Rabbi Dayan received the following letter from one of his readers:
“The Business Weekly column featured a story about a grandfather who offered to pay his son-in-law to learn with his own son to make a siyum at his bar mitzvah. I was surprised by the application of the Rema (C.M. 81:1) to this situation. I thought that the Rema was discussing a case where the grandfather was trying to get the father to do something that the father was specifically obligated to do. As the Shach there explains, a father is obligated to teach his son Torah or to hire someone to teach him Torah. There is nothing in the story that implies that this father was negligent in his obligation to provide his son with a Torah education. He presumably sends his son to yeshiva and probably spends some time with him each week reviewing, too. I would not have thought there is a specific obligation for a father to learn with his son in order to make a siyum on his bar mitzvah, so the Rema does not apply and the father-in-law would have no excuse not to fulfill the deal.
Does the author think that a father is obligated to make a siyum with his son for his bar mitzvah? Or does he hold that since a father is generally obligated to teach his son Torah, the Rema’s opinion will apply to any deal related to the mitzvah of teaching Torah to his son, even beyond the level of obligation?”
A similar question was posed by two other readers.
“Does the Rema’s ruling apply also in this case of a siyum?”
“I wondered about this when writing the article,” acknowledged Rabbi Dayan. “There certainly is no obligation to make a siyum at a bar mitzvah, although it is highly commendable.
“The Gemara (Kiddushin 30a) addresses the extent of a father’s obligation to teach his son Torah. It cites the case of a child whose grandfather taught him Tanach, Mishnah, Gemara, halachos and aggados, but concludes that the father’s obligation suffices with teaching the written Torah.
“Rambam (Hil. Talmud Torah 1:7) rules, accordingly, that a father is required to hire a teacher for all of Tanach. Kesef Mishneh understands that he is not obligated beyond this, even for free.
“Tur (Y.D. #245), however, cites from Ramah (R. Meir HaLevi Abulafia) that the minimal obligation of Tanach is for someone who is unable to educate more, but one who can, is obligated (chayav) to teach his son Mishnah, Gemara, halachos and aggados.
“Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 245:6) cites the Ramah, but uses the word mitzvah instead of chayav.
“Shulchan Aruch Harav (Hil. Talmud Torah 1:4) rules that a father is required to teach his son the entire Written and Oral Torah. Aruch HaShulchan (Y.D. 245:3-5, 15), though, rules that the absolute requirement is only for the Written Torah, but there is a great mitzvah to teach the remainder of Torah, and we force someone who is able to through laws of tzedaka.
“We mentioned in the article that according to the Ketzos (81:4), if the father-in-law was sincere, he is liable for payment of wages even for fulfillment of an obligated mitzvah. If he claims that he was insincere, though, and just cajoling the father to fulfill his mitzvah of chinuch more fully, in my opinion the Rema’s ruling exempting him would still apply, even though learning Mishnayos or Gemara for a siyum is not an absolute obligation.
“Conversely, we mentioned that the Nesivos (81:2) maintains that even without a claim of insincerity, there is no employer-employee commitment when “hiring” someone to fulfill his own obligation. It seems to me that this applies only to an absolute requirement, though, not to additional learning for a greater mitzvah.
“Thus, in this case,” concluded Rabbi Dayan, “the deciding factor is whether the father-in-law’s intention was sincere or not.”
Verdict: Regarding learning for a siyum, if the father-in-law claims that he was insincere, he is exempt; otherwise, he is liable.