ו׳ בשבט ה׳תשע״ה (January 26, 2015)

Yevamot 114a-b: The Sins Of The Child

What level of responsibility do adults have to keep children from transgressing halakhic prohibitions?

This question of whether katan okhel nevelot ein metzuvin lehafrisho – “if a minor is eating non-kosher food the Jewish court would not need to stop him from doing so” – is dealt with in our Gemara, where a number of cases are brought that seem to offer different perspectives on this matter.

For example, one baraita quoted by the Gemara teaches that an adult cannot tell a child to bring him keys on Shabbat (where the child will have to carry them in a public domain), but if he sees the child throwing something there, he is not obligated to stop him. Abaye explains that this case may be specifically in a karmelit – a place where the prohibition is only Rabbinic. Another baraita teaches that a non-Jew who comes to put out a fire on Shabbat should not be stopped, but a Jewish child must be told that he cannot extinguish the flames. Rabbi Yohanan limits this case to a situation where the child is doing so under the direction of his parent.

There is no clear conclusion in the Gemara, which leaves the question open for the rishonim and to discuss. While it is clear that an adult cannot feed a minor with food forbidden by the Torah, what is the ruling if the food is only forbidden on a Rabbinic level? The Rashba, for example, believes that, according to the letter of the law, the latter case would be permissible.

Another question discussed by the rishonim is whether the rules of the Jewish court also apply to the father. According to the Ri”d and others, if the beit din is not obligated to intercede when they see a child transgressing, neither is the father. The Rambam, however, is of the opinion that a father, who is specifically commanded to educate his child and is obligated to teach him to perform positive mitzvot like tzitzit and prayer, must be concerned with negative commandments as well, even if the beit din is not.

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