Do young children belong in shul?
There is extensive halachic literature on this topic. Many have ruled that small children should not be brought to synagogue because they are likely to disrupt the prayers of the congregation.
Others have pointed to the example of the Talmudic sage Rav Yehoshua who was thought to have become so great because his mother brought him to the study hall even as an infant (and even when she was still pregnant with him!).
It was believed that an infant absorbs holiness and wisdom by being in proper surroundings. This would apply to places of prayer as well as places of Torah study. There is something beautiful about babies and toddlers absorbing the tefillot as a natural part of their upbringing.
As a synagogue rabbi for many years, I had to deal with this issue. Before I came to our congregation [the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue], children under age five were not permitted to be in the sanctuary during services. This policy may have been good for maintaining decorum, but it discouraged parents of young children from attending services.
We addressed the issue by setting up childcare and youth group programs. We also suggested to parents that they could bring their young children into the synagogue during services as long as the children did not disrupt the prayers of others. Once children become restless or noisy, it was up to the parents to quickly take the children out of the sanctuary.
I definitely believe that young children belong in the synagogue. But I also definitely believe that it is an obligation of parents to see to it that their children do not disturb the prayers of others.
— Rabbi Marc D. Angel, director of the
Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals
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This question reminds me of those people who argue in favor of child-free flights so they can enjoy peace and quiet. This, despite the fact that those same people probably once flew with their own boisterous children years before.
It was a few years ago when a young child, sitting on his father’s lap, started to make noise in the middle of my sermon. The father proceeded to get up and carry the child out. I stopped midflow and said simply, “You don’t have to do that. We’re a child-friendly shul!”
To be sure, there is no hard-and-fast rule. Obviously, even though I might not be bothered being interrupted by a child, other members who want to listen to me might be, and they ought to be considered as well.
All that said, every shul ought to have facilities to accommodate their children – i.e., “children’s services.” My shul has the largest proportion of children under the age of 20 in the UK (approximately 600), and we have children’s services for all age groups ranging from 0-18.
But even if a community might not have enough children to make up a special service, I think they should always be a welcome sight in every shul.
As per the words in Malachi: “He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents.” Lord Immanuel Jakobovits, z”l, once explained this to me as follows: “It used to be that parents were shlepping their kids to shul. Today kids are shlepping their parents to shul.”
That’s got to be a good thing.
— Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, popular Lubavitch
lecturer, rabbi of London’s Mill Hill Synagogue
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Young children belong in shul provided that the environment is conducive to their growth and their behavior is conducive to the davening.
So it’s appropriate to bring them to shul if the shul has a youth group or a room where the children can play, etc. It’s also appropriate if the child can sit next to his father and will have proper respect for the beis kenesses, even if he isn’t davening. It’s very appropriate for him to be there because it’s part of chinuch.
However, for a young child to come to shul and disrupt the davening – that’s bad for the child and certainly bad for the shul. So it really depends on the situation and the child.
— Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier, founder of The Shmuz
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Tosafos (Chagiga 3a) – based on the exhortation to bring young children to hakhel – concludes that young children should be brought to davening. The Ramban, though, assumes that children who are brought to hakhel are older.
In practice, there are a number of factors to be considered. The positive impact for the child attending services has to be balanced by the potential disruption of davening of adults.
Many congregations have a supervised program for young children where they can participate in an age-appropriate way. These programs allow mothers to come to shul. (For very young children, this is only possible when the community has an eruv.)
Ultimately, every child is different, and determining the appropriate age for a particular child to go to shul will vary accordingly.
— Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani at YU’s
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary