Should one bring young children to Shule?

I was lucky. In both houses that we lived in, we were literally 3-4 minutes walk from the Shule. I had a policy that if a child was to come to Shule and end up playing in the playground, then they would not assimilate the purpose of Shule. I therefore waited until a certain age (and that can change from child to child) and would rush out after Haftora and bring them to Shule to sit next to me quietly until the end of Davening. I don’t know whether my approach had any effect. I sometimes saw people come to Shule with toddlers and even babies and I wondered whether they were coming to Daven, or whether theirs was a combination baby sitting service so Mummy could recover perhaps on Shabbos morning with a good sleep. I never thought it was right. I used to get annoyed when little ones were making noise and the father was not even trying to control the child, or if the child couldn’t be controlled wouldn’t remove them from Shule until they had calmed down.

And yes, I know that there are opinions that in a year of Hakhel even the tiny children would come to hear the Torah recited.

With that in mind, I came across a responsum of Rabbi Re’eim Hacohen
Rosh Yeshiva and Chief Rabbi, Otniel, whom I don’t know. I copy it below for any comment. There is a Brisker Torah on Hakhel which I learned and have forgotten, I will look it up and follow-up with it tomorrow hopefully.

Question: Are we allowed to bring small children with us to a synagogue, or should this be avoided because they will often disturb the congregation?

Answer:

Everybody participated in the gathering at Mount Sinai and on the occasion of making the covenant in the book of Devarim, including the small children. It is written in the Torah portion of Yitro, “Be ready for the third day, for on the third day G-d will descend before the eyes of the entire nation on Mount Sinai” [Shemot 19:11]. And as is described in detail later on, “You are all standing today before your G-d… Your small children and your wives… from your woodchopper to the one who draws your water.” [Devarim 29:9-10]. In the passage of the mitzva of Hakhel, it is also written, “Gather the nation – men, women, and small children… so that they will hear and they will learn, and they will fear your G-d” [Devarim 31:12].

Happy is the One who Gave Birth to Him

The Talmud Yerushalmi expands the idea of Mount Sinai, and explicitly views the bringing of young children to the Beit Midrash favorably:

“It happened that the sages came to see Rabbi Dossa Ben Herkines… He saw Rabbi Yehoshua and declared, ‘Who will teach knowledge… [those who have been weaned from milk, grown old from the breasts]’ [Yeshayahu 28:9]. I remember that his mother would bring his crib to the synagogue so that his ears would be influenced by the words of Torah.” [Yevamot Chapter 1].

The Meshech Chochma uses this as a basis to explain why Rabbi Yehoshua was so fond of a lesson taught by Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaria:

“We have been taught – It is said about Rabbi Yochanan Ben Beroka and Rabbi Elazar Ben Chassma that they went to greet Rabbi Yehoshua in Peki’in. He asked them what novel idea was discussed in the Beit Midrash that day. They replied, We are your students, and we drink from your well. But he replied, No matter, give me an answer… And they said the passage of ‘Hakhel’ was studied. And what did Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaria say? He said: ‘Gather the nation, the men and the women, and the young children’ – The men come to learn and the women come to hear, but why do the children come? The answer is, to give a reward to those who bring them. And he replied to them: You had a precious jewel in your hands, how could you try to keep it from me?” [Chagiga 3a].

Tosafot expanded Rabbi Yehoshua’s idea to include bringing young children to any synagogue. “To give a reward to those who bring them – and this is the reason that people bring young children to the synagogue.”

It is logical to assume that the reward given to those who bring children with them is not merely in return for the direct effort involved, but that there is also an educational benefit for the children themselves. Their ears get used to hearing Torah words and prayer, as we learn from the story about Rabbi Yehoshua.

This can also be seen from the words of the Maharsha, who explains that these comments even refer to children who have not yet reached the formal age of being taught the mitzvot:

“‘Women come to hear, why do the children come?’ – This should be studied further, since after this it is written, ‘and their children who do not know will listen and learn’ [Devarim 33:13]. Does this mean that even children who do not know anything will also hear and learn? We can say that this last verse is relevant for small children who have reached the age of being taught… This means that the small children in the verse of Hakhel must refer to… very young children who have not reached the age of being taught and therefore are not expected to learn. Why are they brought? The only reason is to give those who bring them a reward…

“And the word ‘taf’ – little children – can be viewed as a hint of the benefit. The letters before and after the letter ‘tet’ are‘ chet’ and ‘yud,’ and the letters before and after ‘peh’ are ‘ayin’ and ‘tzadik’ – which spells ‘etz chai,’ a tree of life. The little children who are brought to the Temple in order to support the tree of life…”

The Limitations of the Shelah

However, the Magen Avraham quotes the words of the Shelah: “With respect to small sons, the father must teach them to stand with fear. But those who run around and play in the synagogue should best not be brought.”

