"chinuch: Training Children To Fulfill Mitzvot"

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"Chinukh: Training Children to Fulfill Mitzvot"


In Judaism, training children is both a moral and a halakhic obligation. Though there are specific biblical mitzvot in this area (e.g. retelling the story of the Exodus, teaching the Torah, bringing one's children to the Hakhel ceremony), the general obligation to accustom a child to doing mitzvot is of rabbinic origin. In this article, we will relate to the sugyot in the Talmud that deal with the parents' obligation to train their children to observe mitzvot.

[Whether chinukh is defined halakhically as a rabbinic command for the child to do mitzvot or for the parent to train the child is dealt with by a number of sources, among them Rashi and Tosafot on Berakhot 20a, and the Ran in the second chapter of Megilla.]

A. KIDDUSHIN 29a - Is There an Obligation?

The Mishna (Kiddushin 29a) rules:

"Concerning all obligations a father has towards his son - men are obligated and women are not; whereas all obligations a son has towards his father - both men and women are obligated."

The gemara quotes the Tosefta to explain what obligations a father has towards his son:

"A father is obligated to circumcise his son, to redeem him, to teach him Torah, to find him a wife and to teach him a trade. Some say that he must also teach him to swim."

It is interesting that the Tosefta does not mention an obligation for a father to train his son to fulfill mitzvot. It is possible that they did not mention training for mitzvot (חינוך למצוות) separately because they understood it as part of the general framework of the obligation to teach him Torah. It is further possible that the Tosefta lists only obligations of a FATHER towards a SON, and training a child to keep mitzvot may also be incumbent upon the mother and/or towards a daughter.

B. NAZIR 28b: Father/Mother, Son/Daughter

"Mishna: A man can accept the Nazirite vow for his son, but a woman cannot accept the vow for her son." The Gemara comments, "A man can, but a woman cannot. Why? Rav Yochanan said, 'This is a halakha of the laws of the nazir.'" (Nazir 28b)

According to Rav Yochanan, there is a "halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai," an oral tradition Moshe received at Sinai, that distinguishes between a man - who can make the nazirite vow on behalf of his son - and a woman, who cannot. The Gemara continues, "Rav Yosi son of Rabbi Chanina said in the name of Reish Lakish, 'This is to train him to observe mitzvot (לחנכו במצוות).'"

According to Rav Yochanan's approach, the Mishna's distinction is limited to the laws of nazir; one cannot extrapolate from here to any other realm of Halakha. From Reish Lakish's explanation, however, one might infer that, as a general principle, a man is obligated to train his son to observe mitzvot, but not necessarily his daughter. One might also infer that only a man, not a woman, is obligated to train the son. The Gemara states simply that the obligation of chinukh is only rabbinic in origin.

It is possible that only Reish Lakish takes such a position, but that Rav Yochanan argues on both counts: a mother is also obligated in chinukh, and there is also an obligation towards daughters. When the Meiri and the Tosafot deal with this sugya in the context of other sources on the issue, they do not raise this possibility. Apparently, they assumed that the dispute between Rav Yochanan and Reish Lakish is limited (based on the principle that one should not expand a dispute), and that the two agree that the mitzva only falls on men towards their sons.


C. MISHNA YOMA 82a: Chinukh for Girls

"Young girls (תינוקות) should not fast on Yom Kippur, but a year or two before [they are obligated in mitzvot] we train them [to fast] so they should become accustomed to keeping mitzvot."

The gemara discusses at which ages children should begin fasting. The Tosafot (Nazir 28b, "בנו-אין, בתו-לא) and the Tosafot Yeshanim (Yoma ibid.) point out that this gemara seems to speak explicitly of chinukh for girls, contradicting the gemara in Nazir. The Tosafot in Nazir do not suggest an answer, merely stating that, "One must distinguish between the two."

One possibility is that the Tosafot are restricting the obligation of chinukh of girls to Yom Kippur; it does not apply to other mitzvot. The Tosafot Yeshanim, though, explain that chinukh for girls does not apply to nazir, but surely applies to all other mitzvot. The Meiri explains the distinction further: chinukh for girls applies only to obligatory mitzvot, not to voluntary ones, like nazir. According to this, chinukh applies to boys and girls, but its scope is slightly wider for boys.

D. SUKKA 42a: Which Mitzvot?

The gemara in Eruvin (2b) mentions a group of mitzvot in which a child is obligated, such as sukka, lulav, tzitzit, and shofar. The Tosefta (cited in Sukka 42a) reads:

"The Rabbis taught: A child who knows how to shake the lulav is obligated in lulav; [when he knows] how to dress himself is obligated in tzitzit; [when he knows] how to preserve the sanctity of tefillin, his father buys him tefillin; [when he knows] how to speak, his father teaches him Torah and how to read the Shema."

