When does the mitzvah of Chinuch end?

1. INTRODUCTION

We are taught that a parent is required to educate their child to observe the mitzvot asseh (positive commandments) and refrain from transgressing the mitzvot lo ta’aseh (negative commandments). This duty is known as the mitzvah of chinuch.

According to Rambam,[1] this duty is derived from משלי כב:ו which states, “חֲנֹךְ לַנַּעַר עַל־פִּי דַרְכּוֹ” – educate a lad in the way he ought to go – while the Meshech Chochmah[2] states that it is learnt from the praise expressed towards Avraham in בראשית יח:יט about whom we are told, “כִּי יְדַעְתִּיו לְמַעַן אֲשֶׁר יְצַוֶּה אֶת־בָּנָיו וְאֶת־בֵּיתוֹ אַחֲרָיו וְשָׁמְרוּ דֶּרֶךְ ה’ לַעֲשׂוֹת צְדָקָה וּמִשְׁפָּט” – that he may instruct his children and his household to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is just and right.

Whether we follow the Rambam’s interpretation, or the Meshech Chochmah’s, there seems to be a general consensus regarding when a parent must actively begin being mechanech their child.[3] There is, however, considerable debate regarding the age when a parent is no longer responsible to be mechanech their child.

2. CHINUCH ENDS AT BAT/BAR MITZVAH

In his Hilchot Ma’achalot Assurot, Rambam rules that,

אף על פי שאין בית דין מצווין להפריש את הקטן, מצוה על אביו לגעור בו ולהפרישו כדי לחנכו בקדושה שנאמר

”חנך לנער על פי דרכו וגו” (משלי כב:ו).

Even though the Beit Din (Jewish court) is not commanded to separate the child [from transgression], his father is commanded to rebuke him so that he is kept away [from transgression] in order to train him in holy conduct, as it says, ‘Educate a lad in the way he ought to go.[4], [5]

By employing the term קטן (ie. a girl or boy under the age of 12 or 13 respectively), it appears that Rambam is ruling that the duty of chinuch no longer applies to a parent once their son or daughter reaches the stage of adulthood at bat/bar mitzvah. In fact, this contention is further supported by the Gemara in Nazir[6] which, while discussing the possibility of a father imposing a Nazirite vow on his son, notes that a father can only impose such a vow upon his son up until his son has reached the age of adulthood (ie. bar mitzvah). The Gemara continues to explain that, ‘since he has passed out of his [father’s] control, [the father] is no longer responsible for him,’ to which the Rosh adds, ‘because any mitzvah that a person is fully responsible for [having become bar mitzvah], their father is no longer required to educate him about it.’[7]

Thus, it would seem that becoming bat/bar mitzvah not only marks the transition from childhood to adulthood for the young woman or man, but is also when a parent ceases to be dutybound to educate their child.

3. BARUCH SHEPATRANI[8]

This contention that the mitzvah of chinuch ends once a son or daughter has reached the stage of adulthood appears to be supported by the Midrash which states:

”ויגדלו הנערים” – לאחר י”ג שנה זה היה הולך לבתי מדרשות וזה היה הולך לבתי עבודת כוכבים, א”ר אלעזר צריך אדם להטפל בבנו עד י”ג שנה מיכן ואילך צריך שיאמר ברוך שפטרני מעונשו של זה .

And the lads (ie. Yaakov & Esav) grew up’ [9] – After thirteen years, this one [Yaakov] was going to the study hall, and this one [Esav] was going to worship idols. Said Rabbi Elazar: A man is responsible for his son until the age of thirteen: thereafter he must say, ‘Blessed is He who has freed me from the punishment of this one. [10]

Based on this Midrash, there are those who understand the blessing of ברוך שפטרני to mark the release of a parent from their duty to educate their child.[11] In fact, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, otherwise known as the Chafetz Chaim, understood this blessing as such, stating:

שפטרני מענשו – פי’ דעד עכשיו נענש האב כשחטא הבן בשביל שלא חנכו למצות התורה ועכשיו שנעשה איש מחוייב הוא להתחזק בעצמו למצות הש”י. ודע דאע”פ ששוב אין עליו ענין חינוך מ”מ יש על האב מצות הוכחה כשרואה שאינו מתנהג כשורה וכשאינו מוחה בידו נענש עליו דלא גרע משאר ישראל וכידוע מה שאחז”ל ”כל מי שיש לו למחות באנשי ביתו ואינו מוחה נתפס בעון אנשי ביתו. וכל מי שיש לו למחות באנשי עירו ואינו מוחה וכו”.[12]

