2: We bring the children in to learn at about six or seven years of age, according to the stamina of the child and the strength of his body. We never bring them in to learn before six years of age. The teacher [may] [does] strike them with a strap to induce fear in them. He may not strike them with a blow of enmity or cruelty; therefore, he may not strike them with whips or sticks, rather with a short strap. He sits and teaches them all day and a little bit of the night, in order to train them to study during the day and at night. And the children should not interrupt at all except for *Erev Shabbat* (Shabbat eve- Friday afternoon) and *Erev Yom Tov* (Festival eve – the afternoon before a holiday) and on *Yamim Tovim* (Festivals). However, on Shabbat, they do not learn new material, rather they do a first review. We do not interrupt the children [at study] even for the building of the *Beit haMiqdash* (Holy Temple).
Q1: Why can we not bring a child to school before 6 years of age?
YE: From the development of the *sugya* in Bava Bathra, it seems that it is a health and stamina issue. Tosafot (ibid. s.v. B’vatzir) quotes the Gemara in Ketubot (50a)which indicates that teaching the child before 6 years of age can have far-reaching consequences – socially and physically – for the child. This may be different when all children begin their studies earlier.
Q2: Why is the teacher allowed to strike them at all? (I realize that this question bears some socio-historical components – but these are worth investigating as well)
JB: In a nutshell, our schools are ENTIRELY different than those in the days of R. Back then, it was a personal, close relationship, where the rabbi was hired by the parents. He treated the student like a son, as we read about all the rules governing their relationship. In this framework, a slap on the hand is almost a parental gesture, one that has, since the beginning of time, been accepted. In the late 20th century, however, the school is a factory, churning out hundreds of students, whose teachers move in shifts and in the course of a couple of years might teach thousands of students. The relationship between parent and school is almost like a supplier/consumer, and the average teacher does not usually “bond” like in R’s days. That, coupled with legal issues imposed by Western culture that allow nothing that could even resemble abuse, makes it so foreign to us. It would be construed, possibly accurately, as a gesture of anger rather than caring. OK, so it was a big nutshell.
Q3: Why do they not study on Yom Tov, but they do on Shabbat?
JB: The “inyan” [issue? theme?] of Yom Tov is simcha – happiness and rejoicing. Students. Studying. ‘Nuf said.
Q4: Why only review on Shabbat?
JB: In describing the way you should go thru a typical Shabbat, R says you go to shul, make kiddush, learn till about 1, eat lunch, then go back to shul and learn till *seuda shlishit* (the third meal) at which time you eat and drink till *havdala* (service at the end of Shabbat). He clearly values learing on Shabbat (and frowns on sleep!) but at the same time, it must be different than a regular day on which a kid learns all day long! A compromise is to learn, but simply review which is more relaxed and enjoyable because you have the confidence that you know it…
YE: The source of this Halakha is a sugya in Nedarim 37. Two explanations are given (according to the opinion that it is *s’char shimur* – see the sugya inside for details) – first of all, it will prevent the fathers from celebrating Shabbat with their children, as the fathers will be worried about taking their children away from their studies (evidently, if you review, there is less concern about missing – which makes sense). Second – since they eat and drink more than they are accustomed to eat and drink during the week, their bodies are heavier and they are too tired to concentrate on a new piece of material. (This explanation is based on Ran’s commentary; Tosafot ad loc. has a different explanation, which also revolves around the interruption of *oneg Shabbat* (Shabbat pleasure).
Rambam, Copyright (c) 1999 Project Genesis, Inc.