not a rabbinic, commandment from the Torah.

The commandment to educate one's children stems from the positive commandment in this verse ("For I have singled him out, that he may instruct his children and his posterity [Gen. 18:19]..."), from the patriarch Abraham who instructed his sons in their youth regarding the commandments. [Ascribing the commandment to] the verse in Proverbs, "Train a lad in the way he ought to go," as cited by Maimonides at the end of Hilkhot Ma'akhalot Asurot (regarding prohibitions), is based on the received tradition; but primarily the precept comes from Abraham, and likewise it follows that fathers are also commanded with respect to their daughters [for the verse in Genesis actually reads "his sons and household"].[11]
Thus we see that even if we are not obligated by Torah law to remove a minor from committing "sins", this applies to a very small child; as soon as he is educable in that particular area, we are obligated to train him.

[1] See Humash Gur Aryeh la- Maharal mi-Prague, Machon Yerushalayim, 1993, Leviticus, pp. 118-128.
[2] Tur, Yoreh De'ah, 373.
[3] Tur, Orah Hayyim, 343.
[4] See Perush ha-Tur ha-Arokh al ha-Torah, Jerusalem 1961, 2nd edition 1964 (Lev. 21:1).
[5] Shabbat 121a. See Tosafot, s.v. shema mina qatan okhel nevelot beit din metzuvvin alav le-hafrisho.
[6] See "Hinukh" in the Encyclopedia Talmudit, vol. 16, p. 162, par. 1, ha-hinukh ve-gidro.
[7] Not to take them into the bathroom. Items 1-3 are based on the baraitha in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sukkah 42a.
[8] See the Mishnah in Sukkah 28a: "A minor who does not need his mother is obliged to perform the commandment of Sukkah." For an interpretation of what is meant by not needing his mother, see the discussion there between the rabbis of the Talmud, as well as Rashi's commentary and the Tosafot on this passage.
[9] Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 2b. Hagigah 4a.
[10] Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Ma'akhalot Asurot, 17.28.
[11] Rabbi Meir Simhah of Dvinsk, Meshekh Hokhmah, Gen. 18:19.