Baruch Shulem, Ph.D. and David Koenigsberg, Ph.D. ,

Neither the Gemora, mishniyot, shulchan Aruch, Rambam or Mishnah Berurah have a separate chapter concerning the topic of Chinuch . Only in the 19th century c.e. does a major halachic codifier - Chayei Adam - construct a chapter specifically relating to the subject . Surveying the sources one finds a multiplicity of details, actions or obligations relating to the subject. It is left to the concerned talmid or parent to gather and organize the multiplicity of sources.

Our professional work with orthodox families around the issue of Chinuch has led us to believe there is, in fact, a pressing need to explicate and clarify Chazal in a form that is accessible to parents and professionals who work with them. Experience has shown us that many religious parents, even the more educated ones, hold that the methods employed in raising Jewish children are foremost an intuitive subject process to be supplemented by general goals and principles of Chazal and modern psychology. This belief in a subjective approach to parenting is probably the single most common cause for most problems which are brought to us for professional advice.

All to often those who ask us for instruction have already turned for this guidance to "other" sources - modern psychology and models of parenting such as Adler - which are more readily available and are packaged to suit modern tastes. This incorporation is more often than not done without critical analysis of these sources and their compatibility to Torah. This has led to further confusion and conflict between these parents and their children. We have found that the "treatment" of this troublesome situation oftentimes requires little more than clear information that bring s order and clarity to their practices of parenting.

Why does this search for other sources start? Many religious parent incorrectly believe that "Chinuch" is a general term lacking specificity that would allow for it's implementation on a practical daily basis. Chinuch is viewed as a positive, albeit, ambiguous goal seemingly without sufficient detail. We believe that successful parenting can be significantly facilitated by explicating Chazal's original obligations and guidance through the clarification of Chinuch as a distinctive, concrete and well defined process.

The information in this article grew our of an extensive survey of the halachic literature from which we are presenting only part of sources we found. This selective process is necessary to achieve a unambiguous discussion of the minimalist obligations of Chinuch. To achieve clarity among such diverse sources of information some type of organization of that information must be carried out and underlying principles and generalizations must be constructed and explicated. This type of presentation is not characteristic of halachic literature which is usually based on a case study approach.

The focusing on this specific topic will, by definition, ignore many of the rich and complex issues found in the complete picture of Parent-Child relationships, Talmud Torah, and varied other related subjects. Where, a reader may well ask, are the issues of emotions, technique, and language, etc.? We readily acknowledge that these are correctly identified as part of parenting - but we believe they are not inherent components of the distinctive obligation of Chinuch . It is important to be aware of the fact that Chinuch is only one aspect of parenting.

This paper is an attempt to focus on one particular obligation of Chazal which the authors have found to be unknown or largely ignored by parents and those professions who give guidance to families. This oversight has led, we believe, to a growing number of dysfunctional parents. These parents are characterized by an overabundance of information (much of which is contradictory to halacha) concerning their role as parents; they are not familiar and/or comfortable with the use of appropriate authority; and they overlook the centrality of simple habituation as the cornerstone of Chinuch.

Simply put - the proper knowledge and implementation of the halachic obligations of Chinuch are enough to significantly mitigate these problems. Focusing on Chinuch will serve that end.

The benefits of Chazal's guidance can be obtained through the clarification of the following issues:

Rectify common misconceptions about Chinuch;
Identify a set of specific halachic obligations related to Chinuch;
Provide a simple definition of Chinuch
Explicate Chazal's valid psychological insights into parent-child relationships.

We have found in our work with parents four common errors about Chinuch. They are:
1. Equating Chinuch with the western notion of "Education";
2. Assuming that Talmud Torah is the equivalent of Chinuch;
3 . Failure to connect the obligation of prevent forbidden behavior to Chinuch;
4 . Assuming there is little or no parent-child relationship information dealing with Chinuch.



Languages are like trains. When you get one they take you where they are going. And if you get on the wrong train all the subsequent stops are wrong. So it is with using a word. The word itself creates a reality which significantly influences and restricts our behavior. The word Education relates to a broad -- and non-Jewish -- way of thinking and acting. The word as used today in professional circles deals with means to draw forth from the child his unique talents. It is to assist him to be an independent, competent individual. These ideas and goals are the opposite of Chinuch.

