By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
The rise in the divorce rate in the Orthodox community has created a situation where more and more fathers face a dilemma of either personally watching their young children or attending minyan. Some shuls now offer playgroups so parents can go to shul and still check on their children; most shuls do not offer such services, leaving single fathers with a halachic dilemma.
What are the parameters of a father’s obligation to attend minyan under such circumstances? Is there an obligation to hire a babysitter? Is he exempt on account of “osek b’mitzvah patur min ha’mitzvah” — one who is involved in a mitzvah is exempt from performing another?
Is Bringing Children to Shul an Option?
Although halachic authorities seem to indicate that there are only two categories of children, when it comes to bringing young children to shul, perhaps it may be suggested that there are, in fact, three categories. The standard two categories are: (A) children below the age of instruction; and (B) children who have reached the age of instruction.
Most halachic authorities write that one may not bring Category A children to shul. The Magen Avraham cites the Shelah to that effect in two different places (O.C. 98:1 and 124:11). The Mishnah Berurah also rules in this manner (98:3). The reason is that they play and dance around in shul and violate the sanctity of shul. They also disturb the concentration of those davening. A further reason given is that even when they get older they will not turn from this custom of treating the shul lightly. The second category is made up of children who have reached the age of instruction and who may be brought to shul.
The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 689:6), seemingly based upon the Bahag, writes that it is a good minhag to bring young boys and girls to hear the reading of the Megillah. Now, if he was referring to Category B children, isn’t it an obligation of chinuch, educating? This author would rather suggest that it refers to a different type of Category A child.
In other words, there are Category A children who, by temperament, are not so wild. We can call them Category A type-two children. If this theory is correct, then the single father under discussion could perhaps bring his child or children to shul if he is sure that they will not disturb others.
The existence of this Category A type-two child is perhaps the one that is discussed in the Rema (O.C. 98:1) that it is forbidden to kiss one’s young children in shul in order to establish within the father’s heart that there is no love like the love of the Omnipresent. It is likely that the Rema is referring to Category A type-two children rather than Category A type one.
Davening With a Minyan Is a Rabbinic Obligation
Although it is not clearly discussed in the Talmud, it seems that davening in a minyan is a rabbinic obligation beyond that of the obligation of general davening. This can be seen from the words of the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 90:16) discussing a traveler who reached a small village where there is no minyan. If there is a minyan within the distance of four Persian miles ahead (2.67 miles) he must travel that distance. If there is a minyan one Persian mile behind him (2/3 of a mile), then he must travel back. The import of this Shulchan Aruch indicates that davening in a minyan is an obligatory rabbinic mitzvah.
Obligation To Spend Money on a Mitzvah
The Gemara in Kesuvos (50a) tells us that to fulfill a mitzvah one must spend up to 20% of his assets. The source of this obligation is interesting. The Sefer Ateres Rosh (Peirush HaMishnayos Berachos chapter 9) provides two possibilities — it is either a halachah l’Moshe MiSinai (as indicated in the Yerushalmi) or it is a rabbinic limitation on the words “b’chol me’odechah.”
Regardless, the Chofetz Chaim writes (Biur Halachah 656 “Afilu”) that the obligation to spend up to twenty percent of one’s assets exists even on a rabbinic mitzvah. Rav Vosner, zt’l, (Shevet HaLevi Volume IV #129 “u’l’inyan”) also rules in this manner. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt’l, is also cited to this effect (Tefillah K’hilchas chapter 8 note #5).
It comes out that in a situation where the children will not be ill-affected by the presence of a babysitter instead of the father, it would be obligatory to hire someone to watch his children so that he could attend minyan. Of course, not every babysitter is equal. If the babysitter is a stranger to the child or children, it would seem that there is no mitzvah in hiring that person. Rather, the father should try to acclimate the child or children to that babysitter.
One should never leave children alone without a babysitter. There’s a well-known story told of Rav Yisroel Salanter on Yom Kippur. It was already time for Ne’ilah and Rav Yisroel Salanter was nowhere to be found! Where was he? On his way to shul, he heard the sound of a child crying. He decided to forgo davening Ne’ilah with a minyan so that he could stay with the crying child. Apparently, the parents thought they could leave the child unattended so that they could go to shul. Such actions are illegal in this country and should never be done.
Rabbi Hoffman can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.