Halakhic Discussions

Do Children Belong in Shul?

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Moshe Kurtz

Do children belong in shul? If I were to ask this question a few years ago it would be coming from a place of grumpiness, as I am the type of person who loses their train of thought at the smallest distraction. However, since having our daughter, my perspective naturally changed. My wife had to commute to work early in the morning and the soonest day care drop off was not early enough. What resulted was over half a year of consistently bringing my recently born daughter to 6:30 AM (and occasionally 7:30 AM) minyan every weekday morning. It proved to be a challenging experience, and I was fortunate if she stayed content long enough for me to recite Shemoneh Esrei with the congregation. While this was difficult, what made the experience much more manageable was the warm and welcoming approach that my congregants took to having a child present at minyan. On the occasion that my wife was home and I did not need to bring my daughter with me, one minyan-attendee would remark, “Rabbi, we don’t really care if you choose to show up—but where is your daughter?” On numerous occasions when I felt that my daughter was disrupting the minyan and needed to be brought into the lobby, another congregant would reassure me, “We are happy to hear her davening with so much kavanah!” I certainly feel a deep sense of gratitude for my congregation’s flexibility; however, this ongoing experience got me to think more seriously about the propriety of bringing children to shul.

To make the case cleaner, let us assume that one has the option of childcare and can choose whether to bring their child to minyan with them. Is it appropriate or perhaps even an imperative to bring one’s child to shul? After all, what better way to acclimate a child to religious life than spending time in a space dedicated to God? On the other hand, children tend to present a challenge in any place which demands serious decorum. In a typical scenario, there would seem to be a clash between the value of hinukh versus the due sanctity and concentration necessary for services. To that effect, our sages in Tana de-Vei Eliyahu Rabbah (Ch. 13) provided a harrowing cautionary tale:

There was once a man who was standing with his son in the synagogue. And when all of the congregation would respond “amen” and “hallelukah” following the prayer leader, his son would respond with inappropriate words (devarim shel tiflut). And his father did not say anything to him. The public said he should protest his child. [The father] responded and said to them, “What should I do? He is a child, he will play.” [The boy] did the same thing the next day and all the days of the holiday he would respond with inappropriate words and his father did not say a word [back] to him. Not one, two, or three years passed until [the father’s] wife, children, and grandchildren had passed away—he had lost fifteen members of his household. And all that remained were two sons: One was crippled and blind, and the other was a wicked imbecile.

Admittedly, this story presents an extreme scenario. The child’s behavior was unusually problematic and the father’s reaction unacceptably lackadaisical. Nonetheless, it would appear that bringing one’s child into shul can be a fraught endeavor.

However, many times, great risk can also yield great reward. In Pirkei Avot (2:8) we are told:

Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai had five disciples and they were these: Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hananiah, Rabbi Yose, the priest, Rabbi Shimon ben Netanel, and Rabbi Eleazar ben Arakh. He [Rabbi Yohanan] used to list their outstanding virtues…Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hananiah: happy is the woman that gave birth to him.

This is a very odd praise. Why is the Mishnah praising R. Yehoshua’s mother instead of praising him directly? It is without doubt that R. Yehoshua’s mother must have been shepping yiddishe nachas from his achievements, but what makes her different then the mothers of all the other sages who presumably also took pride in their childrens’ achievements?

Rabbi Ovadiah Bartenura (ad loc.), in his second approach, suggests that there was something uniquely special about the mother of R. Yehoshua:

And some say, because she caused him to be a sage. For she would go out to all of the study halls in her town and say to them, “I request from you that you should seek mercy (pray) for this embryo that is in my innards, that he should be a sage.” And from the day that he was born, she did not remove his crib from the study hall, so that only words of Torah would enter his ears.[1]

It is conceivable to infer that R. Yehoshua became a great sage because of his mother’s outstanding dedication in bringing him to the study hall even at the youngest of ages. Not only was R. Yehoshua’s mother permitted to bring him into the study hall, but since she was praised, we can deduce that it was a mitzvah for her to do so!

