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wish dftoarterlj |w. 

OCTOBER, 1889. 


" I saw a Jewish lady only yesterday with a child at her knee, 
and from whose face towards the child there shone a sweet- 
ness so angelical that it seemed to form a sort of glory round 
both. I protest I could have knelt before her, too, and 
adored in her the divine beneficence in endowing us with the 
material storgi which began with our race and sanctifies the 
history of mankind." These words, which are taken from 
Thackeray's "Pendennis," may serve as a starting-point for 
this paper. The fact that the great student of man perceived 
this glory just round the head of a Jewish lady rouses in me 
the hope that the small student of letters may, with a little 
search, be able to discover in the remains of our past, many 
similar traces of this divine beneficence and sanctifying senti- 
ment. Certainly the glimpses which we shall catch from the 
faded leaves of ancient volumes, dating from bygone times, 
will not be so bright as those which the novelist was so for- 
tunate as to catch from the face of a lady whom he saw but 
the previous day. The mothers and fathers, about whom I am 
going to speak in this paper, have gone long ago, and the ob- 
jects of their anxiety and troubles have also long ago vanished. 
But what the subject will lose in brightness, it may perhaps 
gain in reality and intensity. A few moments of enraptured 
devotion do not make up the saint. It is a whole series of 
feelings and sentiments betrayed on different occasions, ex- 
pressed in different ways, a whole life of sore troubles, of 
bitter disappointments, but also moments of most elevated 
joys and real happiness. 


2 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

And surely these manifestations of the divine beneficence, 
which appear in their brightest glory in the literature of 
every nation when dealing with the child, shine strongest 
in the literature of the Jewish nation. In it, to possess a 
child, was always considered as the greatest blessing God 
could bestow on man, and to miss it as the greatest curse. The 
patriarch Abraham, with whom we enter on history, complains 
— " Oh Lord, what will thou give me, seeing I go childless ! " 

The Rabbis declared the childless man as dead, whilst the 
Cabbalist in the Middle Ages thought him who died without 
posterity as one who failed in his mission in this world, so 
that he would have to appear again on our planet to fulfil 
this duty. To trace out the feelings which accompanied the 
object of their greatest anxiety, to let them pass before the 
reader in some way approaching to a chronological order, to 
draw attention to some points more worthy of being em- 
phasised than others, is the aim of this paper. 1 

I said that I propose to treat the subject in chronological 
order. I meant by this that I shall follow the child in the 
different stages through which it has to pass from its birth 
until it ceases to be a child and attains its majority. This 
latter period is the beginning of the thirteenth year in the case 
of a female, and the beginning of the fourteenth year in the case 
of a male. I shall have occasion later on to examine this 
point more closely. 

But there is the embryo-period which forms a kind of pre- 
liminary stage in the life of the child, and plays a very im- 
portant part in the region of Jewish legends. Human imagina- 
tion always occupies itself most with the things of which we 
know least. And so it got hold of this semi-existence of 
man, the least accessible to experience and observation, and 
surrounded it by a whole cycle of all sorts of legends and 
stories. They are too numerous to be related here. But I 
shall hint at a few points which I consider as the most 
conspicuous features of these legends. 

These legends are chiefly based on the notion of the pre- 

1 The chief authority on this subject is the work Die Lelensalter, by Dr. 
Leopold Low, the late chief Rabbi of Szegidin, who put together almost all 
the references in Jewish literature to our theme. Not wishing to overload 
this popular essay with unnecessary footnotes, I shall in most cases refrain 
from giving the authorities, that can easily be found in his work, and shall 
only refer to those which have been, for some reason or other, left out by 
Low, or which have been added since the appearance of his book. A not less 
excellent book is Das Kind in, Branch vnd Sitte der VSlker, by Dr. Ploss, 
containing most valuable information, especially concerning the customs and 
usages with primitive nations. That I have made ample use of such books 
as the D'JfUSn *11pD it is hardly necessary to say. 

The Child in Jewish Literature. 3 

existence of the soul on the one hand, but on the other hand 
they are a vivid illustration of the words of the Fathers, 
" Thou art born against thy will." Thus the soul when it is 
brought before the throne of God, and is commanded to enter 
into the body, pleads before him : " O Lord, I was till now 
holy and pure ; do not bring me into contact with what is un- 
clean and common." Thereupon the soul is given to understand 
that it was for this destination alone that it was created. 
Another remarkable feature is the warning given to man 
before his birth that he will be responsible for his actions. 
He is regularly sworn in. The oath has the double purpose 
of impressing upon him the consciousness of his duty to lead 
a holy life, and of arming himself against the danger, lest a 
holy life make him vain. As if to render this oath more 
impressive, the unborn hero is provided with two angels who, 
besides teaching him the whole of the Toi'ah, take him every 
morning through paradise and show him the glory of the 
just ones who dwell there. In the evening he is taken to 
hell to witness the sufferings of the reprobate. But such a 
lesson would make free will impossible. His future con- 
duct would only be dictated by the fear of punishment and 
hope of reward. And the moral value of his actions also 
depends, according to Jewish notions, upon the power to com- 
mit sin. Thus another legend records: "When God created 
the world, he produced on the second day the angels with 
their natural inclinations to do good, and the absolute 
inability to commit sin. On the following days again, he 
created the beasts with their exclusively animal desires. But 
he was pleased with neither of these extremes. If the angels 
follow my will, said God, it is only on account of their impo- 
tence to act in the opposite direction. I shall therefore create 
man who will be a combination of both angel and beast, so 
that he will be able to follow either the good or evil inclina- 
tion. His evil deeds will place him beneath the level of 
animals, whilst his noble aspirations will enable him to obtain 
a higher position than angels." 1 Care is therefore taken to 
make the child forget all it has seen and heard in these upper 
regions. Before it enters the world an angel strikes it on the 
upper-lip, and all his knowledge and wisdom disappear at 
once. The pit in the upper-lip is a result of this stroke, 
which is also the cause why children cry when they are 

As to the origin of these legends, the main features of 
which are already to be found in the Talmud, I must refer 

1 Quoted in the p"CD, § 53, from a Midrash. 
A 2 

4 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

the reader to the researches of Low and others. 1 Here we 
have only to watch the effect which these legends had upon 
the minds of Jewish parents. The newly-born child was in 
consequence looked upon by them as a higher being, which, 
but a few seconds before, had been conversing with angels 
and saints, and had now condescended into our profane world 
to make two ordinary mortals happy. The treatment which 
the child experienced from its parents, as well as from the 
whole of the community, was therefore a combination of love 
and veneration. One may go even further and say that the 
belief in these legends determine greatly the destination of 
the child. What other destination could a being of such a 
glorious past have than to be what an old German Jewish 
poem expressed in the following lines : 

" Geboren soil es wehren 
Zu Gottes Ehren." 

" The child should be born to the honour of God." The mis- 
sion of the child is to glorify the name of God on earth. And 
the whole bringing up of the child in the old Jewish commu- 
nities was more or less calculated to this end. The words of 
the Bible, " And you shall be unto me a kingdom of priests " 
were taken literally. And every man felt it his duty to bring 
up his children, or at least one member of his family, for 
this calling. How they carried out this programme we shall 
see later on. 

