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Shabbat Parashat Yitro| 5763

Ask the Rabbi

Question:Am I correctly remembering that there were boys, before bar mitzvah, reading from the Torah at a local synagogue? I have an 9 year old who is anxious to participate. Is it "kosher" for a pre-bar mitzvah child to read from the Torah? Are there other parts of the service that he can do?
Answer: The gemara (Megillah 23a) states that a minor may be called for one of the seven aliyot which we have during the reading of the Torah on Shabbat. This view is even codified in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 282:3).
 However, there are significant limitations. According to the Magen Avraham (ad loc.:6) and Mishna Berura (ad loc.:13), he may only be called for an aliyah but cannot be the ba’al kriyah and enable the congregation to fulfill their obligation through him. This is because of the rule that one who does a mitzva on behalf of another must be as obligated in that mitzva as his friend. A child can have an aliyah only on Shabbat when there are at least seven aliyot (ibid.:11). Only a minority of the seven aliyot can be done by children (ibid.:14).
 Furthermore, the very widespread practice is that children under bar mitzvah do not receive any aliyot, except for maftir (which isn’t common either)(ibid.:12). On a week where a special reading is done for maftir from a second sefer Torah, a minor may not receive that aliyah because it is a separate obligation (Aruch Hashulchan OC 282:10). As we mentioned, minors can have only “additional aliyot” and cannot be used for the core of obligations.
 Children can lead the services for P’sukei D’zimra, “Anim Zemirot” and the end of Shabbat morning services, and Kabbalat Shabbat. They can also do gelilah. Each synagogue (with its rabbi’s guidance) should find the suitable balance between the needs of the adults and the crucial need to make the children feel that they are an important part of its present and future.
 It is possible that the local synagogue you refer to follows the ancient custom to allow children to have aliyot or that it was maftir which you heard. Could you be referring to a "junior congregation," where children say together much of the prayers (except those parts which require a minyan)? For some children this is positive, while others can do better sitting with their parents.
[Some of the terminology was changed from the original to reflect different levels of background.]
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is
dedicated to the memory of R’ Meir  ben
Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld o.b.m.

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