Latest update: May 27th, 2013
Can’t Have It Both Ways
‘A Minor Who Reaches Maturity’
Our Gemara familiarizes us with a basic concept in the Babylonian Talmud: “Rava’s chazakah.” As we know, a minor is exempt from mitzvos and an adult is obligated in them. Who is an adult and who is a minor? There are two signs of adulthood: age and physical features. A boy is obligated to perform mitzvos at the age of 13 and a girl at the age of 12 providing they have physical signs of maturity. Rava posits that a 13-year-old boy is considered an adult even without clear confirmation of signs of maturity because of the chazakah that he possesses the simanim just like most people his age. This is known as “Rava’s chazakah.”
Rabbinical Vs. Biblical
The halacha is that we can rely on Rava’s chazakah concerning rabbinical obligations but not biblical ones (Rema, O.C. 55:5; Magen Avraham, s.k. 7; Mishnah Berurah, s.k. 31 and 40; Rema, 199; Magen Avraham, s.k. 7; Mishnah Berurah, s.k. 27). Thus, a boy who just turned 13 can be counted as part of a minyan since prayer in a minyan is a rabbinical mandate (Rema and Mishnah Berurah, O.C. 55). He may also be a shliach tzibbur and lead birkas hamazon (zimun) since these matters, too, are rabbinical. However, he cannot blow shofar for an adult or say birkas hamazon or kiddush on Shabbos evening for him (see Bi’ur Halachah, 271:1) since these are all biblical obligations.
What about exempting the biblical chiyuv of a fellow 13-year-old who has also not been checked for simanim? Rabbi Efrayim Zalman Margaliyos, zt”l, asserts that he cannot do so (Mateh Efrayim589:7).
A Doubt Of A Doubt
In truth, this case should be one of s’fek s’feika (doubt of a doubt) and therefore the 13-year-old boy should be able to exempt his fellow 13-year-old. For example, suppose boy A wants to blow shofar for boy B. There are two doubts here. Doubt number one: The blower may in fact be a full-fledged adult. Doubt number two: Even if he is a minor, the boy he is blowing for, boy B, may be a minor as well. This is a case of s’fek s’feika and therefore boy A should be allowed to blow shofar for boy B.
Tosafos, however, set a fundamental principle in our tractate concerning s’fek s’feika which dictates that it cannot be applied to our case. Tosafos (above, 29a, s.v. “Teisheiv lezachar”) state that one should not use s’fek s’feika if it creates contradicting leniencies. For example, suppose in our case that boy B, after hearing shofar form boy A, decides to say kerias Shema on behalf of boy A. Again, we could argue that there are two doubts here. Perhaps boy B is an adult and perhaps boy A is a minor. However, this contradicts our previous line of thinking – i.e., that boy A may be an adult and boy B may be a minor. We cannot use the same logic to contradictory ends. Hence, we cannot use s’fek s’feika in a case like this (see Turei Even, Rosh Hashanah 29a, s.v. “Tumtum” and see Halachos Vehalichos Bar Mitzvah, p. 43).
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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. RABBI GERSHON TANNENBAUM, rav of Congregation Bnai Israel of Linden Heights, Boro Park, Brooklyn, is the Director of Igud HaRabbanim – The Rabbinical Alliance of America.
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