Now, regarding almost every infant as a predestined priest, 
and thinking of it as having received a certain preparation 
for this calling before it came into this world, we cannot 
wonder that the child was supposed to show signs of piety 
from the days of its earliest existence, and even earlier. 
Thus we read that even the unborn children joined in with 
the chorus on the Red Sea and sang the Shirah. David again 
composed Psalms before perceiving the face of this world. 
On the Day of Atonement they used to communicate to the 
unborn child through the medium of its mother, that on this 
great day it had to be satisfied with the good it had received 
the day before. And when a certain child named Sabbathai in 
after life refused to listen to such a request, B,. Jochanan 
applied to it the verse from the Psalm, " The wicked are 
estranged from the womb." Indeed, Sabbathai turned out a 
great sinner. It will perhaps be interesting to hear what his 

1 Besides Low, p. 65, see also Freudenthal, Das IV. Maaccabderbuch, p. 48, 
note 2, and his Hellenische Stvdien, I., 72; Gtidemann's Religionsgeschicht- 
liche, Studien 1-20; Joel's Bliche, I., 118 ; and Brull's Jahrbvch, III., 176. 

The Child in Jewish Literature. 5 

sin was. It consisted in forestalling the corn in the market 
and afterwards selling it to the poor at a much higher price. 
Of a certain child the legend tells that it was born with the 
word HON (Truth) engraved on its forehead. Its parents 
named it Amiti, and the child proved to be a great saint. 1 

The priest, however, could not enter into his office without 
some consecration. As the first step to this consecration of 
the child we may consider the covenant of Abraham. But 
this was prefaced by a few other solemn acts which I must 
mention. One of the oldest ceremonies connected with the 
birth of a child was that of tree-planting. In the case of a 
boy they planted a cedar, in that of a girl a pine ; and on 
their marriage they cut branches from these trees to form the 
wedding-canopy. 2 Other rites followed, but they were more 
of a medical character, and would be better appreciated by 
the physician. In the Middle Ages superstition played a 
great part. To be sure, I have spoken of saints, but we ought 
not to forget that saints, too, have their foolish moments, 
especially when they are fighting against hosts of demons, the 
existence of which is only guaranteed by their own over- 
excited brains. Jewish parents were for many centuries 
troubled by the fear of Lilit,h, the devil's mother, who was 
suspected of stealing children and killing them. The pre- 
cautions that they took to prevent this atrocity were as foolish 
as the object of their fear. Now, I do not intend to enumerate 
here all these various precautions. Every country almost has 
its own usages and charms, one more absurd than the other. 
It will suffice to refer here to the most popular of these 
charms in which certain angels are invoked to protect the 
child against its dangerous enemy Lilith. But of whatever 
origin they may be, J udaism could do better without them. 
The only excuse for their existence among us is to my mind 
that they provoked the famous Dr. Erter to the composition 
of one of the finest satires in the Hebrew language. 3 

Of a less revolting character was the so-called ceremony of 
the " Reading of the Shema" It consisted in taking all the 
little children of the community into the house of the newly- 
born child, where the teacher made them read the Shema, 
sometimes also the ninety-first Psalm. The fact that little 

> D^Df! nBD (ed. Basel), § 1C6. * Gittin, 57a. 

3 Attempts to explain these charms have been made in the Hamagid, III., 
p. 170, and by Dr. Gaster in his pamphlet Beitrage zur Vergleichenden Sagen 
und, p. 67. We will only remark that MS. Add. 15,229 in the 

British Museum (lOltf) has epJDJD instead of SpJiDD, whilst Heb. ii. in 

Oxford has N*?JD3D. 

6 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

children were the chief actors in this ceremony reconciles 
one a little with it despite its rather doubtful origin. In 
some communities these readings took place every evening 
up to the day when the child was brought into the cove- 
nant of Abraham. In other places they performed the 
ceremony only on the eve of the day of the Berith. Indeed 
this was the night during which Lilith was supposed to 
play her worst tricks, and the watch over the child was 
redoubled. Hence the name " Wachnacht," or the " Night of 
Watching." They remained awake for the whole night, and 
spent it in feasting and in studying certain portions of the Bible 
and the Talmud, mostly relating to the event which was to 
take place on the following day. This ceremony was already 
known to Jewish writers of the thirteenth century. Never- 
theless, it is considered by the best authorities on the subject 
to be of foreign origin. 1 Quite Jewish, as well as entirely free 
from superstitious taint, was the visit which was paid to the 
infant-boy on the first Sabbath of his existence. It was 
called " Shalom Zachar," probably meaning "Peace-boy," in 
allusion to a well-known passage in the Talmud to the effect 
that the advent of a boy in the family brings peace to the 
world. Some authorities think that this was the ceremony 
known in the Talmud under the name of pn VOW, " the 
week of the son." But these words, as well as that of 3JW 
]2n, belong, unfortunately, to that class of Talmudical terms 
which seem doomed to remain obscure for ever. 2 

At last the dawn of the great day of the Berith came. I 
shall, however, only touch here on the social aspects of this 
rite. 3 

Its popularity began as it seems already in very olden 
times. The persecutions which Israel suffered for it in the 

1 The latest authority on the subject is Dr. Perles, in the Oraetz-Jubel- 
schrift, p. 23. See also Gtidemann, Getchichte, etc., III., 103. 

2 See Low, p. 89, 384, where the references to the Talmudic literature are 
given, to which Meg'dlath Taanith, VI., and Tossephta Sotak 15 may be added. 
See also the earlier commentaries to these passages, and the Aruch, s. v. 
y3C (i.). Low's explanation that the Jewish }3n yi3£> was an imitation of 
the Greek Jtebdomeuonomena, and thus observed on the seventh day after the 
birth of the child, gains some support from the commentary of K. Gershon do 
Baba Bathra, which was lately published in the Wilna edition. Here (p. 606) 

we read the words njne> s\)sh ptJ>W J3H JfnB^. The fact that in certain 
versions of the Tractate Semaehoth mention is also made of TO.T\ yi3C (see 
Nachmanides DIND mm ed. Venice, 35b) makes it still more probable. 

3 The late Dr. Asher, in his excellent book " The Jewish Bite of Circum- 
cision," has treated the subject from its Halachic and medical as well as 
historical sides. In the preface, he gives also an excellent list of authorities 
on the subject. It is to be hoped that his son-in-law, Dr. Abraham Cohen, 
will soon re-edit this useful book with the MS. notes of the author and his 
own additions. 