Nonetheless, bringing a child into services automatically assumes a degree of risk. Sooner or later they will make noise or be the cause of disturbance. The passage in Tana de-Vei Eliyahu emphasizes the risk factor with an extreme example of a child yelling profanities and the father refusing to take preventive action. The story of R. Yehoshua’s mother, on the other hand, provides us with a sense of inspiration and opportunity, and does not reckon with any of the challenges associated with bringing a child to shul.

How do we strike the right balance and what are the considerations that need to be taken into account when bringing a child to shul?

Hakhel: Instilling Religious Culture
To better understand the question of bringing children to shul, we need to look back to the Torah itself (Deuteronomy 31:10-13), which describes the mitzvah of Hakhel:

10 And Moses instructed them as follows: Every seventh year,* the year set for remission, at the Feast of Booths,

11 when all Israel comes to appear before your God Hashem in the place that [God] will choose, you shall read this Teaching aloud in the presence of all Israel.

12 Gather the people—men, women, children, and the strangers in your communities—that they may hear and so learn to revere your God Hashem and to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching.

13 Their children, too, who have not had the experience, shall listen and learn to revere your God Hashem as long as they live in the land that you are about to cross the Jordan to possess.

An iconic passage in the Talmud (Hagigah 3a)[2] addresses the seemingly puzzling inclusion of children in this mitzvah:

“Assemble the people, the men and the women and the children” (Deuteronomy 31:12). If men come to learn, and women come (at least) to hear, why do the children (taf) come? They come in order for God to give reward to those who bring them. He said to them: you had this good pearl of wisdom in your hands, and tried to conceal it from me?

The Gemara’s answer still remains ambiguous. Why would God reward parents for bringing their children if the children will not benefit from the Hakhel ritual? There are a plethora of approaches to this passage. According to Ramban (Deuteronomy 31:13),[3] the Torah is not commanding one to bring their nursing babies, but rather children who are kerovim le-hithaneikh, younglings who are close to the age of education, as they would possess some limited comprehension of the mitzvah.

However, even Ramban appears to concede that his interpretation is not in line with the aforementioned Talmudic passage. Indeed, a significant school of commentaries argue that commandment of Hakhel includes even the youngest of children.[4] If so, the Talmud’s question remains compelling—what benefit could there possibly be in bringing mere babies who lack the capacity to understand God and His Torah?[5]

Maharsha (Hagigah 3a, s.v. nashim) and Or ha-Hayyim (Deuteronomy 31:13) argue that there is a benefit for the child to attend Hakhel simply for the religious cultural experience. As verse 13 states: “Their children… shall listen and learn to revere your God Hashem…” Even if the children do not comprehend the nature of the mitzvah, they are still inculcated with a sense of awe and reverence for religious ritual. This in turn will ensure that they remain steadfast in their observance of the Torah when they reach an age when they can comprehend the Torah’s commandments.

When I was in elementary school in Yeshiva Darchei Torah, I recall that many times they would bring in a major rabbinic leader, who would often speak in Yiddish. While the content of his words were lost on me, the atmosphere was not. Thousands of people filling a beit midrash to demonstrate honor for Torah made an indelible impression upon me that there is a value simply to glorifying Torah.[6] Indeed, R. Moshe Shternbuch writes in Ta’am Ve-Da’at (Deuteronomy 31:13) that the fact that through Hakhel everyone came together for the singular cause of displaying reverence for God “and connecting with the sages of God’s Torah leaves an impression on them to inculcate into their hearts a reverence of God. And this is precisely what [the Torah] means when it says ‘and learn to revere your God Hashem all your days.’”[7]

From Biblical Hakhel to the Post-Talmudic Synagogue
The value of bringing one’s youngest children to a religious experience is not limited to once every seven years during Hakhel. Tosafot (Hagigah 3a, s.v. ke-dei) write, “And [people] have relied on this [as precedent] for bringing small children to the synagogue.” This assertion is also supported by the earlier Tractate Sofrim (18:6):

On the day when R. Eleazar b. Azariah was appointed head of the academy, he began his discourse by saying: You are standing this day all of you…your little ones, your wives, the men came to listen, the women came to receive a reward for their journey, but why did the little ones come? That a reward may be given to those who bring them. From this the young daughters of Israel learnt the practice of coming to the synagogue so that a reward may be granted to those who bring them while they would [in due course] also receive their reward.