This is similar to what is written in the Mishna Berura:

“With respect to the small children, they must be taught to stand with fear. And the very small ones who run around and play in the synagogue should best not be brought, since a habit becomes second nature later on, and they also interfere with the prayers of the congregation. In addition, it is important for a father who brings small children to the synagogue to watch over their sandals and their clothing, to make sure that they are clean, in order not to cause a problem for those who are praying within four Amot of them.”

The Shulchan Aruch also rules: “It is a good custom to bring little boys and girls to hear the reading of the Megilla” [689:6]. And the Magen Avraham adds here too, “To bring children – but not to bring the very smallest children, who can confuse the people who are listening.” The Mishna Berura quotes this and expands on it.

Biur Halacha explains that the “good custom” mentioned by the Shulchan Aruch is referring only to children who have reached the age when they should be taught. It might have been thought that it would be best to leave them at home too and to read for them in private, but in order to publicize the miracle of Purim as widely as possible it is a good custom to bring them to the synagogue.

In Practice

In my humble opinion, it is clear, as the Maharsha wrote, that the Talmud quoted above is discussing bringing very small children who have not yet reached the age of teaching. Thus, the custom of bringing small children to a synagogue even includes these very young children. The reason is that the encounter with the atmosphere of the synagogue and the Beit Midrash will be a good influence on them, in the way that happened to Rabbi Yehoshua. Thus, in practice, there is clearly value in bringing even very small children to a synagogue.

On the other hand, there is no doubt that if a baby causes a disturbance in the prayers, he or she should be taken out of the synagogue. According to the law, this should also be done during the silent Amidah, as can be understood from the words of the Shelah, the Magen Avraham, and the Mishna Berura. However, it seems to me that the words of the Shelah and his followers do not mean that the synagogue should remain free of all babies and thereby lose its connection to the events at Mount Sinai and to the Temple.

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia although my views have naught​ to do with my employer. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

13 thoughts on “Should one bring young children to Shule?”

  1. I am sorry that it will sound like that I am a story teller.

    Here is the Story: I used to pray in the YESHURUN Synagogue in Jerusalem. At that time it was “The Big Synagogue” of the city. One Kol Nidre night I was sitting in my seat with my 3 year old son on my lap. Everyone was quite, and waiting for the Chief Rabbi to enter. Eventually Rabbi Unterman entered with his TOP HAT, and everyone stood up for him in silence. Out of the blue, my son started shouting: “The magician is here”. That was the rabbit in my hat.
    About the story in Chagiga
    You write: “But he replied, No matter, give me an answer…”, actually he said:
    אי אפשר לבית המדרש בלא חידוש
    There cannot be [a teaching] in the Beth Hamidrash without a novelty.

    It is puzzling. Who can bring up a novelty? I am asking this question because of another Brayta (Succa 28a). What do we find there?

    תנו רבנן: מעשה ברבי אליעזר ששבת בגליל העליון, ושאלוהו שלשים הלכות בהלכות סוכה, שתים עשרה אמר להם שמעתי, שמונה עשר אמר להם, לא שמעתי. […] אמרו לו: כל דבריך אינן אלא מפי השמועה? – אמר להם: הזקקתוני לומר דבר שלא שמעתי מפי רבותי. […], ולא אמרתי דבר שלא שמעתי מפי רבי מעולם

    We see here that the people who asked Rabbi Eliezer the question were also puzzled. They asked him: “all your sayings are from hearing others” = hearsay? In other words they wanted him to give them his own opinion.

    If Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai (see there in Succa) did not say anything which they have not heard from their teachers, then who could bring a Chidush = novelty? Was the Beth Hamidrash a place where the rulings were composed? Was it the only place where NEW rulings could be established? Could the Beth Hamidrash issue new rulings which the Sanhedrin had to consider in their rulings?

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      1. Does a Chidush really mean nothing? If that is the case why did he say: ” There cannot be [a teaching] in the Beth Hamidrash without a novelty.”?

