Divorced Fathers and Minyan


(By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5TJT.com)

The rise in the Chareidi divorce rate has created a situation where more and more young fathers face a dilemma of either personally watching their young children or attending minyan. Some shuls, of course, now offer playgroups so that parents can go to shul and still check on their children, but most shuls do not offer such services – leaving such 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 hamitzvah – one who is involved in a Mitzvah is exempt from performing another?


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 Mogain Avrohom cites the Shla to that effect in two different places (OC 98:1 and 124:11).  The Mishna Brurah 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 is given in that even when they age 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.


Interestingly enough, the Shulchan Aruch (OC 689:6), seemingly based upon the BahaG, writes – 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 that by temperament are not so wild per se.  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 Ramah (OC 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 Ramah is referring to “Category A type 2” children rather than Category A type 1.


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 (OC 90:16) when he is discussing a traveler who reached a small village [where there is no minyan] and there is a minyan within the distance of four Persian miles further (2.67 miles) – he must travel further.  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.


The Gemorah in Kesuvos (50a) tells us that to fulfill a Mitzvah one spends up to 20% of his assets.  This is because of the double use of the word “aser te’aser – a tithe you shall tithe.”  The Gemorah discusses the Mitzvah of Tzedakah, but it is extrapolated to other Mitzvos as well  (See Ramah OC 656:1).

The source of this obligation is interesting.  The Sefer Ateres Rosh (from the Rav of Brisk on Peirush HaMishnayos Brachos chapter 9) provides two possibilities – it is either a Halacha l’Moshe MiSinai (as indicated in the Yerushalmi) or it is a Rabbinic limitation on the words bechol meodecha – with all your might [financial too].  In other words, from the Torah the obligation would have been that one must spend all of his money – just as the obligation to avoid a violation of the Torah.  The Rabbis, however, have the power to limit his obligation in matters of shev v’al taaseh – allowing one to sit and refrain from doing an action].

Regardless, the Chofetz Chaim concludes (Biur Halacha 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 (Shaivet HaLevi Volume IV #129 “uL’inyan) also rules in this manner.  Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l is also cited to this effect (Tefila K’hilchas chapter 8 note #5).

It comes out that, in a situation where the children will not be ill-effected by the presence of a baby sitter 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 baby-sitter is equal.  If the baby sitter 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 baby-sitter.

It should be noted that one should never leave children alone without a baby-sitter.  A story is told of an incident with Rav Yisroel Salanter and Ne’ilah.  It was already time for Ne’ilah on Yom Kippur and Rav Yisroel Salanter was nowhere to be found!  Where was he?  On his way to shul he heard the sound of a child wailing and crying.  He decided to forego davening Ne’ilah with a minyan so that he could stay with the crying child.  Apparently, the parents thought that they could leave the child unattended so that they could go to shul.  Such actions, of course, are illegal in this country and should never be done.

The author can be reached at [email protected]

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  1. a shul is not a beis kennest: people eat, drink, schmuz and sleep in shul, but the din of a beis kennest is that it is forbidden.
    I daven in several places. The litvaks are makpid on their kids not to move about in shul whereas the chasidim let the kids wander freely and play even on the bimah where the aaron kodesh is. The chasidisha kids come out more well rounded in being human than the litvish kids.

    In the chasidisha place where I daven there are several men who bring their kids. There is even one who brings a baby in the carriage, if he cries he wheels him outside…

    • Chasidim have a more menschliche attitude, litvishe kollels will bury yiddishkeit, because the Rambam was a philosopher, physician to the sultan and a translator and rashi was vintner and Reb Yochanan h’sandler is listed in Pirke avoth

  2. Do you people hear yourselves? Someone discusses whether a single parent should bring small children to davening. And you respond with attacks on chasidim vs. Litvaks; a shul or a beis knesses; ad olam.

    Are you going to impeach the rav next?

  3. The word in the title is “divorced.”
    The title should be, “Minyan for a father with physical custody and one whose wife cannot provide child supervision”

  4. practically speaking most divorced dads whos kids are still very little will generally be by their parents on those shabbosim. if not a simple suggestion is to introduce the child to a nice frum neighbor where he can play while tatty in shul. in extreme case if kid cant go and you are stuck sit on the couch with him /her in your lap and slowly sing kabolas shabbos to him . may you find a zivug bekarov
    one anecdote ; a young chassidish divorced woman lived alone in a basement in bp and when chanuka came around she asked me where should she light first in her basement or should she go to tatty (she had never lit menorah herself ) at mincha that day i met satmar dayan rav cd katz and he said she should go to tatty for tzinden , i answered but she lives… sleeeps… he said to me we dont want anyone divorced to become too comfortable with the new reality ” shulem machen miten matzav” everyone needs to heal and try again


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