It is unclear from this source  which focuses on the child's obligation, whether the father (or mother) is obligated to train the child.

The two mitzvot where the Tosefta specifically relates to the father's actions, tefillin and learning Torah, might be exceptional cases. Tosafot (Erkhin 2b s.v. Aviv) point out the different formulation of the gemara with regard to tefillin. The Gri"z, quoted in Hilkhot Ha-Gra U-minhagav, claims that the Rambam's position is that the father's obligation is limited to buying tefillin. Rav Reuven Margolis, in Nitzotzei Or, understood the gemara this way, but did not take note of the Tosafot's different reading of the gemara (Berakhot 20a, s.v. Ketanim). The Rashbam (ad loc.) cites the text "HIS FATHER PUTS THE TEFILLIN ON HIM." The Ba'al Ha-itur, quoted by the Rema (OC 37), sees this gemara as limited to a thirteen year old who has not physically matured yet.

The Tosefta's reference to teaching Torah might refer to the biblical mitzva of "Teach them to your children" (see Kiddushin 29a), teaching the Torah. However, the context seems to imply that it is referring to the mitzva of learning Torah. In other words, it refers to the mitzva to accustom the child to be involved in learning Torah, not the mitzva to teach it to him. A proof of this is that on Sukka 42a, where the gemara asks the meaning of "Torah" here, it answers, "[Starting them saying] 'Moshe commanded us the Torah' (Torah tziva lanu Moshe)." If it were referring to the mitzva of teaching children Torah, it should have followed the parameters of the mitzva as it is laid out in the central passage on the topic in Kiddushin 29a. Starting with "Torah tziva lanu Moshe" seems to be guidance on how to begin chinukh towards learning Torah.

The simple reading of the Tosefta indicates that there is a mitzva on the father to train his son to say Keriat Shema. However, Rashi (Berakhot 20a s.v. Ketanim) says that there is no obligation of chinukh on the father with regard to Keriat Shema. Even though Tosafot argue with Rashi, they do not quote the Tosefta, but make a subtle inference from elsewhere to prove their point. It seems that both of them understood the reference to Keriat Shema on Sukka 42a as part of chinukh for learning Torah. This is stated explicitly in the Bi'ur Ha-gra to Shulchan Arukh OC 70.

The Rambam quotes each one of the mitzvot listed in the Tosefta (along with others like matza) in its appropriate section of his Mishneh Torah, always adding, "in order to train him to do mitzvot." For instance, in Hilkhot Lulav 7:19 he writes, "A child who knows how to shake the lulav is rabbinically obligated to do so in order to train him to do mitzvot." He writes

likewise in Hilkhot Keriat Shema 4:1, "We teach children to read it in its proper time and they make the blessing before and after in order to train them to do mitzvot." Even though he does not explicitly write that the obligation is on the father (or mother), these are certainly mitzvot that a child is obligated to perform. The Meiri writes in each case that the father is obligated to train his son מתורת חינוך, as part of the mitzva of chinukh.


The Tosefta also does not list any obligation to train a child not to transgress prohibitions. The Tosafot in Nazir and Yoma ask: If, as we are told (Shabbat 121a), the beit din (rabbinical court, here referring to the leadership of the Jewish community) is not obligated to prevent children from eating non-kosher food, how can the father be obligated to train him? They give two answers:

1. The father is the only one obligated in chinukh;

2. There is no mitzva of chinukh with regard to prohibitions.

According to the second answer, the mitzva of chinukh is incumbent on the beit din, but both it and the father are not obligated with regard to negative commandments. Apparently, the Tosafot understood the mitzva as positive, requiring habituating children to mitzva observance. The expression "chinukh" used here is akin to that used in the context of inducting a kohen gadol (see the commentaries on the verse (Devarim 20:5), "Who is the man who built a new house and did not dedicate it [chanakho]") and involves practice. Rashi (Sukka 20b s.v. Derabanan) writes, "They obligated him to accustom a child to do mitzvot, as is fitting for him to be trained and accustomed to mitzvot."

3. There is a third answer brought in Tosafot (Shabbat 121b s.v. Shema mina). They distinguish between two different age levels: a child who has reached the age of chinukh and one who has not. Once a child reaches the age of chinukh, both the father and beit din are obligated to train the child in both positive and negative mitzvot (unlike the other two opinions in Tosafot that neither beit din nor father is obligated to train to negative mitzvot).

The Rambam (Hilkhot Ma'akhalot Asurot 17:28) distinguishes between the beit din, which is not obligated to restrain the child from eating non-kosher food, and the father, who is obligated "to train him towards holiness." The Rambam quotes the verse "Educate a child according to his path" (Mishlei 22:6).


Does this mitzva obligate a mother? The gemara (Sukka 2b) relates that the sages entered Queen Helena's sukka and did not comment about whether it was constructed properly. It concludes that Queen Helena was very diligent in keeping mitzvot (even rabbinic ones) and must have certainly made sure that her young children sat in proper sukkot (because of the rabbinic commandment that they should be trained in the mitzva of sukka).