Chinuch means to develop conformity and obedience to absolute authority. We do not, in Chinuch, draw forth from the child, but rather instructs and directs the child in practicing a set of clear rules and expectations. Individuality is prized and developed within the Torah framework after, and only after, the child's primary identity as a Jew is indelibly written on his budding personality. Once his Jewish loyalty is defined and he is a competent craftsman then he finds an individualistic fashion to express his service to Torah, his people, and himself.

Drawing forth and instructing represent two significantly different - if not opposite - worlds.



The second issue that confuses parents is the connection between Chinuch and mitzvat Talmud Torah . The mitzvah of Talmud Torah deals with the obligation to know Torah - both content and meaning . This totality of knowing all of Torah includes the obligation to teach small children Torah, but not to train them in the actual performance of the behavioral components of any given mitzvah. Talmud Torah and Chinuch supplement each other and neither is possible to implement without the other. Each deal with different aspects of "teaching" children. We believe that the clear differentiation between the two lends significantly to the understanding of Chinuch and allows parents to focus concretely on what is practically required of them. .



The third error often encountered concerns the much neglected obligation of l'hafrish m'issura - the obligation of every adult to turn a child away from prohibited behaviors . This life long obligation begins - for the parents - at the very early age of about two years old, long before the mandatory age of Chinuch . This strategic timing has multiple implications:

  • Involves the parent with the child early in his development
  • Teaches the parent to use authority
  • teaches children's behavior must be lawful (torah defined)
  • Teaches the child respect for (unexplained) authority
  • Prevents bad habits from developing and thus
  • Keeps the child a pure receptacle to receive the positive commandments.

Successful Chinuch, we believe, is totally dependent on the fulfillment of this obligation .



Many religious parents have told us that Chazal do not explicate the quality and rules of Parent-child relationships. This error is so common because, in fact, Chazals discussion is not found within the realm of Parent -Child relationships, but rather within the domain of obligations of Ben Adam V'Chavero. Implicit in this statement about Ben Adam V'chavero is the often overlooked fact that even a small child has the halachic status of significance of child's status as "Yisrael" means that what is often see as "Parent - Child" relation is more correctly seen as basically a relationship between two Jews. Once the parent realizes this there is a voluminous body of laws and advice on how parents should relate to their "children". These general rules of conduct of Ben Adam V'chavero are, of course, mitigate commandments d to some extent because of the father's obligation to meet the child's special needs and unique halachic status


What are the universally agreed upon minimalist parameters of the obligation of Chinuch ?
Chinuch ( 1 ) obligates ( 2 ) the father ( 3 ) of a small ( 4 ) child ( 5 ) to train ( 6 ) him/her in the full ( 7 ) performance of all positive ( 8 ) commandments.

1. The term Chinuch is found in the Talmud relating to the mitzvah of training the young child to fast on Yom Kippur (partial fasting). This is one of the approximately 13 specific examples brought by Chazal of the obligation to train a child . These are understood to be illustrative and not exhaustive. Nowhere in early primary sources does one find a "general definition" of Chinuch , rather only isolated
2. There is no one known specific historical origin for obligation of Chinuch . There are two commonly cited sources .
3. The father alone is obligated to carry out obligation of Chinuch (,). The child has no obligation what-so-ever . When the father is absent or not capable of fulfilling his obligations the mother or other adults are required to assist in the Chinuch of the small child The father remains ultimately responsible for Chinuch.
4. A small (Katan) child refers to any child under the age of 13 who has reached one of the following three developmental stages and thus enters into the category of "bar Chinuch " which obligates the father to begin training.
* Developmental criteria one - Age: - The fathers obligation begins when the child reaches the age 5-6 ( and includes all positive mitzvot which are not found in the other two developmental criteria or do not have other specific ages stated (fasting, nedir, etc.)