The Child in Jewish Literature. 7 

times of the tyrant, Antiochus Epiphanes, " when the princes 
and elders mourned, the virgins and the young men were 
made feeble, and the beauty of women was changed, and 
when certain women were put to death for causing their 
children to be circumcised," are the best proof of the 
attachment of the people to it. The repeated attempts on 
this law, both by heathen and Christian hands, only served 
to increase its popularity. Indeed R Simeon ben Elazar 
characterised it as the law for which Israel brought the 
sacrifice of martyrdom, and therefore held firmly by it. In 
other words they suffered for it, and it became endeared to 
them. R. Simeon ben Gamliel declares it to be the only law 
which Israel performs with joy and exultation. 1 As a sign of 
this joy we may consider the eagerness and the lively interest 
which raised this ceremony from a strictly family affair to a 
matter in which the whole of the community participated. 
Thus we find that already in the times of the Gaonim the 
ceremony was transferred from the house of the parents into 
the synagogue. Here it took place after the prayers, in the 
presence of the whole congregation. The synagogue used to 
be especially illuminated in honour of the event. Certain 
pieces of the daily prayer, of a rather doleful nature, such 
as the confession of sins, were omitted, lest the harmony of 
the festival should be disturbed. As a substitute for these 
prayers, various hymns suitable for the occasion were 
composed and inserted in the liturgy for the day. As 
the most prominent members among those present, figured the 
happy father of the child and the medical man who performed 
the ceremony, usually called the Mohel or Gozer, both wearing 
their festival garments and having certain privileges, such as 
being called up to the Torah and chanting certain portions of 
the prayers. It is not before the tenth century that a third 
member suddenly emerges to become almost as important as 
the father of the child. I am referring to the Sandek or 
Godfather. In some countries he was also called Baal Berith. 
In Italy they seemed to have had two Sandeks. This word 
was for a long time supposed to be the Greek word cvvhucos. 
But it is now proved beyond doubt that it is a corruption of 
the word <twt€kvos used in the Greek church for Godfather. 
In the church he was the man who lifted the neophyte from 
the baptismal waters. Among the Jews, the office of the San- 
dek was to keep the child on his knees during the performance 

' Sabbath, 130 ; Sifre Debarim, § 76. There is much reason for suggesting 
that E. Simeon b. Gamliel was the author of both passages. Compare also 
Bapoport, Ereeh Millim, p. 19. 

8 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

of the ceremony. 1 The Sandek's place was, or is still, near the 
seat of honour, which is called the Throne of Elijah, who is 
supposed to be the angel of the covenant. Other angels, too, 
were believed to officiate at this ceremony. Thus the angel 
Gabriel is also said to have performed the office of Sandek to 
a certain child. According to other sources, the archangel 
Metatron himself attended the ceremony. 2 Probably it was 
on this account that later Rabbis admonished the parents to 
take only a pious and good Jew as Sandek for their children. 
Christian theologians also declared that no good Christian 
must do such a service to a Jew. The famous BuxdOrf had to 
pay a fine of 100 gulden for having attended the Berith of a 
child, whose father he had employed as reader when editing 
the well-known Basel Bible. The poor reader himself, who 
was the cause of Buxdorf's offence, was fined 400 gulden. Of 
an opposite case in which a Jew served as godfather to 
a Christian child, we find a detailed account in Schudt's 
" Merkwiirdigkeiten der Juden," a very learned and very 
foolish book. When the father was summoned before the 
magistrate, and was asked how he dared to charge a Jew with 
such a holy Christian ceremony, he coolly answered, because 
he knew that the Jew would present him with a silver cup. 3 
As to the present, I have to remark that also with the Jews 
the godfather was expected to bestow a gift on the child. 
In some communities he had to defray the expenses of the 
festival-dinner, of which I shall speak presently. In others, 
again, he had also to give a present to the mother of the 
child. 4 

Much older than the institution of the Sandek is the festival- 
dinner just alluded to, which was held after the ceremony. 

1 Besides Low, p. 84, the originator of this explanation, it is accepted by 
Dr. Perles in his Beitr'dge zur Gesehichte der Hebrdisehen und Aramaisehen 
Studlen (Munchen, 1884), p. 56, where also the explanations of other authori- 
ties are discussed. 

2 Maasch Buck (ed. Basel), § 179, Shudt's Merltwurdiglteiten, II.*, 295. 
Compare also 'BH^ DVIBn »B1p^> 4/>. s I. 223. 

* The following lines from an anonymous MS. in Oxford (Cat. Neubauer, 
273), will not be uninteresting in this place : — 

unj rjn • • • -6*n rb titobo i^n nvb jnd DipnjDnE> s-a unji 
mis r6ou DipnaDm rb^b nan mpao rr6vne> nnan nvi Ionian 
(pnpn) Tpn i»3 «in ps>D ^3 nnsn nm topn** no njm* ruw 
D'dc^ win nn^pao on [D]J3 D'npi!?Eoi nvnna oni? dvj triD3i 
trnn wnu« anaoi bj?d p an p -oe> rb B'anu naa rb onnnoeoi 
vb& *xana DipnaD 1 ? »r>*opa *a D"p° ntm ^"n* 1 n«a »ax nt3i ton 
: anaon \o -\"\tb tbv *nxo.sna »3niD tiki anott 

The Child in Jewish Literature. 9 

Jewish legend supplies many particulars of the dinner the 
patriarch Abraham gave at the Berith of his son Isaac. This 
is a little too legendary, but there is ample historical evi- 
dence that such meals were already customary in the times of 
the Second Temple. The Jerusalem Talmud gives us a de- 
tailed account of the proceedings which took place at the 
Berith dinner of Elisha ben Abuyah, who afterwards obtained 
a sad celebrity as Acher. Considering that Elisha's birth must 
have fallen in the first decades after the destruction of the 
Temple, and that these sad times were most unsuitable for 
introducing new festivals, we may safely date the custom 
back to the times of the Temple. The way in which the guests 
entertained themselves is also to be gathered from the passage 
referred to. First came the dinner, in which all the guests par- 
ticipated ; afterwards the great men of Jerusalem occupied 
one room, indulging there in singing, clapping, and dancing. 
The scholars again, who apparently did not belong to the 
great men, were confined to another room, where they en- 
joyed themselves with discussing Biblical subjects. 1 In later 
times special hymns, composed for this festival, were inserted 
in the grace after dinner. After the dinner sermons or 
speeches used also to be given, the contents of which were 
usually made up of reflections on Biblical and Talmudical 
passages relating to the event of the day. Sometimes they 
consisted of a kind of learned puns on the name which the 
child received on this occasion. 2 

With this meal the first consecration of the child-priest 
was concluded. In some places they used to come to the 
father's house on the third day after the circumcision with 
the purpose of making inquiries after the child's health. In 
the case when the child was the first-born the ceremony of 
pn }V"TD " redeeming the child " in accordance with Exodus 
xiii. used to take place. The details of this ceremony are to 
be found in almost every Prayer-book, and there is nothing 
fresh to add. But perhaps I may be allowed to draw atten- 
tion to another distinction that the first-born received in 
the Middle Ages. I am referring to an account given by the 
author of the book rmnn r\p")n, who flourished in the thir- 
teenth century. He says : Our predecessors made the rule 

1 See Yerushalmi, Chagigah,, II., 1. Low (p. 90), thinks that this story is 
antedated, and that it therefore possesses no historical value, but his proofs 
are in no way convincing. See also Koheleth Rabbah, chapter iii., and 
Dcbarim, Rabbah ix., according to which the reference in Yalkvt Mtehleh, 
§ 947, is to be corrected. 

