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The Talmud (Yevamos 114a) states that the Torah tells us in three places (Vayikra 11:42, 17:12, and 21:1) not to cause a child to sin. The Terumas HaDeshen (62) explains that the Torah doesn’t want a child to become accustomed to sinning to the point that he will wish to continue sinning when he’s older.

Based on this passage, the Rambam (Hilchos Maachalos Asuros 17:27-28; see also Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 343:1) rules that giving a child non-kosher food is forbidden even if the food is only forbidden by Rabbinic decree. He also rules that while a beis din is not commanded to separate child from sin, the child’s father is obligated to do so.

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A parent is also obligated to educate his child to perform mitzvos. The Gemara (Sukkah 42a) states that a father should teach his child to do mitzvos he is mentally or physically capable of performing. Therefore, “a child who knows how to shake [lulav] is obligated [to shake] lulav; if he knows how to wrap himself [with a tallis], he is subject to the obligation of tzitzis.”

 

When Chinuch Entails Sinning

At times, a parent’s obligation to educate his child to perform mitzvos may conflict with his obligation to prevent him from sinning. What should one do in such situations?

The Talmud appears to address this question in a number of places. For example, the Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 32b) permits a child to blow shofar on Shabbos even though blowing shofar on Shabbos is rabbinically forbidden. Why? Rashi explains: “in order to educate him in mitzvos.”

The Talmud even appears to permit a child to violate a biblical prohibition for the purpose of chinuch. Tosafos (Pesachim 88a) notes that a person generally is not permitted to eat from a Korban Pesach to which he is not previously assigned. Therefore, it follows that we should not be permitted to feed a child the meat of a Korban Pesach since, due to his age, he cannot be legally assigned to a specific korban. The Talmud, however, assumes that a child may eat from a Korban Pesach.

Rishonim offer different answers to solve this apparent contradiction. R. Shimshon of Shantz, for example, suggests that eating from a Korban Pesach to which one has not been assigned is actually not forbidden. Tosafos, however, argues that the mitzvah of chinuch sets aside the prohibition against eating from a Korban Pesach to which one has not been assigned. In other words, chinuch sets aside a biblical prohibition!

The Magen Avraham (343:3) derives a general rule from Tosafos’s explanation: For the sake of chinuch we may let a child violate a prohibition. The Shulchan Aruch HaRav (343:5-8) agrees with this principle. He states that as long as a child continues to fulfill a mitzvah when he is older, he may fulfill this mitzvah as a child while violating a prohibition. That’s why, he explains, children may drink from the Kiddush wine at shul on Friday night even though this Kiddush is not said at the place of the meal and thus should not permit anyone to eat or drink. Children may drink nonetheless because they are thereby educated in the mitzvah of Kiddush. (It would be forbidden, however, to give a child wine from a bris mila performed on Yom Kippur since the child is not meant to drink on Kippur when he is older.)

Others disagree with or limit this leniency. For example, the Mishkenos Yaakov (Orach Chayim 118) criticizes the practice of sending a child to shul on Shabbos while carrying a siddur and tallis. However, the Beur Halacha (333) cites R. Akiva Eiger who permits doing so under certain circumstances.

 

Two Types of Chinuch

The Talmud (Nazir 29a) states that chinuch is a rabbinic obligation. Tosafos, however, appears to believe that chinuch is a biblical mitzvah which, at times, may set aside the obligation to separate a child from sin. If the obligation is biblical, where is its source in the Bible?

Achronim, including R. Moshe Shternbuch (Mo’adim Uzemanim 3:236) and R. Asher Weiss (Minchas Asher, Bereishis 21), discuss this question at length. There are a number of verses that might qualify. “And you shall tell your children” (Shemos 13:8) is one candidate. “And thou shall teach [the mitzvos] diligently unto thy children” (Devarim 6:7) is another. R. Meir Simcha of Dvinsk (Meshech Chachmah, Bereishis 18:19) suggests “[Abraham is blessed because] he will instruct his children and his house after him to follow in G-d’s ways to perform righteousness and justice.”

The Ramban, in his comments to the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvos (2; see also Sefer Kinyan Torah 5:41), offers another source: Devarim 4:9-10, which states: “Beware and watch yourself very well, lest you forget the things that your eyes saw, and lest these things depart from your heart, all the days of your life, and you shall make them known to your children and to your children’s children, the day you stood before the Lord your G-d at Chorev.” He explains that these verses teach us that we should not be negligent in transmitting the Torah to our children – i.e., that we must always transmit the Torah to the next generation.

These verses, however, seem to describe a different mitzvah than the mitzvah of chinuch described by the Talmud. While the Gemara refers to a parent’s obligation to teach his child the intricacies of the mitzvos, these verses instruct parents to share the Sinai experience, belief in G-d, and the acceptance of the yoke of Heaven.

What, then, happens when the rabbinic chinuch obligation contradicts the biblical obligation as described in the verses cited by the Ramban? For example, what if a parent fears that insisting that his child perform a particular mitzvah will not bring him closer to ahavas and yiras Hashem, but rather will lead him to reject the mtizvos? For example, what if a young child falls asleep at the table before reciting Birkas Hamazon? Waking him to say Birkas Hamazon is important, but by doing so he risks forfeiting his biblical obligation to educate his child to love G-d.

R. Meir Schlesinger (Shaalei Daat vol. 6), the founding rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Shaalvim, brought this question to R. Shalom Zalman Auerbach, zt”l. In response, R. Auerbach referred him to a responsa, in which he writes the following: A person might think that he shouldn’t give a non-religious Jew a cup of water if he asks for one since he will likely drink it without first saying a beracha. However, if he acts in this manner, he risks violating a larger sin – i.e., causing this person to be angry at G-d and His Torah.

R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach’s beautiful insight highlights the difficulty and complexity of chinuch – training our children to perform mitzvos while instilling in them a love for Torah.

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Rabbi David Brofsky has taught Talmud and halacha in numerous institutions in Israel, including Yeshivat Har Etzion, Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalyim, Midreshet Lindenbaum, and Midreshet Torah V'Avodah. He writes a weekly halacha article for Yeshivat Har Etzion's Virtual Beit Midrash (VBM), and is the author of “Hilkhot Tefilla,” “Hilkhot Moadim,” and a forthcoming book on hilchot aveilut.