Question: I am a single mother of young children. Their father has shirked all his responsibilities to them. I do my best for my children, but it isn’t easy. Isn’t their father in serious violation of the Torah by neglecting his children and not making any effort to provide them an education?
No Name Please
Answer: We learn from a mishnah (Kiddushin 29a) that a father has certain exclusive responsibilities to his children. One of those responsibilities is teaching them Torah. The Mechaber (Yoreh Deah 245:1-6) states that it is a biblical requirement for the father to educate his son himself or hire a teacher. The Meiri (Nazir 29) learns from R. Yochanan that besides for designating a child a nazir, a woman shares the obligations of child rearing, including education, with her husband. The Shitah Mekubetzes (Nazir ad loc.) cites the Gemara (Sukkah 2b) about Queen Helena training her minor children to eat in the sukkah, indicating that a mother is also obligated to educate her children in the performance of mitzvot.
Last week we looked at several commentators who indicate that a mother is only responsible to educate her children regarding precepts they will be obligated to perform when they reach maturity, and not discretionary precepts, such as nezirut. The Chidushei Orach Mishor specifies that a mother is obligated to train her children in positive precepts but not prohibitory ones.
Rabbi Reuven Grozovsky explains that a father is actually not obligated to train his children in the performance of mitzvot but he does bear personal responsibility for his children’s transgressions; they are considered his own. It is therefore in the father’s own interest to train his children in mitzvot. A mother, however, bears no personal responsibility for her children’s transgressions.
I posited that the Torah and our sages place the responsibility of chinuch on the father because he might at times shirk his responsibility. On the other hand, a mother will naturally go to great lengths to make sure her children are educated, so no additional obligation is placed upon her.
* * * * *
After I offered my thoughts in last week’s column, I was very fortunate to find similar ideas expressed by the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, zt”l (Sha’arei Chinuch p. 113). Baruch sh’kivanti l’daat gedolim! Blessed is He who directed me to the same conclusion as one of our sages!
The Lubavitcher Rebbe discusses the role of a mother in the education of her children and notes as follows: “It is important to emphasize the obligation and merits of Jewish women regarding chinuch.”
He writes, “First and foremost: The obligation of chinuch according to the strict letter of the law is the father’s responsibility.” The Rebbe cites Shulchan Aruch Harav (Orach Chayim 343:2) that the father “is obligated rabbinically to educate his sons or daughters in the observance of biblical precepts when they reach the age of chinuch.” As explained infra (sk2), this differs with each child – each according to his own level of understanding. However, the Gemara (Bava Batra 21a) sets the age at either six or seven.”
“The mother (infra sk4) is not obligated at all in her child’s regard concerning positive or negative biblical precepts. Notwithstanding this,” the Rebbe argues, “the education and the conduct of sons and daughters, especially the very young, is actually dependent to a great degree on the training of the mother, the mainstay of the house and, for all practical purposes, the preponderance of [proper] chinuch is done by her.
“Also well known is that which the Shela (Sha’ar Ha’otiot 44:1) writes: ‘Women are obligated to admonish their children, no different than the father, and even more so since they are the ones at home and more available.’
“And further, there is a greater advantage to education and admonishment when done by women as opposed to men because by nature women are more gentle and infuse more love and caring than men in the training of their children. Indeed, we have seen, especially in these recent generations, that specifically when reaching out with love [as the pasuk in Mishlei (22:6) states] ‘Chanoch la’na’ar al pi darko – Teach the lad in the manner most suited him,’ the results have the greatest success.