Children and Mitzvot (Chinukh)

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March 15 2005
Children and Mitzvot (Chinukh)

Due to the concept of chinukh (education), children who are of an age to understand perform applicable mitzvot, despite the fact that minors are exempt from mitzvot. In the understanding of Tosafot (Berakhot 15a, s.v. v’R. Yehudah, and 48a, s.v. ad), the result is that minors are considered obligated in the relevant mitzvot, on a rabbinical level. Many rishonim, however (including Rashi, 48a, s.v. ad, and Ramban, Milchamot Hashem to 19b), understand differently. As minors are exempt from mitzvot, they are also not regulated by the commandment to listen to rabbinic directives. Thus, the notion of chinukh can only reflect an obligation on the father to train the child, not a responsibility upon the latter.

The question of whether or not the child is considered obligated has a number of ramifications. Tosafot was addressing the question of whether a child can fulfill the obligation of a mitzvah for an adult, if that adult is similarly rabbinically obligated. Acharonim address the question of the child’s continuing responsibility in his own training (see Chiddushei R. Reuven [Grozovsky] to Sukkah). Would a new Bar Mitzvah have to make up mitzvot (when possible) that he missed as a child (see Resp. L’Horot Natan, I, 26; VII, 4; and V, 36)? Also, the potential ability of a child to join a zimmun would be affected as well (see Rambam, Hilkhot Berakhot, 5:7and Kessef Mishneh, and Shulchan Arukh and Rama. O.C. 199:10); as would the ability of a child to participate in the manufacture of tefilin (see Resp. K’tav Sofer, O.C. 9). Further, certain objects (such as a sukkah) attain particular status when used for a mitzvah. Would this status attach if the mitzvah was performed by a child (see Resp. Hittor’rut Teshuvah, O.C. 422)? In other words, if the obligation is purely on the father, it would seem like the child is not performing a mitzvah at all; if, however, the child is obligated, his actions may be considered mitzvot. Another issue would be a child reciting a she’chechiyanu on performing a mitzvah (see Resp. L’Horot Natan, II, 9).

A related, but distinct question, is whether a transgression performed by a child has the status of a transgression (see Terumat HaDeshen, 62; Chiddushi HaGrach al haShas; and Resp. Avnei Nezer, Y.D. 300: Resp. Eretz Tzvi, I, 75). As with mitzvot, parents are prohibited to feed their children prohibited items (Yevamot 114a), but the Talmud debates whether or not there is an active obligation to prevent them from transgressions on their own. Some authorities consider that debate to be contingent on this issue.


Collections: Rabbi Feldman Mini Shiur (Daf)

References: Berachot: 15a Berachot: 48a  

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