2 See Cat. Neubauer 970, 2. The Derashah is for the greatest part on the 
name of the child. 

10 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

to destine every first-born to God, and before its birth the 
father had to say, " I take the vow that if my wife presents 
me with a son, he shall be holy unto the Lord, and in his 
Torah he shall meditate day and night." On the eighth day 
after the Berith Milah they put the child on cushions, and a 
Bible on its head, and the elders of the community, or the 
principal of the college, imparted their blessings to it. These 
first-born sons formed, when grown up, the chief contingent 
of the Yeshiboth (Talmudical Colleges), where they devoted 
the greatest part of their lives to the study of the Torah. 1 In 
later centuries the vow was dropped, but from the abundance 
of the Yeshiboth in Poland and elsewhere it seems as if 
almost every child was considered as having no other calling 
but the study of the Torah. 2 Indeed, the growing persecu- 
tions required a strengthening of the religious force. 

With these ceremonies the first act of consecration ended 
in the case when the new-born child was a boy. I will now 
refer to the ceremony of the name-giving, which was common 
to male and female. In the case of the former this ceremony 
was connected with the Berith Milah. The oldest formula, 
which is to be found already in the Seder Rab Amram Gaon, 
is composed in Aramaic. It is, like many prayers in this 
language, a most beautiful composition, and very suitable for 
the occasion. Our Hebrew prayer, beginning iVn DM D"p, etc., 
is by far less beautiful, and dates from a much later age. In 
some countries the ceremony of naming was repeated in the 
house of the parents. It took place on the Sabbath, when 
the mother returned home from her first visit to the syna- 
gogue after her recovery. Here the friends and relatives of the 
family assembled, and after arranging themselves round the 
cradle of the child they lifted it three times, shouting the new 
name at every lifting. This name was the so-called 7inn CW, 
or profane name, whilst the name it received in the synagogue 
was the nnpn dtP, or the Hebrew name. The ceremony 
concluded with the usual festival dinner. By the way, 
there was perhaps a little too much feasting in those days. 
The contemporary Rabbis tried indeed to suppress some of 
the banquets, and put all sorts of restrictions- on dinner- 
hunting people. 3 But considering the fact that, as Jews, they 

1 See Griidemann, Gfeschichte, etc., in Frankreich und DruUchland, I., 270, 
§ 5, but see also 2G7, § 1. The biblical stories of Samson, Samuel, and Levi 
(according to Bercshith Rabhah, chapter 70 and parallel passages) offer a 
kind of parallel to this custom. 

2 See n"?1SO }1\ ed. Venice, 11a. 

' See, for instance, DIlSpJlS ni3pn as they are given in Schudt, TV., p. 
81, %eq. 

The Child in Jewish Literature. 11 

were shut out of every public amusement, we cannot grudge 
them the pleasure they drew from these semi-religious 
dinners. For people of an ascetic disposition it was, perhaps, 
the only opportunity of enjoying a proper meal. And so, in 
our days, the most severe father would not deny his lively 
daughter the pleasure of dancing or singing charitably for the 
benefit of suffering humanity. The ceremony described was 
known to the authors of the Middle Ages by the name of 
Holle Kreish. These words are proved by Dr. Perles to be 
of German origin, and based on some Teutonic superstition 
into the explanation of which I cannot enter here. 1 

Of much more importance was the ceremony of name-giving 
in the case of a girl, it being the only attention the female 
child received from the synagogue. The usages were different. 
In some countries the name was given on the first Sabbath 
after the birth of the child. The father was called up to the 
Torah, on which the -pattf ■»» followed, including the blessing 
and the announcement of the child's name. After the prayer 
the congregation assembled in the house of the parents to 
congratulate them. In other countries the ceremony took 
place on the Sabbath when the mother attended the syna- 
gogue after the recovery. The ceremony of Holle Kreish 
seems to have been especially observed in the case of a girl. 

Though the feasting was now over for the parents, the child 
still lived in a holiday atmosphere for a long time. In the 
legend on the " Ages of Men " the child is described in the 
first year of its existence as a little prince, adored and petted 
by all. The mother herself nourished and tended the child. 
Although the Bible already speaks of nurses, many passages 
in the later Jewish literature show a strong aversion to these 
substitutes for the mother. 2 In the case that the father of the 
child died, the mother was forbidden to marry before her 
suckling infant reached the age of two years, lest a new 
courtship might lead to the neglect of the child. 

More difficult is it to say in what the other signs of loyalty 
to the little prince consisted ; as, for instance, whether Jews 
possessed anything like lullabies to soothe the little prince 
into happy and sweet slumber. At least I am not aware of 
the existence of such songs in the ancient Jewish literature, 
nor are they quoted by mediaeval writers. The " Schlum- 
merlied," by an unknown Jewish bard, about which German 

1 See his essay in the Graetz-Jubelsehrift, \>.2l,seq.; G-udemann, Geschichtej 
etc., III., pp. 104 and] 05. 

2 22"b-\n riV^inn to 1 Samuel vii. (T' r6jnn), Bravtsplegel, chapter xxxiv. 
See, however, Deharim Itabbah, chapter lx., at the end. 

12 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

scholars wrote so much, contains more heathen than Jewish 
elements. 1 From the protest in the Sepher Chassidim (§ 238) 
against using non-Jewish cradle-songs, it seems that little 
Moshechen was lulled to sleep by the same tunes and words 
as little Johnny. The only Jewish lullaby of which I know, 
is to be found in the work of a modem writer who lived in 
Russia. How far its popularity goes in that country I have 
no means of ascertaining. This jingle runs as follows : — 

O ! hush thee, my darling, sleep soundly my son, 
Sleep soundly and sweetly till day has begun ; 
For under the bed of good children at night 
There lies, till the morning, a kid snowy white. 
We'll send it to market to buy Sechora, 
While my little lad goes to study Torah. 
Sleep soundly at night and learn Torah by day, 
Then thou 'It be a Rabbi when I have grown gray. 
But I'll give thee to-morrow ripe nuts and a toy, 
If thou'lt sleep as I bid thee, my own little boy. 2 

But naturally the holiday atmosphere I spoke of was very 
often darkened by clouds resulting from the illness of the 
child. Excepting small-pox, the child was subject to most of 
those diseases which so often prove fatal to our children. 
These diseases were known under the collective name of 
D"Oa bna ~)2S, " the difficulties (or the pain) of bringing up 
children." These difficulties seem to have been still greater 
in Palestine, where one of the old Rabbis exclaimed that it 
was easier to see a whole forest of young olive-trees grow up 
than to rear one child. 3 To avoid so mournful a subject, I 
refrain from repeating the touching stories relating to the 
death of children. The pain was the more keenly felt since 
there was no other way of explaining the misfortune which 
befell the innocent creature than that it had suffered for the 
sins of the parents ; and the only comfort the latter had was 
that the child could not have lost much by its being removed 
from this vale of tears at such an early period. A remarkable 
legend describes God himself as giving lessons so many hours 
a day to these prematurely deceased children. 4 Indeed, to 
the mind of the old Eabbis, the only thing worth living for 
was the study of the Torah. Consequently the child that 

1 See Geiger, Zeitschrift, 1867, 134. See also Zeitschrift fiir Gesohichte der 
Juden in Deutschla?id, III., 93. 

2 This poem is to be found in the Hebrew novel D'Tirt 'DTia nj?in, by 
Smolensky. I am indebted for this beautiful English adaptation to Mrs. 
Henry Lucas. 

