Welcome to the tenth session of "BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVES ON CHILD DEVELOPMENT" This week's session supplements the 9th session on "EarlyChildhood Education" with the emphasis on "Parents as Educators". As we approach the Shavuoth holiday, the holiday of "Matan Torah" celebrating the giving of the Bible to the people of Israel at Mount Sinai, it is timely to consider the parents' ultimate role in assuring the continuation of the Jewish heritage by educating and guiding their children in the spirit of the Biblical values. The early childhood years are critical in this respect, as we learned in the previous session. It is important to bear in mind, when considering the role of "parents as educators" (as emphasized in session #9) that contrary to other historic and contemporary conceptions of childhood, Judaism does not envisage the child as "being born evil or as a "tabula rasa" (Orach Hayim, siman 5). It sees the child as an innocent creature guided by natural impulses (Hakdama le'Sefer Hazohar, Rabbi Ashlag). Every child is born with a treasure of various characteristics, talents, drives, tendencies, and aspirations unique to him/her. The Biblical perspective on childbr development teaches us that the innate characteristics of the child are neither good nor evil, but have the possibility to become either in the course of the individual's life. The parent's role as educator is critical in the child's developmental stages and his/her moral education….



The great importance attached to education in Jewish law and literature is unparalleled. The Bible clearly indicates the importance of study and mental growth from the cradle throughout life. The purpose of education in the Biblical perspective is to develop individuals who reflect the Biblical values defined in the Torah.

The Biblical commandment to all parents is prescribed as follows: "And be it that these laws which I command unto you today, you shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall speak of them, as you sit in your home and as you walk on your way outside, when you lie down and when you awaken" (Deut. 6:6-7)

This theme, which forms the legal and social basis of "chinnukh" (education based on the Biblical values and laws), appears over and over again in the Bible and literature of the prophets. Of Abraham it is written: "And I have known him in order that he may ordain his children and his household after him that they may follow the ways of the Almighty to do charity and justice" (Genesis, 18:19)

Basically, Judaism recognizes that the home is the educational foundation for the moral development of the child. It is a well known fact that "what the child speaks in the marketplace, he has heard at home from his mother or father. (Sukkah 53 (Rashi)

Indeed, the family is the major educational institution mentioned in the Bible. Based on the commandment "and you shall teach them diligently to your children, (Exodus 6:7) the mother and father were totally responsible for teaching the child the ways of the Almighty so that he/she might develop as a good Jew. As society progressed, schools were instituted to teach children Torah and derech eretz ("the way of the world"). (This will be discussed in the session on religious and secular education) Nevertheless, the realm of early childhood education has remained in the sphere of the home as the basis for the child's emerging conception of the world around him.

Although the father is delegated the primary role in ensuring the child's formal Jewish education, the mother fulfills a significant function in her own right. Children are instructed to heed thebr instruction and teaching of both the father and mother: "Listen my son to the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the teaching of your mother." (Proverbs, 1:8)

What aspects of chinnukh are delegated to the father, and what is the role played by the mother in educating her young child? According to Halakhah, (Biblical law) the father has the primary responsibility of teaching his children Torah. (Mishne Berurah 343:2; Kitzur Shulkhan Arukh 165:1; Rambam, Hilkhot Talmud Torah 1; Kiddushin 29a) In teaching his children Torah, the father fulfills a positive commandment, and it is considered as if he, himself, had received the Torah from Mount Sinai (Deut 6:7; Berachot 21b) In fact, it is specifically stated in the Talmud that the father has the responsibility of teaching his children Torah and that women are exempt from this task. (Kiddushin 29a; Rambam, Hilkhot Talmud Torah 1)

Similarly, according to Maimonides and Rashi, the obligation of chinnukh toward one's children is delegated to the father and not the mother. (Megillah 20a; Rambam, Hilkhot Talmud Torah 1) Indeed, in all instances in Halakhah concerning the chinnukh of children for mitzvoth, the Code of Jewish Law specifically mentions the father's responsibility - as in the case of "tzitzit" (teaching the sons to wear the tzitzit) and the Megillah. In the Talmud, we find the instruction that the father must teach his son the "Shema"prayer, Torah, and the Hebrew language. The father should begin educating his son at the age of three by teaching him the letters of the Torah. (Chagigah 1:7; Rashi Avot 5:21)

Nevertheless, Halakhah does not neglect the mother's contribution to the child's chinnukh. On the contrary, her role as primary educator of her children is inscribed in the Jewish tradition. According to various talmudic sources, the mother also has responsibility for her children's chinnukh. Rashi specifically states that the responsibility for chinnukh toward one's children is delegated to the mother and the father. (Chagiga 2 (Rashi) This view is based on the biblical passage : " And so shall you say to the House of Jacob [referring to the women] and to the children of Israel [implying the men)." The women are mentioned first because the primary role of educating children to the values of the Torah, mitzvot, and good and honest deeds lies with the mother, who has the power to rear children in the ways of the Almighty. (Yitro Rabbah; Berachot 17a) This view is also held by the Chatam

Sofer. (Chatam Sofer, "Torat Moshe, Parshat Nitzavim and Sdei Chemed, 8:59)

A primary function to be fulfilled by the mother is language development, which she can teach in her daily contacts with the child. Language, as the basis for more sophisticated thinking, is the cornerstone of chinnukh. (Rabbi Schwartz, "Beit Abba": J-m, Dvar Yerushalayim, 1979. Pg 86-7) Furthermore, it is the mother who brings her child to (nursery) school and then to cheder to learn Torah. (For this, the mother gains the right to the afterworld.) (Berachot 17a)

In summary, while the father has the specific responsibility of teaching his children Torah, both parents share the function of chinnukh to Torah, mitzvot, and good deeds. Both parents are rewarded for their share in educating the young child, by assuring that He/she follows their ways in continuing the Biblical heritage.