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    1. Here is a comment from an anonymous reader:

      https://pitputim.me/2015/10/22/should-you-bring-young-children-to-shule/

      I just thought to comment:
      1. The Rebbe was a proponent of bringing small children to Shule due to the circumstances of our generation – when there is so much “out there”, we need to make our children feel that Shule is “our place” from a young age – even when s/he is not old enough to daven in Shule. The Rebbe also connects this to the idea that the sincerity of children arouses Hashem’s love even if their decorum in not perfect, similar to what it says in this Midrash:
      שיר השירים רבה פרשה ב

      ורבנן אמרי אפילו התינוק מדלג על האזכרה כמה פעמים ואינו נזוק, ולא עוד אלא אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא ודילוגו עלי אהבה

      Of course, this does not mean that the child has to be in Shule for the entire davening. And it certainly does not absolve parents from ensuring that their children behave appropriately. But there is importance in making the Shule a deep part of childhood experience, even if it takes extra effort on the part of the parent.

      [I don’t have “chapter and verse” on hand – when I have a chance I could look for some sources in the Sichos.]

      The comments about רבי אליעזר – it is clear throughout ש”ס that this was a unique quality of his. [As to the reason, here is one explanation I have found with the help of my Bar Ilan software:

      הגר”ש קלוגר זצ”ל בספר החיים (סוף סי’ תרכ”ט) כתב, דר”א נהג כן לשיטתו שסובר בב”מ נט: דמשגיחין בבת קול, ולא אמרינן לענין הוראה דלא בשמים היא אלא ההלכה תמיד כב”ד של מעלה, וע”כ חשש שמא יטעה בדין. אבל להחולקים עליו וס”ל דאין משגיחין בבת קול, דלא בשמים היא, אין מקום לחוש לטעות, דאין לדיין אלא מה שעיניו רואות.

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      1. @ Pitputim: a comment from an anonymous reader

        Rabbi Kluger tried to solve it by attaching BASHAMAYIM to Rabbi Eliezer. Did he, Rabbi Eliezer, hear any Bat Kol except the one written in “TANURO SCHEL ACHNAY” that he mentions? There also Rabbi Eliezer had his own opinion and said it. After giving his answers (KOL HATSHUVOT BA’OLAM), he got at that gathering the approval of the miracles and the Bat Kol stating that he was right. Actually there we see that Rabbi Eliezer had his own opinion, and he gave “all the answers in the world” to support that opinion. It is not that he waited for the Bat Kol to formulate an opinion. We find in the Talmud other opinions of his and his MACHLOKOT, mainly with Rabbi Yehoshua.

        To solve the ambiguity, some think that Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakay and his pupil Rabbi Eliezer did not say anything that they have not heard from their teachers, was only as long as their teachers were alive (to give them respect!), but afterwards they expressed their own thoughts.

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        1. They supported their opinions. One can do that without a problem. The conservatives do it in their “Teshuvot” and the people from Shira Chadasha use Mendel Kaplan and Daniel Sperber’s Tshuva on the matter. R’ Yehuda Herz Henkin who is normally pro innovation, however, forbids, Shira Chadasha. So where does that leave you? With the Chachmei Hamesora. THEY can disagree, but Halacha is not an academic exercise. It involves a Mesora of Psak and shimush.

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          1. I do not know what you want from me. I am not writing about Halacha. The Chidush I mentioned is a Quotation from the Talmud. I did not define what a Chidush is, or whether it has to have roots, link or support or not.
            From these Braytot it seems that new rulings (Chidushim) were done in the Beth Hamidrash. Was the Chidush just a “Pilpul”, it does not seem so. Maybe, because of that, The Rosh Ha’Yeshiva was a member of the Sanhedrin (see Rambam, Hilchot Shgagot 13 Halacha 1).

            I just want to quote here from the Maharal of Prague. He says (Gur Arye Yithro): The Tora is the building, the walls, and we, in each generation, define its contents the way that the building should fit and be useable for the period. The content of the house, for each period, is defined by the Beth Din.
            Ve’Chay Bahem, we want to be Jews that live in a modern house, with Shabat Clocks.

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            1. The Shabbos clock is a new cheftza. Reb Moshe only allows it begrudgingly for lights. Applying Halacha may involve new understanding of a klal but what is new is מבין דבר מדבר

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      1. מבין דבר מדבר may have a Chidush which has support. Surely all these kind of Chidushim must be accepted. Here comes my question: Was it the Beth Hamidrash that ratified them and put them in our codex?

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        1. Nothing is ratified unless it’s הלכה כמשה מסיני or the Gemorah concludes the הלכה etc Rishonim disagree but if you don’t have a sound reason to follow the daas yachid of a particular rishon then you aren’t following any tradition. Read the Hakdamot to both Yabia Omer and Igros Moshe and you will gain as much if not more than I did

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