Rabbi Akiva Eiger (Gilyon Hashas, Sukka 2b) asks, why is the gemara so concerned about whether Queen Helena made sure her sons sat in sukkot, if she is not obligated, even rabbinically, to train her sons to do mitzvot? Rabbi Akiva Eiger assumes that a woman is not obligated to train her children to do mitzvot. His position is not so obvious, given the dispute between Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish in Nazir 28b (quoted above). He must assume that they agree on this point, and furthermore, there is no distinction between voluntary mitzvot, like nazir, and obligatory ones. [The Magen Avraham (OC 343:1) also held this view. But see the Terumat Hadeshen #94 quoted there.]

The Meiri, on the other hand, claims that in the absence of a father, a mother is obligated to train her children to do mitzvot. He also says that both of them are obligated to make sure their children do not eat non-kosher food. The Netziv (Meromei Sadeh) says that it is obvious that a mother has an equal obligation - apparently even if there is a father - to train her children to do whatever mitzvot they will be obligated in when they grow up.

The Tosafot (quoted above) hold that a mother is not obligated at all in the mitzva of chinukh [see the wording of the Tosafot Yeshanim quoted by Rabbi Akiva Eiger]. They distinguish between nezirut and other mitzvot only with regard to the issue of training boys vs. training girls.

Acharonim bring a number of proofs on the issue from inferences and isolated talmudic statements. For instance:

1. Rashi (Chagiga 2a) says that the sages obligated both the father AND the mother in chinukh.

2. The Tosafot (Eiruvin 82a) ask with regards to the law that a child can be included in his mother's eiruv: do we not only make an eiruv for a mitzva? They answer that "there is a mitzva to train a child." It seems in context that this mitzva falls also upon the mother.

[3. Acharonim also quote the Tosafot in Pesachim 88a (s.v. Seh) as a proof that there is an obligation of chinukh with regard to a daughter.]

The gemara in a number of places (Sukka 28b, Chagiga 4a, and elsewhere) states that the obligation of chinukh is rabbinic. (See Yitzchak Langa's article, "The Roots of the Mitzva of Chinukh," in Mikhtam Le-David, a memorial volume for Rav David Ochs z"l, about the sources of the mitzva. After quoting those Rishonim who derive it from, "Educate a child according to his path," in Mishlei, he brings a number of midrashim that imply that it might be a biblical mitzva.) The Meshekh Chokhma's interesting comment (quoted in Langa, though we add an additional point about the first half of the quote) on the verse, "For I know that he (Avraham) will instruct his children and household after him to follow the path of God" (Bereishit 18:19), sheds light on our topic. He writes:

"There is no specific mitzva which requires parents to train children to do positive mitzvot. However, there is a positive mitzva to 'Teach your sons,' a mitzva to teach them Torah. The gemara (Nazir 29) tells us that a father must train his son to do mitzvot but a mother does not have a similar obligation towards her son. In other words, it (the mitzva of chinukh) is similar to the positive mitzva of teaching Torah, and women are exempt from it."

It seems that, according to the Meshekh Chokhma, the rabbinic mitzva of chinukh is an expansion of the biblical mitzva of teaching Torah. It follows that this mitzva is only incumbent upon fathers and they are obligated only towards their sons. This might also explain why the mitzva of chinukh is not included among the obligations of a father towards his son listed in Kiddushin. It is subsumed under the mitzva to teach him Torah.

The Meshekh Chokhma continues that the source for chinukh is the verse concerning Avraham, "For I know that he (Avraham) will instruct his children and household ..." [He sees the verse quoted by the Rambam, "Educate a child according to his path," as only a support, not a source. The Rambam only quoted the verse with regard to preventing a child from eating non-kosher food.] He infers that there is also an obligation of chinukh towards daughters. [He does not comment on a mother's obligation.]


POSITIVE/NEGATIVE MITZVOT - Rabbinically, a father is certainly obligated to train his son to do mitzvot. He might be obligated only to train with regards to positive mitzvot (one opinion in Tosafot). Others hold that he is also obligated to prevent his son from transgressing negative mitzvot (another opinion in Tosafot, and the Rambam).

DAUGHTERS - A father is obligated to train his daughter towards the mitzvot she will be obligated in when she grows up. The only talmudic reference to this is in the context of fasting on Yom Kippur.

MOTHERS - A mother is obligated to train her son, according to the Meiri - if there is no father; but according to Rashi (Chagiga 2a) and Tosafot (Eiruvin 82a), she is obligated even if there is a father. Among the Acharonim, Akiva Eiger and the Magen Avraham held that a mother is not obligated in chinukh, whereas the Netziv held that a mother is certainly obligated to train her children to do mitzvot.


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