As demonstrated earlier, there is certainly what to gain simply from spending time in a holy place. Nonetheless, we need not suffice with passive attendance. Practices have developed over time to proactively involve children in the service: Rema (Orah Hayyim 149:1) records that “Some say that we should bring children to kiss the Torah in order to educate them and train them to perform commandments, and that is the [prevalent] custom.”[8] R. Yisrael Meir Kagan (Mishnah Berurah 147:7) based on Sha’arei Ephraim suggests that it is appropriate to give children with adequate comprehension the opportunity to roll the Torah (gelilah).

Undoubtedly, children have much to gain from attending shul. Rema (Orah Hayyim 124:7), citing Kol Bo, writes: “And one should teach his young children to answer ‘Amen,’ because immediately when a child answers ‘Amen,’ he earns a portion in the World to Come.” What could be a more compelling reason to attend shul than that?

Nonetheless, the commentaries on the Shulhan Arukh qualify these statements by warning that children who are running around and disrupting the services are best left at home.[9]

In particular, the issue of disruptive children rears its head in the context of commandments that generally entail the act of listening to another person. For instance, Pri Megadim (Eshel Avraham 592:2) notes that due to the importance of hearing the shofar sound clearly one should refrain from bringing children into shul.[10] Similar sensitivities have also been raised in the context of Kinnot on Tishah Be-Av[11] and Yom Kippur prayer services.[12]

Perhaps the greatest flashpoint surrounding this issue concerns listening to Megillah reading on Purim. Tur (Orah Hayyim 689) records the custom to bring children to shul to listen to the Megillah:

…In the Jerusalem Talmud it says that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi gathered all the members of his household and read in front of them. From here we learn that in some places, it is the custom to bring little male and female children to listen to the Megillah.[13]

R. Kagan comments (Biur Halakhah 689, s.v. minhag tov) that children are brought to Megillah reading to accustom them to attend as adults. He adds (Mishnah Berurah 689:16) that engaging the children in this mitzvah is significant to the degree that we recite certain verses aloud as a congregation. Nonetheless, R. Kagan took strong issue with how many people sought to fulfill this “mitzvah” of educating their children in the laws of Megillah reading (Mishnah Berurah 689:18):

And now, in the multitude of our sins, it has become flipped (nahapokh hu)! For not only are the children not listening [to Megillah] but they are discombobulating the adults who are not able to listen either. The whole purpose they are brought is to bang during “Haman” – and by doing this the father is certainly not fulfilling the mitzvah of hinukh! In truth, from the standpoint of the mitzvah of hinukh, every father is required to hold his young children right next to him and to supervise that they listen to the reading. And when the reader says the name “Haman ha-Agagi” the children are permitted to bang according to the custom – but lest this become the primary purpose of bringing the child to the beit ha-midrash!

