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Week 2 of our 4-part Focus on:

THE SHUL
Is It Proper To Bring Very Young Children To Shul?

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Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet

The Mishnah in Chagiga says there is value to bringing children to the Beis HaMikdash even if only to bestow reward upon those who bring them. Why should bringing young children to the Beis HaMikdash be rewarded? And what is the reward?

The answer is that simply exposing young children to such a holy atmosphere will invariably impact on them such that when they grow older they will be imbued by some of that spiritual ambience. Even as they may be oblivious to their surrounds, their neshomos are every bit aware. This will surely assist in them growing to be sources of nachas to their parents. Frankly there can be no greater reward than that.

Rabbi Yehoshua’s mother used to leave him as a baby in the beis hamidrash so that he could soak up the atmosphere, thus enabling him to grow as he did.

Needless to say if the young children are just going to cry and disrupt, that’s another matter. In my shul we have children’s services for ages up to 11. That always remains a practical option.

Ultimately, with the right framework, it is proper, and provides an opportunity for the parent to be in shul as well.

– Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, popular Lubavitch lecturer, rabbi of London’s Mill Hill Synagogue

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Rabbi Zev Leff

There is a definite conflict between educating children to being in shul and davening and maintaining proper shul decorum. Very small children who definitely cannot sit still, daven, or remain quiet have no purpose in shul except to be exposed to the aura of kedusha the shul provides. Bringing them to shul at regular times is therefore more damaging to the shul than beneficial to them. At times when the decorum of the shul is anyway compromised (i.e., Simchas Torah) bringing them would be a benefit to them and little damage to those in shul.

At other times a child as he matures should be brought to shul for short intervals when he is capable of sitting still – educating him in proper respect and conduct in shul. As he matures he can be brought for longer intervals and eventually learn to daven portions of the service. Bottom line, a balance between educating a child to attend shul, daven and act properly within its walls and maintaining shul decorum and not disturbing others must be maintained.

– Rabbi Zev Leff, rav of Moshav Matisyahu, popular lecturer and educator

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Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier

Rashi in a number of places explains the word chinuch to mean “to begin the process” in the sense of: to put a child on a path that we want him/her to continue on. The obligation of parents is to educate their children to become wholesome, fully developed avdei Hashem.

One has to ask the following question: When I’m bringing my child to shul what chinuch am I giving him? That depends on if he has reached the age of chinuch.

For a very young child who can’t relate to the reverence of the shul, he comes to shul to play like it is a playground. The parent is unintentionally training him to be disrespectful to the shul. For that reason in halacha it is brought down that one would not be allowed to bring a very young child to shul.

Once a child reaches the age of chinuch, however, it is a mitzvah on the parents, specifically for the father, to bring his child to shul and make sure the boy understands why he is coming to shul and that he davens properly (including answering amen and yehei shmei raba). This will put the child on the path to have proper respect for a House of Hashem and give an understanding of what a Jew should be doing while there.

– Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier, founder of The Shmuz and author of the new book 10 Really Dumb Mistakes That Very Smart Couples Make (available at theshmuz.com).

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Rabbi Marc D. Angel

Many parents want their children to become accustomed to attending synagogue from an early age. That’s fine, but parents must assume responsibility for their children during services. If the children become restless, noisy, and disruptive to others, then parents need to bring them out of the sanctuary until they settle down.

Many synagogues provide childcare during services, so that children can spend some time in the main sanctuary and the rest of the morning in child care/youth programs/youth services.

If children are very young, it’s very difficult to expect them to stay quiet for a long stretch of time. As they grow older, the time they spend in services can be gradually increased.

It is essential for parents to be extra sensitive to the needs of the entire kahal when they bring their children to synagogue. It is essential for the kahal to be very understanding and patient when it comes to the needs of parents and young children. Striking the right balance isn’t always easy. But it can be done with the goodwill of all the members of the community – young and old.

– Rabbi Marc D. Angel, director of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals

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