In introducing the subject of chinnukh of young children, Halakhah offers sound advice on teaching methods: If the child is unruly while learning, the educator may use mild physical means to make sure that he learns, but he should not be cruel in disciplining the child. In all instances, the educator must administer punishment immediately after the child commits a bad deed or refuses to learn. If not, then the educator should refrain from punishing him later, to prevent the child from becoming tense and depressed. It is likewise forbidden to frighten or threaten a child by saying something such as "The dog or the cat will come and bite you" ((Kitzur Shulkhan Arukh 165: 7)

The child should never be beaten. In fact, the Code of Jewish Law specifies that the educator may not use a stick or whip to discipline or administer punishment to a child. If administering physical discipline is unavoidable, the instrument used should be no harsher than a "shoestring." (Bava Batra 21a The Talmud goes further, warning that a parent may not impose great fear in the home (Gittin 6), for this ruins the relationship between parents and children and removes the basis for trust and love which are the foundations of education. The sages advised that since children will not readily accept something said in anger or by shouting, the labor of the Almighty - the task of "chinnukh" should be carried out with patience and calm (Alei Shor 6:261) (This topic will be discussed further in the session on "Discipline")

The guiding principle in all matters of chinnukh should be the rabbinical instruction:"In dealing with a child . . . let the left hand repel while the right hand draws near." (Sotah 47; Sanhedrin 107) All admonishments should be followed by a show of love for the child. This builds the child's self-esteem and at the same time teaches him/her that the punishment is directed at the wrongdoing and not at him/herself.




In order to succeed, the parent/educator must respect the child. The sages wisely pointed out that man is motivated more by his own honor than by all other desires in the world.(Messilat Yesharim 11) Care must be taken to respect the child's opinions and individuality.

A second guiding principle in educational methods is implicit in thel biblical saying,

" Guide each lad in accordance with his ways." (Proverbs 22:6) In

teaching Biblical values, the parent/educator must keep in mind the child's unique personality and temperament. By suiting the pace of chinnukh to the child's needs, them parent is assured that the child will accept what is being taught with love and devotion. By understanding the child's weaknesses and strengths, the parent can help the child develop to his/her fullest capabilities as a good Jew (Hirsch, pg. 54).

Consideration for the child's integrity and individuality is such an important element in chinnukh that it is incorporated in Halakhah (Biblical law). Thus, chinnukh to mitzvot must be based on the child's personal level of maturation and ability to comprehend each mitzvah. The parent must also show respect for the child's dignity by allowing room for independence, which is vital for growth of personality. (Schwartz, pg. 64)



The most effective educational technique in chinnukh to Torah and Jewish values is the personal example set by the parents in their daily behavior and relationships. The noted Jewish educator, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, notes unequivocally that parents must keep in mind that there is no substitute for the educational influence of their own example.(Hirsch, pg. 62-69) The first step in educating the child to Biblical values is to look at one's own conduct and try to improve one's own characteristics in order to serve as a model for the child, for "the child sees in the picture of his parents' life, the shape of his life in the future, and as he desires to be like them, he will do as they do." (Hirsch, "Horev" Vilna: Ram Press, 1862, pg. 41)



The obligation of each parent to teach the child Torah and mitzvot forms the basis for early childhood education in the Jewish home. The Jewish philosophy of education is implied in the word "chinnukh", which is based on the root "chanoch" -"to inaugurate." The child must be taught Biblical values at the very beginning of life so that he/she may assume the framework of life prescribed by the Torah. The basic Biblical values of reverence for the Almighty, striving for holiness, justice, kindness, love for fellow man, and good manners are to be impressed upon the child from the first day of life through the example set by the parents and the home environment. This introduction or "inauguration" to the Torah, impressed upon the youngest infant, forms the root of the child's cognitive development. The Hebrew word for "learning," limud", is related to the word "lomud", which means "is accustomed to." Here, too, the Biblical philosophy of learning is implied in the word itself. In learning the mitzvot -( precepts), the child is introduced in practice to the actual fulfillment of positive commandments in accordance with his/her capabilities to do so. Judaism acknowledges tha t the individual cannot be expected to fulfill the moral code until he is

spiritually and intellectually ripe. For this reason, children under the age of thirteen are exempt from the requirement of fulfilling the mitzvot and must be taught to practice them in accordance with their level of maturation until they reach the stage when they are accustomed to the acts and may freely choose to perform them. The parental role in education is very great-so much so, in fact, that parents are instructed

to pray for the Almighty's compassionate assistance in facilitating their children's growth in the path of Torah and mitzvot and their acquisition of good characteristics.(Shabbat 156b; Mishne Berurah 47:10) When lighting the candles on Sabbath eve, the mother should pray that her children will grow in the light of the Torah.(Magen Avraham 263)

Early childhood education is deemed so important that the Almighty Himself, it is said, sits with young children at the fourth hour of the day and teaches them, as it is written: "To whom shall I teach knowledge . . . to those that are weaned from the breast." (Avodah Zarah 3)


The education of young children toward the Biblical framework of life must be based on respect for the child, knowledge of his unique personality, discipline with moderation, and above all, the element of "love and the close relationship between parent and child" that nurtures trust. (Hirsch, "Yesodot ha-Chinnukh 2:2) This basis of trust is the foundation for the success of early childhood education and the healthy development of the child within the framework of Judaism.




Consider how you as parents and your community can strive to enhance the parent's role as educator in accordance with the principles and concepts emphasized in this session . Make notes of your suggestions and proposals and strive to implement them to benefit your children, "Klal Yisrael" and the global community.




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28 Aug 2005 / 23 Av 5765 0