R. Kagan laments that many parents deluded themselves into thinking they were performing something commendable, but it resulted in something detrimental for both the children and adults. In some shuls, the lack of decorum became so acute that Kaf ha-Hayyim (689:27) recommended women bring their own megillot so they could fulfill the obligation without depending on hearing the reader![14]

A Sanctimonious Sacrifice?
While instances such as shofar blowing and Megillah reading are particularly high stakes, would it be possible to accommodate noise-producing children under regular circumstances? R. Yitzchak Zilberstein (Hashukei Hemed Haggadah, p. 189) cites Sefat Emet who addresses our earlier question about the benefit of bringing children to Hakhel:

In truth, the children only come to waste time and disrupt the adults from listening well to the words of the Torah. Therefore, it must be asked: would it not have been better to leave them at home? And this is the meaning of the [Talmud’s] answer of “in order to give merit to those who bring them.” Meaning, it is better that they disrupt their parents a little as long as the children are drawn after the service of God, and that their ears gather in the words of the Torah. This, explains the Sefat Emet, will bring the parents more merit then had they only listened to the words of the Torah themselves. And from this every person should learn that it is incumbent upon him to nullify a little of his personal wholesomeness (sheleimut) in order to educate his children properly and to ensure that they develop into God fearing and wholesome people.

Based on R. Zilberstein’s employment of Sefat Emet, one might suggest that a community composed of many families should be willing to endure a degree of disturbance from their youth in order to ensure that they soak in words of holiness and grow up to become shul-going, observant members of their community.[15]

However, although attending shul from a young age might cultivate a habit to attend as an adult, it can also yield a deleterious result. It is true that such children might attend when they are older, but perhaps the same way they attended and disrupted services as children they might become the frequent fliers of the peanut gallery as adults. Shelah (Aseret ha-Dibrot, Tractate Tamid, ch. Ner Mitzvah) sought to limit many children from attending shul:

The speaking of a child in shul is a grave violation…says Menahem [(the author of a sefer being referenced)] nowadays the children come to cause punishment upon those who bring them…this one jokes with the other, this one hits the other, this one sings, this one cries, this one speaks, this one yells out…There are those who the father hands a book and he throws it to the ground or tears it into twelve pieces. Anyone who brings children in this manner should not anticipate reward but should be concerned for misfortune…And even worse, when these youths grow up in these wicked and strange ways they will only “continue to offend”[16] by belittling the shul and its sanctity in their eyes and not giving due honor to Torah. And when a person repeatedly sins he perceives it as permissible, so that even when he grows older he will not desist.

This passage is cited widely by later authorities,[17] and is echoed in an argument articulated by R. Shlomo Wolbe in Planting and Building: Raising a Jewish Child (pp. 61-63), quoted here at length:

We must be careful not to bring our children to synagogue when they are too young. A very young child has no idea what is going on in shul. He is unfamiliar with the prayers, can’t read a siddur (prayer book), certainly doesn’t pray, and he makes it difficult for others present to pray too. We often see such children roaming around the shul during prayers. Very young children naturally frolic and play. They run around the Aron ha-Kodesh and bimah, and on Rosh Hashanah can sometimes be seen mocking the shofar-blower. It is irresponsible for parents to allow insufficiently mature children into shul.

However, the central problem is not the disturbance in shul. Rather, it is the insensitivity we cultivate when we bring these miniature children to shul. A child must appreciate, from the moment his feet cross the threshold, that he is in a special place, a place of moreh Mikdash – awe of sanctity. We must develop the feeling in our children that it is impossible to play in shul and we should not bring children who are too young to feel this. The longer we delay the child’s first visit to shul, the more the child will understand what transpires there and the better his long-term relationship with shul will be. When a child is brought to shul too early, the shul is transformed into a playground. It will be very difficult to change these patterns of thought and behavior later and to create in an adult the feeling of awe that should have been associated with shul since childhood. Who knows if such damage can ever be repaired?

Sometimes a mother will need some rest, and so the father will take their young child off to shul. The shul thus replaces the day-care center. This certainly cultivates an inappropriate perspective on shul. Of course, arrangements must be made to allow a mother to rest, but shul is not the solution.

If parents must bring a small child to shul, they must watch the child to make certain that he behaves properly. The father should watch his son and make sure that his son’s hand never leaves his own hand. One can also bring along a book to synagogue which will hold the child’s interest.