Who has freed me from the punishment of – meaning, until now the father was punished when he son committed a transgression because [we considered the transgression to be due to the fact that] he did not educate him concerning the mitzvot of the Torah. However, now that [his son] has become a man (ie. reached adulthood at bar mitzvah), he is now obliged to adhere to the mitzvot of the Holy One, Blessed Be He. But you should know that even though there is no longer a concept of chinuch, nevertheless the father still maintains the mitzvah of rebuke if he sees that [his son] is not behaving appropriately, and if he does not protest in such an instance, [the father] is punished because he [is to be regarded] no less than any other Jew, and it is known what our Sages of Blessed Memory have written that, ‘whoever has the ability to protest the behavior of those from their household and does not protest is punished for [the transgressions of] the members of their household, and similarly, if someone has the ability to protest against the people of his town and does not protest etc.’[13]

It seems clear from these remarks that, at least according to Rabbi Kagan, the mitzvah of chinuch ends when a child reaches the age of adulthood and that the purpose of the blessing of ברוך שפטרני is to indicate that the parent is no longer responsible to positively influence their child.

4. CHINUCH CONTINUES AFTER BAT/BAR MITZVAH

However, a quite different conclusion can be drawn from the Gemara in Kiddushin which, having quoted the above-mentioned verse from Mishlei of “חֲנֹךְ לַנַּעַר עַל־פִּי דַרְכּוֹ” – educate a lad in the way he ought to go – in the context of when a parent should endeavor to marry their son, cites a dispute:

ר’ יהודה ורבי נחמיה, חד אמר: משיתסר ועד עשרים ותרתין, וחד אמר: מתמני סרי ועד עשרים וארבעה.

Rav Yehuda and Rav Nechemiah [disagree]. One maintains, [that the stage being referred to by the word ‘lad’ is] ‘between, aged sixteen and twenty-two,’ while the other says, ‘between aged eighteen and twenty-four.’[14]

The implication of this text is that the duty of chinuch does not cease at bat/bar mitzvah, but rather, it continues into the late teens and early twenties.[15] This is the position of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach[16] and also that of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein who directly challenges the Chafetz Chaim, writing:

פשוט שחיוב חינוך לבנו איכא גם כשנגדל, וכמפורש בקידושין ל. ‘חנך לנער על פי דרכו’. ר’ יהודה ורבי נחמיה, חד אמר: משיתסר ועד עשרים ותרתין, וחד אמר: מתמני סרי ועד עשרים וארבעה והוא לענין חינוך… ומש”כ במ”ב סק”ז שאין על האב מצות חינוך תמוה טובא דהוא דלא כהמפורש בגמרא, וצע”ג.

It is obvious that there is a duty of chinuch for one’s son even once he has reached adulthood, as is stated in Kiddushin 30a, ‘educate a lad in the way he ought to go.’ Rav Yehuda and Rav Nechemiah [disagree]. One maintains, ‘between, aged sixteen and twenty-two,’ while the other says, ‘between aged eighteen and twenty-four,’ and this is concerning chinuch. And that which the Mishnah Berurah has written in [Orach Chaim 225] subchapter 7 that the father no longer has the mitzvah of chinuch is very perplexing, since this is not what the Gemara states, and this requires a great deal more investigation.’[17]

We learn from here that Rabbi Feinstein does not understand the ברוך שפטרני blessing to indicate that a parent has completed their duty of chinuch. Instead, basing himself on the Gemara in Kiddushin, he asserts that the mitzvah of chinuch continues for quite some time after bat/bar mitzvah. But if this is the case, how does Rabbi Feinstein understand the ברוך שפטרני blessing?

5. PHILOSOPHICAL PERSPECTIVES

As has been explained, Rabbi Feinstein claims that the mitzvah of chinuch continues into adulthood. At the same time, he also agrees that the ברוך שפטרני blessing is a public declaration indicating a change in status concerning the spiritual responsibilities of a parent towards a child. So, what is the nature of this change at bat/bar mitzvah?

According to Rabbi Feinstein, the mitzvah of chinuch toward a pre-bat/bar mitzvah child emerges from parents’ dual loyalty towards God and towards their child. This means that the mitzvah of chinuch is not only a מצוה בין אדם למקום (in that the child is learning how to observe the mitzvot), but also aמצוה בין אדם לחבירו (because the parent is responsible for educating their child to observe the mitzvot once they reach adulthood).