* Developmental criteria two - Physical ability: - (example) a small child's physical ability to clothe himself in a tallis

Developmental criteria three - Cognition: (example) When a small child understands the meaning of Shabbos the father is obligated to begin to train the child in making Kiddush ( Chinuch continues until Bar Mitzvah when the obligation terminates

5. Chinuch specifically relates to the fathers obligation towards both sons and daughters
6. The term "train" is used to more clearly describe the primary function of Chinuch which is to, "l'hargilo". It is not an intellectual process, but rather a behavioral specific method . The father must train the child to do the act as he will be obligated as an adult . The focus is on the practice of any mitzvah rather then an understanding or conceptualization of the mitzvah.
7. The obligatory training of the child relates to the teaching the mitzvah/act in its' entirety as it will be performed when the child is an adult . Chazal often relate to a second element in training which refers to the partial or an approximation of the complete mitzvah. This a practical teaching of a complex mitzvah in parts and is an optional activity which begins well before the obligatory full training. The Ran in his commentary on the Talmud writes: -"one has the option of habituating the child earlier in all mitzvot other than fasting) .
8. Both the Chayai Adam and the Mishnah Brurah state specifically that the obligation of Chinuch deals with the positive commandments. Others state that obligation of Chinuch includes the negative commandments .


Rambam in his commentaries on the Mishna brings the following definition, "the word Chinuch is borrowed (from the dedication of the Holy Altar) for describing the initial use of a tool, as if we were habituating the tool for its work. This is analogous to a person at the beginning of his studies of a specific area of knowledge or a specific moral virtue that he will practice until he becomes habituated in these things."

Rashi says that Chinuch is the "beginning of the initiation of a person into his future craft." Elsewhere Rashi defines the end of Chinuch as "Melui Yadayim," the beginning of consecration - obligation.

We believe that the most accurate minimalist definition of Chinuch is, "the fathers obligation to initiate the acquisition of behavioral skills which the child will be obliged to use as an adult - as Rashi put it, "into his future craft" - a skilled Jew.


What psychological insights can be gleaned from this analysis of halacha?

1. The obligation of Chinuch is clearly geared to the needs of a small child. While adults are capable of using and analyzing complex behavior - i.e. educational activities - Chazal obligate the parent to respond to the developmental reality of the child -- to train him in simple exact behaviors.

2. Halacha is an authoritative structure demanding compliance and conformity to obligations. At this stage of development behavioral competency and compliance are goals. Training a small child is not conditional on his "will, desire or understanding".

3. The father alone is obligated, while his son and wife are not. This requires that he must bring about cooperation with others in the Chinuch process . The ultimate test of authority is if it engenders cooperation.

4. The parent is subordinate to a halachically defined developmental program. The parents contribution to this "Shulchan Aruch" for Chinuch is sensitivity to the unfolding of the child's developmental capabilities.

5. Chinuch is a type of apprenticeship. The Master Craftsman (parent) teaches an unskilled apprentice (child). The parent should be a knowledgeable person in the basic crafts of Torah - and supplement that with the specific skills of Chinuch . Learning the obligation Chinuch alone - without the richness of Torah - will not suffice to produce successful parenting.

6. Children are people, i.e. we are obligated to relate to our children as fellow Jews according to Torah principles. Chinuch only modifies these laws under certain limited situations.

7 . Criterion of "success" is : The parent fulfills his halachic obligations . This definition correctly focuses our attention of personal obligation and not on interpersonal issues of control and outcome.

8 . Words as goals: Two words - two worlds - two goals.

education   Chinuch
Child   Katan (Pre-adult)
separation   integration
segregated social activities   shared activities
distraction - play   imitation - practice
difference   continuity
self   role
socio-economic   spiritual
freedom - opportunity   obligation
child development   practice
equality   hierarchy
happiness   mastery
grades/knowledge   proper behavior/beliefs
success   endeavor


We have attempted to focus attention on the distinctive features of the halachic obligation of Chinuch as originally mandated by Chazal. The purpose of this was to counteract some common misconceptions held by religious parents and educators. These misconceptions and lack of exact definition of Chinuch have led, we believe, to an unwitting incorporation of notions from outside sources into Chinuch that are frequently antithetical to Chazal.

We have found through our work that the use of a clear minimalist definition of Chinch quickly mitigates much of the dysfunctional behavior of religious parents and educators alike.

Hopefully this article has shown the necessity and advantage of the use of clear halachic analysis in dispelling inaccuracies about this important issue. In addition we hope to stimulate a broader discussion of what Chinuch actually is and also to initiate a re-evaluation of the more modern sources incorporated into Chinuch as practiced by many religious parents today.

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