Another crucial issue is the choice of shul. It is obviously inappropriate to take a child to a shul where people talk during davening. Prayer must be in a serious place. This seriousness will be absorbed by the child.

R. Wolbe argues that it can sometimes be preferable to delay a child’s attendance at shul in order that when they do eventually come it will be done in a productive and dignified manner.[18]

This is a paradigm shift: Sefat Emet would have us believe that enduring noise and disruptions from the children, while it might detract from the adults’ personal prayer experience, achieves the lofty goal of ensuring their children’s hinukh. However, Shelah and R. Wolbe would argue that not only is bringing a disruptive child to shul problematic vis-a-vis the adults’ religious experience but it is actually to the detriment of their childrens’ hinukh as well!

Accordingly, it would seem that only children who are mature enough should participate in regular services. However, this raises a question: what do we make of the aforementioned Tosafot (Hagigah 3a) which suggests that the same way young children attended Hakhel they may attend shul as well? To that, Birkei Yosef (96:1) answers matter-of-factly: haynu shelo be-sha’at tefillah – children may be brought in to learn about shul during times other than the formal prayer service.

Another way to reconcile the austere approach of Shelah with the age-old custom of Tosafot would be to bring children into shul but under what one may term “maximum-security” conditions. Such a suggestion is made in the book Mekor ha-Hakhmah cited in Hinukh Yisrael (Vol. 2, Ch. 10, fn. 10, p. 589):

How beautiful and pleasant is the custom of the Sephardim in which all the children, young and old, stand together with a person appointed over them brandishing a staff and whip in order to supervise that they pray with concentration, stand in fear and reverence, and do not say anything not holy. Halevai, if only this was the custom in all congregations!

Since, for intuitive reasons, the aforementioned suggestion is not a viable solution, we need to identify a plausible policy that can be implemented in standard Orthodox shuls. R. Yosef Tzvi Rimon, in a Hebrew responsum entitled “Children in the Synagogue” (August 2022) seeks to map out a reasonable balance:

We need to delineate what is considered “not being a disturbance.” When I was a child in a synagogue in Tel Aviv, one of the children spoke out loudly—and he received a hard slap from his father. This was difficult for me as a child and hangs heavily over me today. Both in terms of the expectation of [absolute] silence required and the reaction of the father. A child who is sitting quietly and occasionally asks his father questions about the prayers or other matters (e.g. going to the bathroom) in a quiet manner, may certainly attend shul. Whereas a child who is unable to sit in his place, and runs amok or speaks loudly, his place is not in shul. Even a well behaved child can at times cry and scream. [However,] there is no need to panic, just take him outside [until he calms down].

This would appear to be a very reasonable balance which enables children to come to shul while also mitigating any acute disturbances. We may also suggest that some parts of services are made to be more child-friendly, such as Adon Olam, during which in our shul we invite the youth to gather in the front and sing. However, even R. Rimon’s guidelines still require a degree of intuition and common sense, which I pray be common.

While bringing a child to shul can present a great challenge, it also has the potential to leave the child with an indelible positive impact. In the central passage in Hagigah 3a where we learned about the significance of bringing a child to Hakhel, and more broadly, to shul, R. Yehoshua responded: “This good pearl of wisdom was in your hands, and you tried to conceal it from me?” Meshekh Hokhmah (Deuteronomy 31:12) suggests that this imperative resonated deeply with R. Yehoshua because he benefited immensely from the practice of attending at an early age.[19]

R. Yehoshua did not only benefit from attending a spiritual environment, but as he became an older child he began to absorb Torah ideas on his own level. R. Reuven Margolies (Nitzotzei Or, Orlah 1:7) notices that there are instances in the Mishnah in which R. Yehoshua would teach a ruling but conclude by remarking ve-ein li le-fareish, I do not possess an explanation.[20] Did the great sage R. Yehoshua learn a Halakhah and, God forbid, negligently fail to record its rationale? Rather, R. Margolies suggests these were the rulings that R. Yehoshua overheard at a young age when his mother brought him to the study hall. While he only recalled them on an elementary level, it still served as a remarkable testament to what a child can gain simply by being present in a makom Torah—enough that it was worthy for the Mishnah to record it.

