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Peninei Halakha > Shabbat > 24 - Children > 05. Permissive Rulings under Pressing Circumstances

05. Permissive Rulings under Pressing Circumstances

Sometimes, under pressing circumstances, one may tell a minor to transgress a rabbinic prohibition, but one may never tell a minor to violate Torah law. First, as we saw regarding ĥinukh in general, the Torah forbids causing a child to transgress. Second, as noted, there is an explicit injunction against children doing melakha on Shabbat: “But the seventh day is a Shabbat of the Lord your God; you shall not do any melakha – you, your son or daughter” (Shemot 20:10). We will now explain when one may ask a minor to transgress a rabbinic injunction.

According to Rashba and Ran, one may tell a child to transgress a rabbinic prohibition if it is for his own sake. Even though this is forbidden according to most Rishonim (Rambam; Tosafot; SA 343:1), under pressing circumstances we rely on those who are permissive (R. Akiva Eger; BHL 343:1, s.v. “mi-divrei”). Therefore, if the light in a child’s room was accidentally left on or turned on, and he finds it difficult to sleep, one may tell him to turn off the light, as this action is rabbinically prohibited. It is preferable that a child under the age of six do it. If the child is older than six, it is preferable that he turn it off with a shinui.

Under pressing circumstances, one may tell a child to transgress a rabbinic prohibition, even if he does not stand to gain from the transgression personally. As we have seen (9:11), the Sages permitted transgressing a shvut di-shvut for the sake of a mitzva or under pressing circumstances. The entire obligation of a child to keep Shabbat is rabbinic, so if he transgresses a rabbinic prohibition, it is by definition a shvut di-shvut. As long as one is lenient in this respect only occasionally, there is no concern that the child will become accustomed to belittle Shabbat (Mordechai; Taz 346:6; SAH 343:6; Livyat Ĥen §124).[3]

If the light went out on Shabbat in a place where it is needed, a baby who is not old enough to understand that his parents want him to turn on the light (about a year old) and who will play with a switch without understanding whether he is doing something helpful or harmful may be held in front of the switch with the hope that he will play with it and turn it on and removed from there as soon as he turns it on. Since he does not understand the implications of flipping the switch on and off, his action is not significant for the purposes of transgression. Rather, he is considered mitasek (performing a melakha obliviously; see below, 26:3) (Rashba, Yevamot 114a; Orĥot Shabbat 24:7-8).

[3]. In cases where it is permissible to ask a child to perform a rabbinically prohibited melakha, it is preferable that the act not be done by the child of the person who needs it done. As we saw in the previous note, there is a Torah commandment not to have melakha performed by one’s children, so even though for the child the prohibition is a shvut di-shvut, for the parent there is only one shvut involved. If one of the parents needs to ask the child to perform a melakha, it is somewhat preferable that the mother ask rather than the father, since the primary responsibility for ĥinukh is the father’s. See Pri Megadim cited in BHL 266:5.

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