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Shabbat Parashat Chukat 5772

Ask the Rabbi: A Make-Believe Minyan for Children

by Rav Daniel Mann

Question: What are the rules in regard to teaching children how to observe mitzvot? For example, can Barchu, Kedusha and Kaddish be recited when children who are not yet bar mitzva daven together?


Answer: There is a machloket among Rishonim about the nature of the obligation of chinuch (education) at the appropriate ages for performing many of the mitzvot that they will be fully obligated to perform as adults. Rashi (Berachot 48a) says that the child is not personally obligated, even on a rabbinic level, to perform mitzvot, just that his father is obligated to train him to perform them. Tosafot (Berachot 15a) says that the child is personally obligated in the mitzvot, albeit on a lower level than an adult is.

There following is an arguably related machloket, as to whether the mitzvot for chinuch need to meet formal or just educationally practical standards. An adult must own the lulav and etrog that he uses on the first day of Sukkot (two days, out of Israel). There is, therefore, a problem sharing a set with a child because if one transfers ownership to him, the child cannot halachically return it (Sukka 46a). The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 658:6) suggests that the child can use the lulav and etrog in a way that the father does not lose ownership, thereby saving the father from problems. However, the Mishna Berura (568:28) cites two opinions whether or not, in that circumstance, the child has fulfilled his obligation. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe III:95) explains that the two opinions depend on the following question. Is a child obligated to perform his mitzvot with all the details, including imperceptible ones, that an adult needs, in which case the mitvza was not done properly, as a child also needs ownership? Or is it that a child must perform the mitzva so that, practically, he will know what to do when he is older, in which case the imperceptible lack of ownership due to his youth will not cause a problem in the future? Rav Feinstein demonstrates that the former, formal approach to the obligation is correct.

In our case, according to the formal approach, without ten adult men there is no minyan, and the group is unable to say devarim shebikdusha (the elements that require a minyan). As opposed to regarding lulav, where they are obligated in the mitzva, it is not a problem to omit these elements because the children are not formally obligated to daven with a minyan. However, even according to the practical educational approach, having the children recite Barchu, etc. is not a fulfillment of chinuch. After all, the educational element includes a child becoming accustomed to recite devarim shebikdusha specifically with a minyan.

Perhaps, though, the general idea of getting used to doing mitzvot, without fulfilling a formal mitzva of chinuch, justifies reciting berachot and portions of tefilla that may not be recited voluntarily. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 215:3) says that one is allowed to have children practice making berachot even in a manner that is otherwise l’vatala (in vein), and the adult can answer Amen. The Mishna Berura (215:14) adds that not only may the child pronounce Hashem’s Name in an educational but non-beracha context, but so can the teacher who is teaching him. Therefore, it seems that you can teach children all the devarim shebekedusha without doing so in the context of a minyan. However, that is when this is necessary to actually teach those specific elements to the children. One, though, may not set on a regular basis a “make-believe minyan” for the children when they could learn what needs to be done in far fewer times. Better yet, the proper way to get the children used to a minyan is to enable them, when they are close to bar mitzva, to join up with adults or bar mitzva peers. Staging a minyan on a regular basis is both halachically problematic (Rav Ovadya Yosef- see Yalkut Yosef, Tefilla, pg. 190) and educationally unsound (Mishp’tei Uziel III, Miluim 2). (Unique circumstances can be discussed on an individual basis.)
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