Bringing a child to a holy place can be an unparalleled spiritual experience, provided the goal of hinukh remains the raison d’etre. R. Eliezer Rabinovitch, in Hinukh ha-Banim ke-Hilkhato (Ch. 35, fn. 1, p. 306), writes that he heard from the rebbe of Shomrei Emunim a novel reading of the Talmud in Megillah (27a). The Gemara relates:

What is the meaning of the verse, ‘And he burnt the house of the Lord and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem, even every great man’s house he burnt with fire?’ (II Kings 25:9)…‘Even every great man’s house he burnt with fire’: R. Yohanan and R. Yehoshua b. Levi gave different interpretations of this. One said, it means the place where the Torah is magnified (megadlin); the other, the place where prayer is magnified (megadlin).

One may understand that the term megadlin is not referring to the growth of the Torah and prayer, but it is about cultivating the children attending the houses of Torah and prayer by ensuring that they receive a positive religious experience.

On a practical level, we must still endeavor to find the right balance. While every synagogue is unique, I want to highlight a beautiful practice that we have at Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford, CT. We value providing an opportunity for both the men and women to come in and pray with concentration, and our professional staff and lay volunteers have developed a robust youth program that takes place during most of the service. At the same time, we also endeavor to ensure that our children have an opportunity to soak in the sanctity of the synagogue by bringing all of them in to lead Adon Olam together at the conclusion of services.

However, if one is attending shul on a typical weekday they will not have the luxury of youth groups and child care. Returning to my personal experience, it was indeed a challenge to pray every morning while also tending to my baby’s needs. And while in some ways it diminished the quality of my prayer, it also enhanced it.

Kli Yakar (Deuteronomy 31:12) explains that Hakhel took place during Hol HaMoed since the Jewish people would need to repent for their newly committed sins following Yom Kippur. While the youngest of children would not know how to pray, their presence would inspire their parents to beseech God. Kli Yakar writes movingly:

“If not for our sake, then for the [babies] who rely [merely] on [their mother’s] milk who have sinned not.” As it says in the text of Avinu Malkeinu, “have compassion upon us and upon our children and infants.” And this is the reward that is granted to those who bring [their children to Hakhel], that they can say before God, “Act for these infants who were brought to the House of God.”

Whenever I need to bring my child into services with me, amidst the stress and wishes for a less distracting experience, I also try to take a moment to thank God that I am privileged to have such a challenge—one that cannot be taken for granted. And in the spirit of Kli Yakar, I look at my daughter and I pray to God that even if I am not worthy, please act for her sake and for all of our next generation.

This essay has focused on how to address the potential for children to present a disturbance in shul. As Shelah pointed out, the undisciplined children of today may, God forbid, become the incessant talkers of tomorrow. The issue of adults disrupting services deserves its own treatment, though I believe the answer to that issue is a little more obvious. I will instead leave you with the words of an anonymous congregant: “Rabbi, I don’t mind so much when the children act like children; I mind when the adults act like children.” While those are fierce words, his remark reminds me to ensure that, as adults, we provide the best example for our children so that we may, God willing, secure a bright future for the next generation.

[1] This is based on Yerushalmi Yevamot (1:6). It is worth noting that the passage in the Talmud appears to address a beit haknesset whereas the version presented in Bartenura says beit midrash. This explains another discrepancy, in which the Talmud Yerushalmi says that the mother “brought” (molekhet) her baby and Bartenura writes “did not remove” – lo hotziah. I would suggest that when the baby made noise, she would immediately remove him from the beit haknesset since it is an environment that requires silence. Since a beit midrash naturally accepts a noisier decorum, she did not need to remove the baby every time he made noise.

