CHILDREN


CHILDREN
The central purpose of marriage in Jewish tradition is procreation. The commandment in Genesis 1:28 is fulfilled according to Bet Hillel with one child of each sex and according to Bet Shammai with two boys (Yev. 6:6; Yev. 61a–64a). The aim of a levirate marriage is to perpetuate the name of the childless deceased. Children are considered a great blessing (Gen. 22:17; 32:13), and childlessness a source of frustration and despair (Gen. 30:1; I Sam. 1:10). A childless man was regarded as dead (Gen. R. 45:2), and the rabbis interpreted the biblical punishment of karet ("being cut off") to mean that the sinner's children would die in his lifetime, leaving him without continuation (Yev. 55a). A wife's failure to bear children during the first ten years of marriage was considered grounds for divorce (Yev. 64a). The statement in the Ten Commandments (see decalogue ) that children are punished for their parents' sins "unto the third and fourth generation" (Ex. 20:5; Deut. 5:9) was explained by the rabbis to refer only to children who persisted in the wrong deeds of their parents (Ber. 7a; Sanh. 27b; etc.). If the children obey the Torah, they would not be punished for the sins of their fathers, "Every man shall be put to death for his own sins" (Deut. 24:16). The good deeds of parents, however,   are rewarded to their children "unto the thousandth generation" (Ex. 20:6; Deut. 5:10). According to legend, an angel smites the infant on his face at the moment of birth so as to make him forget the celestial visions and wisdom that he possessed until then (Seder Yeẓirat ha-Valad in A. Jellinek, Beit ha-Midrash 1 (19382), 153–55). A newborn son was "protected" by the reading of the shema in the presence of the children of the community. The custom to visit a newborn male child and to hold a small feast in his honor ("Shalom Zokher") has been practiced since the Middle Ages. Boys are named at circumcision, girls when the father is first called to the reading of the Torah after the birth. The duty to circumcise and redeem (pidyon ha-ben) the firstborn child if it is a son is laid upon the father, as is the injunction to provide him with a proper education, a trade, and a wife. According to some amoraim, the father should also teach him how to swim (Kid. 29a). A father must also see his daughter married (ibid. 30b). The mother is enjoined to breastfeed her children during the first 24 months (Ket. 60b; Yev. 43a), and it is srongly recommended that the father provide for them until their maturity (Ket. 49a–b), and not only, as the synod of usha held, until they were seven years old (ibid.). A father bears only moral responsibility for damages incurred by his children when they are minors, and even this moral responsibility ceases with girls at the age of 12 and one day and boys at the age of 13 and one day (see bar mitzvah ), even though the young man does not attain responsibility in such matters as real estate until the age of 20 (BB 156a). Children's major obligations toward their parents and their teachers are to honor them (Ex. 20:12; Lev. 19:3; Deut. 5:16) and, if they are needy, to provide them with food, dress, and personal attention (Kid. 31b; Sh. Ar. YD 240). Capital punishment should be meted out to those who curse or beat their parents (Ex. 21:15, 17; Lev. 20:9, Deut. 27:16). A "rebellious son " should be stoned to death (Deut. 21:18–21), and children who offend their parents may be dispossessed by them (BB 8:5 and 133b), although such an action is otherwise frowned upon. Great emphasis is placed on the training of children in religious observance and teaching them Torah. judah b. tema advised that healthy male children were to be taught Scripture at the age of 5 and Mishnah at 10, to fulfill the law at 13, and to study Talmud at 15 (Avot 5:21). According to another opinion (Sif. Deut. 46; Suk. 42a), a child's education should begin as soon as he starts to speak distinctly. In the Middle Ages, the first day that a child attended school was considered an occasion for celebration. Jewish literature abounds in tales of child prodigies, and the wisdom of young Jerusalemites is especially noted. Lamentations Rabbah 1:1, 4 remarks upon the brilliance of a young girl of the town. Children, when minors, are held to be free from the performance of religious duties; introduction into the observance of ritual law has, nevertheless, always begun at an early age. In Temple times, they participated in the ceremonies, and in the sabbatical year were brought to the Temple when the king read Deuteronomy (Deut. 31:10–12). The Mishnah (Yoma 8:4) suggests that children be trained gradually to fast on the Day of Atonement; the Gemara (Suk. 42a) states that a father ought to buy his son a lulav, tallit, and tefillin as soon as he can understand their import. Parents are encouraged to take their children to the synagogue, where it is customary for them to sip Kiddush wine; to lead the congregation (in some communities) in the recital of pesukei de-zimra , ein ke-eloheinu , Shir ha-Yiḥud , etc.; and to dress the Torah scroll (gelilah). Although a minor is usually not eligible for inclusion in a minyan, he may, in the opinion of some authorities be counted as an adult in case of emergency and if he holds a Bible in his hand (Sh. Ar., OḤ 55:4). In many congregations in the western world, it has become customary to hold special children 's services on Sabbath and on holidays in order to initiate them gradually into synagogue rites and regular attendance. On Simḥat Torah , the children participate in the special hakkafot ("circuits"), carrying flags adorned with apples and candles. They are also called to the Torah reading under the patronage of the "Bridegroom of the Boys" (bridegroom of the Law). At the Passover seder, the child is an integral part of the ceremony because he recites the mah nishtannah (the four questions). The rabbis advised parents to be firm in the upbringing of their children (Ex. R. 1:1) and drew attention to the verse "He that spareth his rod hateth his son" (Prov. 13:24). They also warned against favoritism, drawing on the Joseph story "because of the two sela weight of silk (the coat of many colors), which Jacob gave to Joseph in excess of his other sons, the brothers became jealous of him and the mantle resulted in our forefathers' exile in Egypt" (Shab. 10b). According to R. Ze'ira, parents must fulfill promises made to children lest they should learn to tell untruths as a result of the example of unfulfillment (Suk. 46b). It is customary for a father to bless his children on Sabbath eves (and in some places also on Saturday night), after the synagogue service. For the legal aspects, see parent and child. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: S. Schechter, Studies in Judaism, 1 (1896), 282–312; L. Loew, Die Lebensalter (1875), passim; ET, S.V. Av, Ben, and Bat; C.G. Montefiore and H. Loewe, Rabbinic Anthology (1963), 516–22 and index.

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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