לרפואת הגאון הרב משה בן רחל
הגאון הרב גבריאל בן רבקה
Rav Re'im HaCohen
Question: Are we allowed to bring small children with us to a synagogue, or should this be avoided because they will often disturb the congregation?
Everybody participated in the gathering at Mount Sinai and on the occasion of making the covenant in the book of Devarim, including the small children. It is written in the Torah portion of Yitro, "Be ready for the third day, for on the third day G-d will descend before the eyes of the entire nation on Mount Sinai" [Shemot 19:11]. And as is described in detail later on, "You are all standing today before your G-d... Your small children and your wives... from your woodchopper to the one who draws your water." [Devarim 29:9-10]. In the passage of the mitzva of Hakhel, it is also written, "Gather the nation – men, women, and small children... so that they will hear and they will learn, and they will fear your G-d" [Devarim 31:12].
Happy is the One who Gave Birth to Him
The Talmud Yerushalmi expands the idea of Mount Sinai, and explicitly views the bringing of young children to the Beit Midrash favorably:
"It happened that the sages came to see Rabbi Dossa Ben Herkines... He saw Rabbi Yehoshua and declared, 'Who will teach knowledge... [those who have been weaned from milk, grown old from the breasts]' [Yeshayahu 28:9]. I remember that his mother would bring his crib to the synagogue so that his ears would be influenced by the words of Torah." [Yevamot Chapter 1].
The Meshech Chochma uses this as a basis to explain why Rabbi Yehoshua was so fond of a lesson taught by Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaria:
"We have been taught – It is said about Rabbi Yochanan Ben Beroka and Rabbi Elazar Ben Chassma that they went to greet Rabbi Yehoshua in Peki'in. He asked them what novel idea was discussed in the Beit Midrash that day. They replied, We are your students, and we drink from your well. But he replied, No matter, give me an answer... And they said the passage of 'Hakhel' was studied. And what did Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaria say? He said: 'Gather the nation, the men and the women, and the young children' – The men come to learn and the women come to hear, but why do the children come? The answer is, to give a reward to those who bring them. And he replied to them: You had a precious jewel in your hands, how could you try to keep it from me?" [Chagiga 3a].
Tosafot expanded Rabbi Yehoshua's idea to include bringing young children to any synagogue. "To give a reward to those who bring them – and this is the reason that people bring young children to the synagogue."
It is logical to assume that the reward given to those who bring children with them is not merely in return for the direct effort involved, but that there is also an educational benefit for the children themselves. Their ears get used to hearing Torah words and prayer, as we learn from the story about Rabbi Yehoshua.
This can also be seen from the words of the Maharsha, who explains that these comments even refer to children who have not yet reached the formal age of being taught the mitzvot:
"'Women come to hear, why do the children come?' – This should be studied further, since after this it is written, 'and their children who do not know will listen and learn' [Devarim 33:13]. Does this mean that even children who do not know anything will also hear and learn? We can say that this last verse is relevant for small children who have reached the age of being taught... This means that the small children in the verse of Hakhel must refer to... very young children who have not reached the age of being taught and therefore are not expected to learn. Why are they brought? The only reason is to give those who bring them a reward...
"And the word 'taf' – little children – can be viewed as a hint of the benefit. The letters before and after the letter 'tet' are'chet' and 'yud,' and the letters before and after 'peh' are 'ayin' and 'tzadik' – which spells'etz chai,' a tree of life. The little children who are brought to the Temple in order to support the tree of life..."
The Limitations of the Shelah
However, the Magen Avraham quotes the words of the Shelah: "With respect to small sons, the father must teach them to stand with fear. But those who run around and play in the synagogue should best not be brought."
This is similar to what is written in the Mishna Berura:
"With respect to the small children, they must be taught to stand with fear. And the very small ones who run around and play in the synagogue should best not be brought, since a habit becomes second nature later on, and they also interfere with the prayers of the congregation. In addition, it is important for a father who brings small children to the synagogue to watch over their sandals and their clothing, to make sure that they are clean, in order not to cause a problem for those who are praying within four Amot of them."
The Shulchan Aruch also rules: "It is a good custom to bring little boys and girls to hear the reading of the Megilla" [689:6]. And the Magen Avraham adds here too, "To bring children – but not to bring the very smallest children, who can confuse the people who are listening." The Mishna Berura quotes this and expands on it.
Biur Halacha explains that the "good custom" mentioned by the Shulchan Aruch is referring only to children who have reached the age when they should be taught. It might have been thought that it would be best to leave them at home too and to read for them in private, but in order to publicize the miracle of Purim as widely as possible it is a good custom to bring them to the synagogue.
In my humble opinion, it is clear, as the Maharsha wrote, that the Talmud quoted above is discussing bringing very small children who have not yet reached the age of teaching. Thus, the custom of bringing small children to a synagogue even includes these very young children. The reason is that the encounter with the atmosphere of the synagogue and the Beit Midrash will be a good influence on them, in the way that happened to Rabbi Yehoshua. Thus, in practice, there is clearly value in bringing even very small children to a synagogue.
On the other hand, there is no doubt that if a baby causes a disturbance in the prayers, he or she should be taken out of the synagogue. According to the law, this should also be done during the silent Amidah, as can be understood from the words of the Shelah, the Magen Avraham, and the Mishna Berura. However, it seems to me that the words of the Shelah and his followers do not mean that the synagogue should remain free of all babies and thereby lose its connection to the events at Mount Sinai and to the Temple.
I must add that for years I have been observing fathers who bring their little children to shul and it is clear to me that in many cases the father isn't davening properly becuase he is busy soothing the child and the child often makes a ruckus thus disturbing everyone else. If the mother is at work and the father needs to go to shul [which is often the case] he should either leave the child/ren with the neighbors or daven at home. It would help his kavana and everyone else's. I think R' HaCohen is missing that point. So it seems to me but a shyla should be asked.