3 Bereshlth Babbah, chapter xs. For another reading see i1D3n IVBtO 
(ed. Cracow), p. 374. 4 Abodah Zarah, 36. 

The Child in Jewish Literature. 13 

suffered innocently could not have a better compensation 
than to learn Torah from the mouth of the Master of 

But even when the child was healthy, and food and climate 
proved congenial to its constitution, there still remained the 
troubles of its spiritual education. And to be sure it was not 
an easy matter to bring up a " priest." The first condition 
for this calling was learning. But learning cannot be ac- 
quired without honest and hard industry. It is true that 
R. Akiba numbers wisdom among the virtues which are 
hereditary from father to son. Experience, however, has 
shown that it is seldom the case, and the Talmudists were 
already troubled with the question how it happens that 
children so little resemble their fathei'S in respect of learning. 

Certainly Jewish legends can boast of a whole series of 
prodigies. Thus a certain Babbi is said to have been so sharp 
as to have had a clear recollection of the mid- wife who made 
him a citizen of this world. Ben Sira again, instantly after 
his birth, entertains his terrified mother with many a wise 
and foolish saying, refuses the milk she offers him, and asks 
for solid food. A certain Nachman was born with a prophecy 
on his lips, predicting the fate of all nations on earth, as 
well as fixing the date for the coming of the Messiah. The 
youngest of seven sons of Hannah, who became martyrs 
under the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes, was according to one 
version aged two years, six months, six hours, and thirty 
minutes. But the way in which he defied the threats of the 
tyrant was really worthy of one of seventy. R. Judah de 
Modena is said to have read the Haftarah in the synagogue 
at the age of two years and a half. A famous Cabbalist 
Nachum, at the age of three, gave a lecture on the decalogue 
that lasted for three days. The Chassidim pretended of one 
of their Rabbis that he remembered all that he had been 
taught by the angels before his birth, and thus excused their 
Zaddik's utter neglect of studying anything. Perhaps I may 
mention in this place a sentence from Schudt, which may 
reconcile one to the harmless exaggerations of the Chassi- 
dim. It relates to a case where a Jewish girl of six was 
taken away by a Christian with the intention of baptising her, 
for he maintained that this was the wish and pleasure of the 
child. Probably the little girl received her instruction from 
the Christian servant of the house, as has happened many 
times. Schudt proves that this wish ought to be granted in 
spite of the minority of the child. He argues : As there is a 
maxim, " What is wanting in years may be supplied by 
wickedness," why could not also the reverse be true that 

14 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

"What the child is wanting in years can be supplied by- 
grace " ; a very fine piece of clerical logic indeed. Of a cer- 
tain R. Meshullam, again we know that he preached in the 
synagogue at Brody, at the age of nine, and perplexed the 
chief Rabbi of the place by his deep Talmudical learning. 
As the Rabbi had a daughter of seven, the cleverness exhibited 
by the boy Rabbi did not end without very serious con- 
sequences for all his life. 1 

Happily all these prodigies or children of grace are only 
exceptional. I say happily, for the Rabbis themselves dis- 
liked such creatures. They were more satisfied with those 
signs of intelligence that indicate future greatness. The 
following story may serve as an instance : — R. Joshua ben 
Chananyah once made a journey to Rome. Here he was 
told that amongst the captives from Jerusalem there was 
a child with bright eyes, its hair in ringlets, and its features 
strikingly beautiful. The Rabbi made up his mind to re- 
deem the boy. He went to the prison and addressed the child 
with a verse from Isaiah, " Who gave Jacob for a spoil and 
Israel to the robbers ? " On this the child answered by 
continuing the second half of the same verse, " Did not the 
Lord, he against whom we have sinned ? For they would not 
walk in his ways, neither were they obedient unto his law." 
The Rabbi was so delighted with this answer, that he said : 
"I am sure he will grow up to be a teacher in Israel. I take 
an oath to redeem him, cost what it may." The child was 
afterwards known under the name of R. Ishmael ben Elisha. 2 
Such children were ideals of the Rabbis, but they hated the 
baby scholar, who very often grew impertinent and abused 
his elders. 3 The Rabbis much more preferred the majority 
of those tiny creatures, which is characterised by the already 
mentioned legends on the " Ages of Men " as little animals 
playing, laughing, crying, dancing, and committing all sorts 
of mischief. 

But these children must be taught. Now there is the well- 
known Boraitha of Judah ben Tema, who used to say that the 
child at five years was to be taught Scripture, at ten years 
Mishnah, at thirteen to fulfil the Law, etc. This Boraitha 
incorporated in most editions to the fifth chapter of the say- 
ings of the Fathers is usually considered as the programme 
of Jewish education. But, like so many programmes, this 

1 Besides Low, pp. 67 and 149, see also Midrash Echah, chapter i., Yeru- 
shalmi Ketuhoth, V., 6, BHnn D^IUH DB>' I., 58o, Schudt, 279. 

2 G'tttin, 58a. 3 Yermhalmi Sotha, iii., i. 

The Child in Jewish Literature. 15 

tells us rather how things ought to have been than how they 
were. In the times of the Holy Temple, the participation of 
the youth in religious actions began at the tenderest age. As 
soon as they were able to walk a certain distance with the 
support of their parents, the children had to accompany them 
on their pilgrimages to Jerusalem. In the Sabbatical year 
they were brought to the Temple, to be present at the reading 
of Deuteronomy by the king. The period at which the child's 
allegiance to the synagogue began is still more distinctly de- 
scribed. Of the many Talmudical passages relating to this 
question, I shall select the following quotation from a later 
Midrash, because it is the most concise. In allusion to Leviticus 
xix. 23, 24, concerning the prohibition of eating the fruits of a 
tree in the first three years, this Midrash goes on to say : " And 
this is also the case with the Jewish child. In the first three 
years the child is unable to speak, and therefore is ex- 
empted from every religious duty, but in the fourth year all 
its fruits shall be holy to praise the Lord, and the father is 
obliged to initiate the child in religious works." Accordingly 
the religious life of the child began as soon as it was able to 
speak distinctly or with the fourth year of its life. As to the 
character of this initiation we learn from the same Midrash 
and also from other Talmudical passages, that it consisted in 
teaching the child the verses bwittP VOW and lib HIS mm 
TMVQ. " Moses commanded us the Torah, the inheritance of 
the congregation of Jacob." It was also this year in which 
the boys began to accompany their parents to the synagogue, 
carrying their Prayer-books. 1 When the girls first came out 
— not for their first party, but with the purpose of going to 
the synagogue — is difficult to decide with any degree of 
certainty. But if we were to trust a rather doubtful reading 
in Tractate Sopherim, we might maintain that their first 
appearance in the synagogue was also at a very tender age. I 
hope that they behaved there more respectfully than their 
brothers, who played and cried instead of answering the 
responses and singing with the congregation. In some com- 
munities they proved so great a nuisance, that a certain Rabbi 
declared it would be better to leave them at home rather than 
to have the devotion of the whole congregation disturbed by 
these urchins. Another Rabbi recommended the praise- 
worthy custom of the Sephardim, who confined all the boys in 

1 See Tanchuma, ed. Buber, III., 40a ; Succah, 42a. From the parallel pas- 
sages in the Si/re Debarim xlvi., and Tosephta Chagigah, i. (compare preface 
to HDpin ^D, iv.) it seems that the father had also the duty of teaching the 
child to speak the holy language. See also Gudemann, Gesehichte, etc., I., 
p. 116, note 2. 

