What Is Jewish Education?

According to biblical law, a child is not obligated to observe mitzvot until reaching adulthood. Nevertheless, there’s a mitzvah of rabbinic origin, known as chinuch, for parents to educate their children to do mitzvot and to avoid doing things that the Torah forbids.

The mitzvah of chinuch kicks in for each mitzvah as soon as the child is capable of observing that mitzvah. Traditionally, we start teaching children from the age of three to recite the blessings on various foods and some basic prayers. That is when a little boy begins covering his head and wearing tzitzit, and at about that age girls begin lighting Shabbat candles.

Though the “carrot and stick” method is mentioned in Jewish literature as an effective chinuch technique, ultimately the goal is to teach children to value each mitzvah for itself and the connection to G‑d that it engenders.

Hit the Books!

There’s a Torah obligation for a father to teach his sons Torah.

The goal is to teach children to value each mitzvah for itself and the connection to G‑d that it engendersAs soon as a child begins to speak, he is taught key passages of Torah, such as the verse “The Torah that Moses commanded us is the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob,” and the Shema. And from there, education takes off . . .

One who is unable to personally fulfill this obligation may delegate the honor to a teacher or school. Nonetheless, as a sage once proclaimed: “It is an absolute duty for every person to spend a half hour every day thinking about the Torah education of children, and to do everything in his power—and beyond his power—to inspire children to follow the path along which they are being guided.”

Although technically the obligation to teach Torah rests upon the father, the most effective educating is often done by the mother. As she is the one who usually spends more time with her children, and she has the advantage of a softer, feminine approach to imparting information, she is in the best position to transmit morals and Jewish values.