[2] Cf. Avot De-Rabbi Natan (18:2).

[3] See also Gur Aryeh (31:12).

[4] See, for instance, Meiri (Hagigah 2a), and Minhat Hinukh (no. 612, s.v. ve-taf). It is worth noting that R. Yosef Bekhor Shor (Deuteronomy 31:12) employs the same imagery of a child in an arisah (crib) used in the story of R. Yehoshua. For further discussion of the halachic applications of younger versus older children see Piskei Teshuvot (124:13, fn. 19 and 689:6, fn. 33).

[5] Ben Yehoyada (Hagigah 3a, s.v. ke-dei) suggests that indeed there is no intrinsic imperative to bring one’s children. Rather, since everyone must attend this event, naturally one needs to bring their children with them. And as the Mishnah in Avos (5:23) teaches, lefum tzara agra – one is rewarded commensurate to how much stress and exertion is involved in the performance of a mitzvah.

[6] This also fits thematically with how Rambam (Mishneh Torah Hagigah 3:6) portrays Hakhel as a recreation of receiving God’s Torah at Mount Sinai.

[7] See Kol Ram (Vol. 2, pp. 510-511) which records that R. Moshe Feinstein adopted a similar approach. Iyun Yaakov (Hagigah 3a) takes this idea a step further by suggesting that the young children may not individually benefit from attending Hakhel, but bringing them is still a source of merit for their parents as they add number to the audience, thus bringing more glory to God, berov am hadrat Melekh.

[8] The practice of children kissing the Torah scroll is based on Or Zarua (2:48). Kaf ha-Hayyim (149:10) points out that it is the common custom for adults to kiss the Torah as well. He proceeds to address whether adults are expected to escort the Torah as well.

[9] Magen Avraham (124:11) and Mishnah Berurah (124:28), who concurs.

[10] For further sources regarding children and shofar blowing, see Hinukh ha-Banim ke-Hilkhato (Ch. 87, par. 5).

[11] Hinukh ha-Banim ke-Hilkhato (Ch. 84, par. 8).

[12] Ibid. (Ch. 92, par. 14).

[13] This is also codified by Shulhan Arukh (Orah Hayyim 689:6).

[14] See Yosef Ometz (Vol. 1, Laws of Beit ha-Kenesset, sec. 63) who asserts that the children should remain within the women’s section with their mothers because “we are not as concerned about interrupting the concentration of the women and the presence of urine in the women’s section, since there is no prayer leader, ark, and Torah scroll.” See also Piskei Teshuvot (124:13, fns. 122 and 123) on the role of the mother and challenges regarding a child with a soiled diaper. Regarding the latter, see R. Simcha Bunim Cohen’s Children in Halachah (pp. 25-26).

[15] See also Hatam Sofer (Torat Moshe, Nitzavim, p. 52) who makes a similar assertion.

[16] Language based on Isaiah 1:5.

[17] See, for instance, Mishnah Berurah (98:3) as well as Magen Avraham and Kaf ha-Hayyim cited earlier in this piece.

[18] This is akin to Rambam who suggests in Guide for the Perplexed (3:47) that the reason for many of the ritual impurity laws was to deter people from frequenting the Temple, because too-frequent attendance detracts from one’s feeling of awe.

[19] See also She’erit Menahem (Vol. 1, p. 394), as cited in Nitzotzei ha-Shas (Hagigah 3a, p. 782), who makes the same connection.

[20] See, for example, Pesahim 96b and Yevamot 79b. I would like to express gratitude to a previous congregant, Barry Best, who brought this idea to my attention.

Moshe Kurtz serves as the Assistant Rabbi of Congregation Agudath Sholom in Stamford, CT. He is the author of Challenging Assumptions (Mosaica Press, 2023), which addresses issues pertaining to American Jewry and the synagogue from a traditional, halakhic standpoint. For speaking requests or general inquiries, you may email: rabbikurtz@cas-stamford.org