16 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

the synagogue to one place, and set a special overseer by their 
side, with a whip in his hands, to force them to keep quiet and 
to worship with due devotion. 1 

A strange custom is known amonjj the Arabian and Pales- 
tinian Jews under the name of Chalaka. It means the first 
hair-cutting of the boy after his fourth birthday. As on this 
occasion, loyalty to the Scripture is shown by not touching the 
nNS (corners), the whole action is considered a religious cere- 
mony of great importance. Usually it takes place on the 
thirty-third day of the Omer, when friends and relatives 
assemble at the house of the parents. Thither the boy is 
brought, dressed in his best garments, and every one of the 
assembly is entrusted with cutting a few hairs, which is con- 
sidered a great honour. The ceremony is as usual followed by 
a dinner given to the guests. The Jews in Saf ed and Tiberias 
perform the ceremony with great pomp in the courtyard sur- 
rounding the grave of R. Simeon ben Jochai, which is sup- 
posed to be in one of the neighbouring villages. 2 

Another custom already mentioned in the Talmud, but 
which quite disappeared in the latter times, is that of weigh- 
ing the child. It would be worth reviving if performed in the 
way in which the mother of Doeg ben Joseph did it. This 
tender-hearted mother weighed her only son every day, and 
distributed among the poor as much gold as the amount of 
the increased weight of her child. 3 

I pass now to the second great consecration of the boy. I 
refer to the rites performed on the day when the boy went 
to school for the first time. This day was celebrated by the 
Jews, especially in the Middle Ages, in such a way as to 
justify the high esteem in which they held the school. The 
school was looked upon as a second Mount Sinai, and the day 
on which the child entered it as the Feast of Revelation. Of 
the many different customs, I shall mention here that Min- 
hag, according to which this day was fixed for the Feast of 
Weeks. Early in the morning, while still dark, the child was 
washed and dressed nicely. In some places they dressed it 
in a Talith. As soon as day dawned the boy was taken to the 
synagogue, either by his father or by some worthy man of the 
community. Arrived at their destination, the boy was put on 

1 See Low, 134, and references. Mullers edition of Sopherim, p. 2G0. About 
the much-vexed question of taking little children to the synagogue, see, 
besides the authorities given by Low, the flDDn "llpQ, 21a, and Ralbag's 
commentary to Nehemiah viii. 2 (lately published in Gruber's Magazin, 

rmsDn ixin, it..) 

8 Mr. Luncz's D Wl», II. 

3 Echak Rabba, chapter I. Compare Ralbag to 2 Samuel xiv. 26. 

Tlie Child in Jewish Literature. 17 

the Alraemor, or reading-dais, before the Scroll of the Law, 
from which the narrative of the Revelation was read as the 
portion of the day. From the synagogue the boy was taken 
to the house of the teacher, who took him into his arms. 
Thereupon a slate was brought, containing the alphabet in 
various combinations, the verse, 7112 min, and the first verse 
of the Book of Leviticus, and the words VoaiH Tin mm 
"The Torah will be my calling." The teacher then read 
the names of the letters, which the boy repeated. After the 
reading, the slate was besmeared with honey, which the boy 
licked off. This was done in allusion to Ezekiel iii. 3, 
where it is said : " And it (the roll) was in my mouth as 
honey for sweetness." The boy was also made to eat a sweet 
cake, on which passages from the Bible were written relating 
to the importance of the study of the Torah. The ceremony 
was concluded by invoking the names of certain angels, asking 
them to open the heart of the boy, and to strengthen his 
memory. 1 By the way, I am very much afraid that this invo- 
cation has to be answerable for the abolition of this ceremony. 
The year in which this ceremony took place is uncertain, 
probably not before five, nor later than seven, according to the 
good or bad health of the child. As to the constitution of the 
school, the programme of teaching, the payment of the teachers, 
etc., I must refer the reader to the treatises on the subject, 
both by English and foreign scholars. 

The reverence for the child already hinted at was still 
further increased when the boy entered the school. The 
abbreviation ~i":iH?ri, " the children of the school," is a regular 
phrase in Jewish literature. It is their pure breath on which 
the existence of the world is dependent, and it is their merit 
that justifies us in appealing to the mercy of God. The words 
of the Scripture, which they uttered quite innocently, were 
considered as oracles ; and many a Rabbi gave up an under- 
taking on account of a verse pronounced by a schoolboy, who 
hardly understood its importance. Hear only one instance : 
R. Jochanan was longing to see his friend Mar Samuel in 
Babylon. After many disturbances and delays, he at last 
undertook his journey. On the way he passed a school, where 
the boys were reciting the verse from 1 Samuel xxviii. 3, "And 
Samuel died." This was accepted by him as a hint given by 
Providence that all was over with his friend. 2 

Especially famous for their wisdom and sharpness were the 

1 See Gudemann, Geschichte, etc., I., 50, note 2, and III., 112. See also 
V"1K> IinaK, p. 466, ne»n 3p, chapter 72, and T&O min JT'ir No. 16, at the 
end. 2 Ckulin, 95J. 


18 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

children of Jerusalem. From the many illustrative stories 
given in Midrash Echah Rabbathi, the following one will 
suffice : — R. Joshua was one day riding on his donkey along 
the high road. As he passed a well, he saw a little girl there, 
and asked her to give him some water. Now she gave water 
to him and to his animal. The Rabbi thanked her with the 
words : " My daughter, you acted like Rebecca." " To be 
sure," she answered, " I acted like Rebecca ; but you did not 
behave like Eleazar." 1 I must add that there are passages in 
Jewish literature from which, with a little ingenuity, it might 
be deduced that Jewish babies are the most beautiful of their 
kind. The assertion made by a monk that Jewish children are 
inferior to Christian children is a dreadful libel. The author 
of the Nizzachon Yashan, in whose presence this assertion was 
made,was probably childless, or he would have simply scratched 
out the eyes of this malicious monk, instead of giving a mys- 
tical reason for the superior beauty of any other children 
than his own. 2 

