Question: Are there limitations to the mitzvah of chinuch?
Answer: We previously noted that the Netziv ruled that children are only to be taught to observe mitzvot and customs in the same manner that they will observe them as adults.
We also suggested last week that Rashi believes that a parent cannot fulfill the mitzvah of chinuch through a shliach – either because a child must see his father first-hand observing mitzvot and emulate him or because a parent must directly observe his child’s progress in performing mitzvot.
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The Mishnah Berurah in his Biur Halachah (Orach Chayim 675), citing the Magen Avraham (Orach Chayim 677:8), notes that minor children are exempt from the contemporary Chanukah custom of everyone lighting his or her own menorah, lighting an additional candle each night.
His rationale is that the mitzvah of chinuch only applies to practices that are biblical or rabbinic law in nature. Lighting an additional candle each night, however, is not an obligation (a true chiyuv) but a hiddur mitzvah. Chazal never required parents to ensure that their children fulfill hidurei mitzvah.
But what about the Netziv’s position that children should fulfill mitzvot exactly as they will as adults? Doesn’t this position require children to light menorah just like adults do? If so, it would seem that the Mishnah Berurah disagrees with the Netziv.
We can suggest, though, that the Netziv would agree that children sometimes should not perform mitzvot. What he argues is simply that if a child performs a mitzvah, he should perform it as if he were an adult.
Interestingly, the Mishnah Berurah rules that if a child owns a home, he should light one candle each night of Chanukah. Even this ruling, however, may not contradict the Netziv. The Netziv perhaps only objects to children performing mitzvot in a non-halachic manner. He may not, however, object to a child lighting menorah contrary to the accepted custom as long as he does so in a halachically acceptable manner.
Rabbi Cohen, a “Jerusalem Prize” recipient, is the author of several Jewish books on Jewish Law. His latest, “Shabbat The Right Way: Resolving Halachic Dilemmas” (Urim Publications), is available at Judaica stores and Amazon.com.