Latest update: May 17th, 2013
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?
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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.
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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.
“The same thing applies to the study of Torah: It is a positive biblical precept for the father to teach his young son Torah [Kiddushin 29a]. The same is not true of the mother. Since she herself is not obligated in the mitzvah of Torah study, she is not obligated to teach Torah to her children (Rambam on the beginning of Hilchot Talmud Torah).
“Nevertheless,” the Rebbe continues, “if she helps her son or husband with her physical and/or material involvement to insure that they study Torah, she earns a portion of their merit, as the Gemara (Berachot 17a) states: ‘What is the great merit of women? That they bring their children to the synagogue and that they await their husbands as they study.’ ”
Finally, the Rebbe cites the all-important fact that a child’s very Jewishness is determined by his mother.
Our sages derive this from the Deuteronomy 7:3-4, which adjures us regarding the gentile nations: “ve’lo titchaten bam, bit’cha lo titen livno, u’bito lo tikach l’vincha – you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughter to his son, and you shall not take his daughter for your son.” Why? “Ki yasir et bin’cha me’acharay ve’avdu elohim acherim – For he will cause your child to turn away from Me and they will worship the gods of others.”
R. Yochanan in the name of Rabbi Shimon b. Yochai (Kiddushin 68b) derives from these two verses that a son who comes from an Israelite woman is “your son” while a son who comes from a gentile woman is not referred to as “your son.” It is the gentile father who will cause your son – that is, the son of your daughter – to turn away from G-d. Nevertheless he – your grandson – is referred to as your son.
Rashi and Tosafot have different perspectives on these verses, but either way it is clear that a son born of a Jewish woman takes on her Jewish status.
The Rebbe writes, “If the mother is Jewish, then the son is also Jewish, and it matters not who the father is or the situation the father finds himself in. From this,” the Rebbe concludes, “we see the great merit and responsibility that has been invested in the mother in relation to chinuch. This is a clear indication that educating a child to be a [proper] Jew is dependent upon the mother.”
True, circumstances have left you in a difficult situation, but ultimately you are the one who is the greatest determining factor in raising your children as good, G-d-fearing Jews. May Hashem bless you in this lofty task and may we all merit the redemption with the arrival of Moshiach, speedily in our days.
Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
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