However, once the child has reached adulthood, a change occurs. The child becomes more independent and though the parent continues to have a duty of chinuch, the nature of this duty is purely a מצוה בין אדם למקום, particularly significant since we can attain forgiveness from God for מצוות בין אדם למקום. In order to be forgiven for failings in מצוות בין אדם לחבירו, however, we must appease the person we have offended.[18]

Given this distinction, Rabbi Feinstein explains that if a parent fails to educate their child effectively prior to them reaching adulthood, the parent is deemed liable for the aveirot (transgressions) performed by their child in adulthood. Moreover, because their duty towards their child was initially both a מצוה בין אדם למקום and בין אדם לחבירו מצוה, this liability requires that the parent ask forgiveness from their child if they let them down by not educating them properly. Conversely, if a parent successfully educates their child prior to them reaching adulthood but fails to continue the mitzvah of chinuch after that point, the parent has transgressed a מצוה בין אדם למקום and can achieve forgiveness only through prayer to God.

What we see from here is that, at least according to Rabbi Feinstein, ברוך שפטרני is not a declaration that the mitzvah of chinuch has ended, but rather an indication that a parent feels confident that they have educated their child sufficiently for them to take on mitzvot on their own. It is a statement that any aveirah performed by their now-adult child will not be due to their failings as a parent, but rather due to the independent choices of their child. Notwithstanding this, Rabbi Feinstein maintains that the parent continues to have a duty of chinuch towards their child until they marry and establish their own home.

6. CONCLUSION

What we learn from the above is that a parent should be actively involved in educating their child before they reach bat/bar mitzvah so that they can have the confidence that their child will be able to observe both the mitzvot asseh and lo ta’aseh once they have become bat/bar mitzvah. While it is also true that parents outsource elements of chinuch to schools, the blessing of ברוך שפטרני serves as a reminder that the ultimate responsibility of educating a child lies with the parent.

Additionally, we learn that if a parent fails to educate their child effectively prior to them reaching adulthood, that parent is considered liable for the future aveirot of their child. In such an instance, the parent should seek to rectify this mistake by educating their adolescent son or daughter, while accepting responsibility and seeking forgiveness for their failing from both the child and God.

Finally, what we learn from authorities such as Rabbis Auerbach and Feinstein is that a parent should continue to be actively involved in the chinuch of their child even after their bat/bar mitzvah, and that this should not only involve guiding them away from transgression, but also include providing them with positive guidance and encouragement. As Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the Alter Rebbe, explains, ‘while his son is under his control, a [father] should guide his son towards the moral path so that he maintains [and develops] Yirat Shamayim (Fear of Heaven) in every aspect of his life.’[19]

NOTES

[1] Ma’achalot Asurot 17:28

[2] Meshech Chochmah on Bereishit 18:19

[3] As Rabbi Simcha Bunim Cohen writes in his Children in Halachah, ‘generally, mitzvos which require only action, the age of chinuch is defines as about five or six years old. For mitzvos which entail understanding of their essence, it is about six or seven’. (Children in Halachah p. 7)

[4] Mishlei 22:6

[5] Rambam, ibid.

[6] Nazir 29b

[7] Rosh, Nazir 29b

[8] The question of why ברוך שפטרני is generally not recited on the occasion of a daughter’s Bat Mitzvah is beyond the scope of this article, although it should be noted that some authorities do encourage its recitation, with Rabbi Yitzchak Nissim even offering an amended text to be recited for a girl of ברוך שפטרני מעונשה של זאת. For an excellent summary of opinions on this topic, see Erica Brown’s ‘The Bat Mitzvah in Jewish Law’ in Jewish Legal Writings by Women (ed. M. Halpern & C. Safrai) pp. 232-258

[9] Bereishit 25:27

[10] Bereishit Rabbah (Toldot) 63:10

[11] This is implied by the Magen Avraham, Orach Chaim 225:5. See also R’ David Sperber’s Kuntress Bar Mitzvah (No. 13) and R’ Tzvi Hirsch Kohn’s Imrei Tzvi as cited in R’ Tuvia Friend’s Sefer Shalmei Simcha pp. 678-680. However, as some observe (see Shalmei Simcha p. 678 note 147), the blessing speaks about מעונשו and not מחינוכו.

[12] Shabbat 54b

[13] Mishna Berura on Orach Chaim 225, note 7

[14] Kiddushin 30a

[15] As Rabbi Mordechai Yaffe explains (Levushei Mordechai, Orach Chaim 37), since the main rabbinic source supporting this position is a Midrash, while the main rabbinic source challenging this position is a Gemara, the blessing ofברוך שפטרני should be recited בלי שם ומלכות. For more on this discussion, see Sefer Shalmei Simcha p. 679

[16] Sefer Shalmei Simcha p. 678

[17] Dibrot Moshe: Shabbat (Perek Bameh Madlikin) note 82 (p. 517)

[18] See Mishnah Yoma 8:9

[19] Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Talmud Torah 1:6


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