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We continued with an examination of the necessary waiting time between consuming meat and milk. We also addressed the question of the necessary waiting time between the consumption of dairy foods (milk, as well as soft or hard cheeses) and meat. There are various opinions, but one common requirement is that the hands be washed and the mouth rinsed after dairy.
We then proceeded with a discussion regarding the age at which a child is required to wait the full time between meat and milk, as an adult does. Whereas the set age for the obligation to fulfill mitzvot is 12 years and a day for girls, and 13 years and a day for boys, there are various subjective definitions as to when a child can be considered capable of understanding, and therefore parents have to be meticulous in training the child in the fulfillment of mitzvot.
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We find a more precise definition in this regard in the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 245:5), where R. Yosef Caro states, “From when [at what age] must one begin to teach his son [Torah]” From the time he starts to talk. He then begins to teach him the verse in Parashat VeZot HaBeracha (Deuteronomy 33:4), ‘Torah tziva lanu Moshe morasha kehillat Yaakov – The Torah that Moses commanded us is the inheritance of the Congregation of Jacob,’ and the first verse of the Shema recital as found in Parashat VaEt’chanan (Deuteronomy 6:4), ‘Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad – Hear, O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is one.’”
He continues, “And later on [as he attains more understanding] he teaches him more, until the child reaches six or seven years of age, and then he sends him to the melamdei tinokot – the teachers for young children.”
He reiterates further (245:8), “We bring the young children [to the school] to be taught when they a full five years of age, but they are not to be brought earlier than that. And if the child is delicate, we bring him [there] when he is a full six years of age.”
The Vilna Gaon explains that this halacha is not inconsistent with R. Yosef Caro’s earlier ruling (245:5) because the numbers are essentially the same, for “age five” is understood to mean up to the sixth birthday…
R. Caro’s source is the Gemara in perek “Lo yachpor” (Bava Batra 21a), where it is concluded that when a child reaches six years of age, or seven if he is delicate, we are to begin instructing him in Torah, and thus his chinuch (education) commences.
The Gemara (ad loc.) adds the instructions of Rav to R. Samuel b. Shilat, who was a teacher of young children: “Do not accept children before the age of six; from that age you can accept them, and stuff them with Torah like [one feeds] an ox.”
Obviously, Rav’s opinion is that a child before that age is not ready to learn, and teaching him at that time will be counterproductive.
Kashrut matters are also an area of study that we engage in all our lives, considering how often we eat meals – three times a day, seven days a week. We wish to ensure that what we eat and how we eat it is fully in accord with Halacha. Thus, there must be an age when we start the kashrut education of our young children.
We find the view of the Gaon R. Moshe Stern, zt”l (Responsa Ba’er Moshe Vol. 3:36), who deals with this question specifically: “Starting at what age do we wait before we feed a young child milk after he ate meat? We only begin at age three. Before that time one feeds a child milk even immediately [after meat]. The only requirement is that one wash out the child’s mouth so that there is no residue of meat therein. After three years of age we begin to train the child [to wait] one hour, and then subsequently two and three hours, until the child reaches six years of age, because they [the halachic authorities] did not set a requirement of six hours [for such a young child]. For a child who is delicate, or who will not drink any other beverage before going to sleep, or in other similar situations, the [halachic authorities] were more lenient up to age nine but suggested waiting three hours whenever possible. However, even regarding a healthy child they were not very meticulous in this matter, that is, to wait beyond three hours. After age nine - that is when they are stricter…”
In Responsa Teshuvot VeHanhagot (Vol. 1:435) we learn that the Gaon R. Moshe Sternbuch rules similarly in a related case. There we read, “It would seem that as soon as [the child] understands the prohibition of milk after meat, even at age two, it is proper to educate (chinuch) him as we do with all other mitzvot in regard to violations [of Halacha], as we note from the halachic authorities (Orach Chayyim 343; Mishna Berura 343:3) who state, ‘…and it is proper to wait one hour (after the child’s mouth has been washed and the teeth brushed).’ One hour is the essential waiting period of the Rema (Yoreh De’ah 89). However, when the child reaches age five or six, which is the age when we begin the education for mitzvot, we have to start teaching him to wait three hours before drinking milk after eating meat. (Ed.: But, note Mishna Berura and Orach Chayyim 70:6 and 70:1.) At age nine or ten, we teach the child to wait the full required time.
“The Chochmat Adam (40:13) is lenient regarding an ailing person, whom he permits to consume milk as soon as one hour after eating meat, and the rule for a minor child would be the same.”
However, R. Sternbuch advises that [even with the very young] there should be some sort of chinuch in this matter. It is thus proper that as soon as feasible, a young child should be trained to wait six hours. He adds that he has not found this matter extensively discussed in the works of the poskim. Nevertheless, the concept is that the young child should be educated, the goal being the regular observance of mitzvot when the age of obligation is attained.