Another point to be emphasised is that the boys were not 
confined all day long to the close air of the school-room. They 
had also their hours of recreation. This recreation consisted 
chiefly, as one can imagine, in playing. Their favourite game 
was the ball, boys as well as girls being fond of this form of 
amusement. They did not deny themselves this pleasure even 
on festivals. They were also fond of the kite and games with 
nuts, in which their mothers also took part. Letter-games 
and riddles also occupied their minds in the recreation-hours. 
The angel Sandalphon, who bears in the Cabbala also the 
name of "Boy," was considered by the children as their 
special patron, and they invoked him in their plays, addres- 
sing to him the words : " Sandalphon, Lord of the forest, 
protect us from pain." 3 Speaking generall}*-, there are very 
few Jewish games. From the researches of Zunz, Giidemann 
and Low on this subject, it is clear that the Jews always 
adopted the pastimes of the peoples among whom they 

On the other hand, it must not be thought that there was 
too much playing. Altogether, Jewish education was far 
from spoiling the children. And though it was recommended 
— if such recommendation is necessary — to love children more 
than one's own soul, the Rabbis strongly condemned that 
blind partiality towards our own offspring, which ends in 

1 Echah Rabba, chapter I. See Perles, Zur Babbintschen Sprach- und 
Sagenltunde, p. 91. 2 Wagenseil Tela igna, 251. 

3 Goldberg on the periodical Lebanon, VI., 142. 

The Child in Jewish Literature. 19 

burdening our world with so many good-for-nothings. The 
sad experience of certain Biblical personages served as a 
warning for posterity. And even from the quite natural 
behaviour of Jacob towards his son Joseph, which had the 
best possible results in the end, they drew the lesson which 
no man must show to one of his children marks of greater 
favour than to the others. 1 In later times they have been 
even anxious to conceal this love altogether, and some 
Rabbis went so far as to refrain from kissing their children. 2 
The severity of Akabya ben Mahalel is worth mentioning, if 
not imitating. When this Rabbi, only a few minutes before 
his death, was asked by his son to recommend him to his 
friends and colleagues, the answer the poor boy received 
was: Your conduct will recommend you to my friends, or 
will estrange you from them. 3 Another Rabbi explained the 
words "7 s m-i2?3b D^ni: Give life to thy youth, to mean 
teach him temperance in his diet, and do not accustom him to 
meat and wine.* R. Jehuda Hachassid, in the Middle Ages, 
gives the advice to rich parents to withdraw their resources 
from their sons, if they lead a disorderly life. The struggle 
for their existence, and the hardship of life, would bring them 
back to God. 8 When the old Rabbi said that poverty is a 
most becoming ornament for Jews, his remark was probably 
suggested by a similar thought. And many a passage in the 
Rabbinic literature gives expression to the same idea as that 
in Goethe's divine lines : — 

" Wer nie sein Brot mit Thranen ass, 
Wer nie die kummervollen Nacbte 
Auf seinem Bette weinend sass, 
Der kenni Euch nicht, Ihr himmiischen Machte." 

I have spoken of a kingdom of priests, but there is one 
great disadvantage in such a polity. One or two priests in a 
community may be sustained by the liberality of the congre- 
gation. But if a community consisted of only priests, how 
could that be maintained ? Besides, the old Jewish ideal 
expected the teacher to be possessed of a divine goodness, im- 
parting his benefits only as an act of grace. Salaries, there- 
fore, either for teaching or preaching, or giving ritual deci- 
sions, were strongly forbidden. The solution of the question 
already put by the Bible, " And if ye shall say, What shall we 
eat ? " is to be found in the law that every father was obliged 

Sabbath, 10b. 2 See, for instance, the will of R. Susskind, of Horodna. 
3 Edoyoth, V., 7. * Chulin, 84a. s Sepher Chassi&im, 325. 


20 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

to teach his son a handicraft, enabling him to obtain a 

I have now to speak about the date with which childhood is 
brought to a conclusion. It is, as I stated above, in the case 
of a girl at the beginning of the thirteenth year, and in that of 
a boy at the beginning of the fourteenth year. As a reason 
for this priority I will reproduce the words of R. Chisda, 
who said that God has endowed women with a greater portion 
of intelligence than man, and therefore she obtains her matu- 
rity at an earlier period than man does.' A very nice compli- 
ment, indeed ; but like all compliments it is of no practical 
consequence whatever. It is not always the wiser who get 
the better of it in life. Whilst the day on which the girl 
obtained her majority passed unnoticed either by her or by 
her family, it was marked in the boy as the day on which he 
became a son of the Law, and was distinguished by various 
rites and ceremonies, and by the bestowing on him of beau- 
tiful presents. I assume that there is no need to describe 
these well-known ceremonies. I miss only the wig, which 
used to form the chief ornament of the boy on this happy 
day. 2 

Less known, however, is the origin of this ceremony, and 
the reason for fixing its date. It cannot claim a very high 
antiquity. I may remark that in many cases it takes cen- 
turies before an idea or a notion takes practical shape, and 
is crystallised into a custom or Minhag, and still longer before 
this custom is fossilised into a law or Din. As far as the 
Bible goes there is not the slightest indication of the exis- 
tence of such a ceremony. From Leviticus xxvii. 5, and 
Numbers xiv. 29, it would rather seem that it was not before 
the twentieth year that the man was considered to have 
obtained his majority, and to be responsible for his actions. 
It was only in the times of the Rabbis, when Roman influence 
became prevalent in juristic matters at least, that the date of 
thirteen, or rather the pubertas, was fixed as giving the boy 
his majority. 3 But it would be a mistake to think that before 
having obtained this majority the boy was considered as 
under age in every respect. Certainly the law made every 
possible effort to connect him with the synagogue, and to 

1 Niddah, 45i. An interesting question concerning the confirmation of 
girls is to be found also in Nizzaclwn Yashan, in Wagenseil's Tela igna, I., 251. 

* See Schudt, II.*, 295. 

3 Low has treated the subject with such thoroughness, that it is impossible 
to add anything to it. Perhaps it is necessary to say that the term fllXO "12 
occurring in the Talmud {e.g. Jiaha Alexia, 96a) has nothing to do with the 
majority of the boy. 

The Child in Jewish Literature. 21 

initiate him in his religious duties long before the age of 

We have seen that the boy's first appearance in the syna- 
gogue was at the beginning of the fourth year. We have 
noticed the complaints about his troublesome behaviour. But 
how could we expect the poor child to be attentive to things 
which quite surpassed the intellectual faculties of his tender 
age ? There was no better reason for this attendance either 
in the Holy Temple or in the synagogue than that the 
parents might be rewarded by God for their trouble of 
taking their children there. These cares, by the way, were 
most incumbent upon the women. The mother of R. Joshua 
enjoyed this trouble so much that she carried her boy, when 
still in the cradle, to the Beth Hamidrash, in order that 
his ears might be accustomed to the sound of the Torah. 1 In 
later times there was another excuse for taking the little 
children to the synagogue. They were there allowed to sip 
the wine of the Kidclush, which was the exclusive privilege 
of the children ; an easy way of worshipping, but, as you can 
observe, it is a method that they enjoy and understand most 
excellently. They did not less enjoy and understand the 
service with which they were charged on the day of " The 
Rejoicing of the Law." On this feast they were provided 
with flags, which they carried before the bearers of the Torah, 
who feasted them after the service with sweets. Another 
treat was that of being called up on this day to the Torah, a 
custom that is still extant. In the Middle Ages they went in 
some countries so far as to allow these little fellows who did 
not wear caps to be called up to say the blessings over the 
Law bare-headed. A very nice custom was that every 
Sabbath, after finishing the weekly portion and dressing the 
Sepher Torah, the children used to come up to the Almemor 
and kiss the Torah. 2 Leaving the synagogue they kissed the 
hands of the scholars. At home the initiation began by the 
blessing the child received on every eve of the Sabbath, by 
teaching it the first verse of the Shema, and other verses as 
already mentioned. Short prayers, consisting of one sen- 
tence, were also chosen 3 for children of this age. The 
function of the child on the Seder-night is well known. 
Besides the putting of the four questions, the boy had also to 
recite or rather to sing the Hallel. But I am afraid that they 

