Is it important to keep kids (who are old enough to come to shul)
at their seats for Kerias HaTorah (as opposed to letting them play outside)?
I wish parenting were as easy as laying out important values and acting on them. Or even as easy as the chassidic rebbe who explained to his devotees why he let his son play in the back of shul during services:
“Because when our children grow up, they will be just like us. My son will sit and participate while his sons play in the back, where your sons will force their sons to sit with them while they talk to their friends and then slap their sons if they misbehave.”
Mishlei’s “chanoch lana’ar al pi darko” – educate children in the way appropriate to each – is a hefty challenge. Each child needs his or her own path, with more factors than I can list. And Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch reminds us that it’s vital for both parents to be on the same page or education doesn’t work.
The social circles in which we travel matter, too. A child whose friends sit through Kerias HaTorah will react differently to a parent insisting he do the same than a child whose friends are running free.
The goal is to raise children who both know their obligation to serve G-d and have the desire and interest to do so. For some children, the regular practice of sitting for Kerias HaTorah – even if at first annoying or uncomfortable – will flower into a lifelong devotion. Others need another path.
How to get there? Welcome to tza’ar giddul banim, the maze of parenting that comes only with very general guidelines, not specifics like when or whether to keep kids at their seats for Kerias HaTorah.
— Rabbi Dr. Gidon Rothstein, author, regular
contributor to www.Torahmusings.com
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Yes, assuming the premise of the question that the children are old enough to come to shul. Realistically, that age should not be younger than seven or eight years old.
Asking a child younger than that to come and sit quietly places him in an awkward position. He is not a mini-adult, and the shul experience for him will be at best boring and at worst will subject him to incessant shushes from the adults in the vicinity. Neither is fair to the child.
Nor is it wise to bring a young child to shul and have him or her play outside. The child might have fun, but shul will always be seen as the place to go to meet friends and have fun.
What is lost is the sense of morah, reverence, for the shul as a place of tefillah. Once lost (or worse, never inculcated in the first place), that child becomes an adult who also goes to shul to meet friends, have fun, and throw in a kiddush with liquor and delicacies.
A child who is old enough to feel awe for shul should come, daven as appropriate, but certainly hear the Torah reading. He will develop a love for it. The parent can prepare questions on the sedra beforehand and have the child find the answers during Keriah.
Moreover, it is advisable for children from age nine or ten to listen to the rav’s drasha as well. They will learn about Torah, the world, and priorities in Jewish life, and develop a warm bond with their rabbi.
Many times, young adults have told me that they remembered something I said when they were younger than their teen years that mattered in their lives.
Banishing children to groups for the duration of their youth is inadvisable. They will gain enormously from sitting next to their parents and growing spiritually from the shul experience.
— Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is the Israel regional
vice president for the Coalition for Jewish Values
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This answer depends on the age of the children – whether they are at an age when, after hearing an aliyah or two, they feel like running outside or at an age when they have the maturity to remain sitting peacefully throughout the whole Keriah.
If children bother other people and can’t keep still when quietly reprimanded, it’s best that they wait outside in the lobby.
It’s also perfectly okay if young children sit in their seats and read a book if they don’t disturb others.
— Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Tzefas
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Chinuch in general needs to take into account two primary elements:
1) Teaching and inspiring our children to live up to the Torah’s higher standards.
2) Ensuring that the education is tailored and customized to the unique personality of the child. In the words of Mishlei (22:6): “Chanoch l’naar al pi darko, gam ki yazkin lo yosur mimenoh – Train a child according to his way; even when he grows old, he will not turn away from it.”
This all-encompassing principle can also be applied to the question at hand:
On one hand, one of the reasons we bring our children to shul is to teach them about the beauty and importance of davening, which includes the reading of the weekly parsha and its message to our lives. It therefore makes sense for parents to do everything possible to inspire and encourage their children to participate in the tefillos and hear Kerias HaTorah.
At the same time, we need to be cognizant of each child’s temperament and attention span, and make sure that his shul experience remains pleasant and memorable. We need to consider the detrimental long-term effects that can result from forcing a child to stay for all the prayers and leaving the child with a bitter taste of going to shul.
This means that generally there is no one size fits all, cookie-cutter approach. Rather, we need to employ the chanoch l’naar al pi darko formula, which includes taking into account the age and personality and state of mind of each particular child.
— Rabbi Simon Jacobson, renowned Lubavitch author and lecturer