1 Yerwhalmi Yebamolh, I., § 6. Perhaps it was this fact that suggested 
the Keriath-Shema-Leinen. For, as they could not carry the child into the 
synagogue, they brought the synagogue to the child. 

* Or Zarua, II., 11* ; Jleshith Chochma, 373J. 3 Perihta Bablati, 174. 

22 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

enjoyed better the song of KHa in, which was composed or 
rather adapted for their special entertainment, from an old 
German poem. 1 

Within three or four years after entering the synagogue, and 
with the growth of intellect and strength, the religious duties 
of the boy increased, and became of a more serious charac- 
ter. He had not only to attend the school, which was 
troublesome enough, but he was also expected to attend the 
services more regularly, and to gain something by it. Yet 
the Rabbis were not so tyrannical as to put unjust demands 
on the patience of the child. The voice of God on Mount 
Sinai, the Rabbis said, was adapted to the intellect, and the 
powers of all who witnessed the Revelation — adapted, as the 
Midrash says, to the powers of old and young, children and 
women. It was in accordance with this sentiment that the 
Rabbis suited even their language to the needs of the less 
educated classes. Thus we read in the Massecheth Sopherim 
that according to the Din the portion of the week, after having 
been recited in Hebrew, must be translated into the language 
of the vernacular for the benefit of the unlearned people, 
the women, and the children. 2 Another consideration children 
experienced from the Rabbis was that at the age of nine or 
ten the boy was initiated into the observance of the Day of 
Atonement by fasting a few hours. But that this good work 
might not be overdone, and thus endanger the child, the sage 
R. Acha used to tell his congregation after the prayer of Mus- 
saph, " My brethren, let every one of you who has a child go 
home and make it eat." 3 In later centuries, when the disease 
of small-pox became so fatal, some Rabbis declared that it 
is every father's duty to leave the town with his children as 
soon as the plague showed itself. The joy with which the 
Rabbis hailed the invention of Dr. Jenner deserves our 
recognition. None of them perceived in vaccination a defiance 
of Providence. R. Abraham Nansich, from London, wrote 
a pamphlet to prove its lawfulness. The Cabbalist Buzagli 
disputed Dr. Jenner's priority, but nevertheless approved of 
vaccination. R. Israel Lipschiitz declared that the Doctor 
acquired salvation by his new remedy. 4 

With his advancing age, not only the boy's duties were 
increased, but also his rights. An enumeration of all these 
rights would lead me too far, but I shall mention the cus- 

1 Brail, Jahrbuch. IV., 97, and Perles. Graetz-JnbcUchrift, 37. 

2 Shemoth Rabhah, chapter 5, and Masecheth Soferhit,, chapter 18. 

3 Yerughalmi Yoma, VI., § 4. See also Tosseplda, ibid., chapter V. 

4 nsnn rbv, London, and the commentary ^>tne» mSBH to Abotb, III., 14. 

The Child in Jeieish Literature. 23 

torn which allowed to the boy the recital of Kaddish and 
Borchu in the synagogue. We have restricted this privilege 
to the orphan boy. It is interesting to hear that girls were 
also admitted to say Kaddish in the synagogue, in case their 
parents left no male issue. I have myself witnessed such a 
case. In some countries the boy had the exclusive pi'ivilege of 
reading the prayers on the evenings of the festivals and Sab- 
baths. R. Simeon ben Eleazar, in the fifteenth century, again 
received his family name "iaMK7 TTO from the skill with 
which he recited this prayer when a boy. He chanted it so 
nicely that he was called by the members of the community 
Master intW fTQ. 1 As to the question whether the boy, while 
under age, was allowed to be considered as one of the ten when 
Minyan was inquired, or one of the three in the case of Mesu- 
man, I can only say that the authorities never agreed in this 
respect. Whilst the one insisted upon his having obtained his 
majority, the other was satisfied with his showing such signs 
of intelligence as would enable him to participate in the cere- 
mony in question. Here is an instance of such a sign. Abaje 
and Raba, the two celebrated heroes of the Babylonian Tal- 
mud, were sitting at the table of Rabbah. Before saying 
grace he asked them, " Do you know to whom these prayers 
are addressed ? " Thereupon one boy pointed to the roof, 
whilst the other boy went out and pointed to the sky. The 
examiner was satisfied with their answer. 2 

The privilege of putting on the Tephilliii forms now in most 
countries the chief distinction of the Barmitzvah; in olden 
times, however, every boy had claim to it as soon as he showed 
the ability of behaving respectfully when wearing the holy 
symbol. It even happened that certain honours of the syna- 
gogue were bestowed on the clever boys, though under age. 
We possess a copy of a Jewish epitaph dating from about the 
third century, which was written in Rome for a boy of eight 
years, who is there designed as archon. 3 The fact is the 
more curious, as on the other hand the Palestinian R Abuha, 
who lived in the same century, maintained that no man must 
be elected as Parnass before he achieved his fiftieth year. 
That boys were admitted to preach in the synagogue I men- 
tioned before. 

From all these remarks it will easily be seen that in olden 
times the boy enjoyed almost all the rights of majority long 
before the day of his Barmitzvah. The condition of the 

1 Preface to his book ">DKt? 1113. 2 Berachoth, 48«. 

3 See SchUrer's Die Gemeindeverfassung der Judea in, Bom, p. 24. Com- 
pare Hamatltiv xix., p. 70. 

24 Tlic Jewish Quarterly Review. 

novice is hardly discernible from that of the initiated priest. 
The Talmud, the Gaonim, and even R. Isaac Alfassi and Mai- 
monides knew neither the term Barmitzvah nor any ceremony 
connected with it. 1 There is only one slight reference to 
such an institution, recorded in the Massecheth Sopherim, 
with the quotation of which I shall conclude this paper. We 
read there: "In Jerusalem there was the godly custom to 
to initiate the children with the beginning of the thirteenth 
year by fasting the whole Day of Atonement. 2 During this 
year they took the boy to the priests and learned men that 
they might bless him, and pray for him that God might think 
him worthy of a life devoted to the study of the Torah and 
pious works." For, this author says, "they were beautiful, 
and their lives harmonious and ther- hearts directed to God." 


1 See note 3, p. 20. 2 Ed. Miiller. p. xsx. and 258.