Monday, January 22, 2018

Specialization in Life and in Education

by Rav Reuven Spolter

Somehow, with all the conveniences of modern technology, life doesn't seem more convenient. We feel pulled in ever-more directions, with ever-more responsibilities, obligations, concerns and interests. While these pulls can often be destructive, they offer an almost unlimited array of opportunities as well. Do you like guitar? Today you can teach yourself to play any instrument using YouTube or a number of apps on your phone. Interested in botany, or knitting, or Israel advocacy, or basically anything else you can possibly imagine? There's a website, email list, podcast and Facebook group dedicated to exactly your interest. An almost unlimited number of Torah shiurim and resources span every possible skill level on topics from Tanach to Talmud to Tefillah and every sub-topic in-between. It's all really interesting.

In the worst-case scenario, we ignore this potpourri of possibilities, perhaps perplexed by their scale and breadth. Rather than diving head-first into something, we escape from it all to the safety of the also unlimited spectrum of time-wasting options at our fingertips. Surely that is an trap into which we all fall from time to time. But we also engage in the positives as well, learning a new subject, studying this or that; trying a new class or a hobby. We find ourselves dabbling – a bit of this, something of that, without really specializing in any one area or interest. Today, the world presents with an infinite array of options ready for the taking, making each of us dabblers in everything, but masters of none.

In his commentary on Gemara Berachot, Rav Kook writes that while a little knowledge in many areas represents one possible path, it is certainly not ideal. The Gemara in Berachot (39b) in the context of making Berachot on bread, mentions an interesting fact about how Rav Ami and Rav Asi chose which bread to use for their Seudat Shabbat.
רב אמי ורב אסי כי הוה מתרמי להו ריפתא דערובא מברכין עליה המוציא לחם מן הארץ אמרי הואיל ואתעביד ביה מצוה חדא נעביד ביה מצוה אחריתי (ברכות לט ע"ב)
"Rav Ami and Rav Asi, when the opportunity to use the bread of the eiruv in the Shabbat meal would present itself, they would recite: "Who brings forth bread from the earth" over it. They said in explanation: Since one mitzvah was performed with it, we will perform another mitzvah with it."
Rav Kook (Ein Ayah Berachot vol. 2 p. 12) sees in this passage an important message about specialization. He writes that in our pursuits throughout life we can choose one of two general paths: Completion through Quantity (sheleimut b’kamut) and Completion through Quality (sheleimut b’eichut).
השלימות בכמות היא שירבה נמצאים מושלמים אע"פ שבכ"א לא יהי' כ"א השלמה מועטת...והאיכות היא שישתדל שמי שראוי מהנמצאים לקבל השלימות ישלימהו כפי האפשרי ברב יתרון, ומהשלמה של אחד בתכלית המעלה ימשך טוב לרבים.
“Completion through quantity Is that a person will increase his areas of completeness even though in each area he will only realize a small measure of completion…[Completion through] quality refers to the effort to focus on the most worthy of attributes to strive for completion – in that area he will achieve fulfillment to the greatest possible degree…”
In other words, we can strive to improve a small amount in many different areas or we can ignore most areas of study and choose to focus our efforts and energies on one specific area or endeavor, striving to be the very best we can be in that one discipline. Which then is better: quantity or quality? Should I strive to be a “jack of all trades” or a “master of one”? To Rav Kook, the answer is clear: Quality over quantity.
והוא כלל גדול ג"כ בכל חכמה ומלאכה, כי שלימות העולם בכללו תבא מריבוי בקיאים כ"א במקצע מיוחד בתכלית המעלה, ולא ממי שסופג הכל רק בדרך שיטחי, כי ההשלמה האיכותית גדולה היא בערכה על ההשלמה הכמותית.
"This is also a great rule in all areas of wisdom and work; the completion of the entire world will come from a growing number of experts who have achieved the greatest possible excellence in their specific fields, and not from one who absorbs everything in a superficial manner. For completeness in quality is greater in value than completeness in quantity."
Rav Kook views this matter from an educational perspective as well, noting that educators should focus their efforts specifically on students capable of reaching great heights.
וזוהי הדרך המשובחת שכוננו חכמינו ז"ל להעמיד תלמידים הרבה ולהגדיל תורה בחוג המוסגלים לקבלה ולא לפזר כוחינו בין בתי כנסיות של עמי הארץ. וכן בכללו ישראל, להרבות עצמה בתורה ויראת ד', ולא לנוד להאיר עמי הארץ וגוים רבים באור ד' בדרך מועט שיכולין לקבל. כי מריבוי האור שיזרח בשלמים הגמורים יאיר אור גדול ג"כ על שאינם שלמים, אבל בהשתדלות לפזר הכוחות על הרבה נושאים, וכ"א לא יהי' שלם בתכלית, לא יבא לעולם אל מטרה נכונה.
"[Completeness of Quality] is the praised path established by the Sages who said to 'Establish many students' (Avot 1:1) and exalt the Torah among those who are capable of receiving it, and not to disperse our energies among the synagogues and simple people…for the greatness of the light that spreads from individuals that are whole and complete will shine on those that are less complete. On the other hand, the effort to disperse our energies in many areas so that we achieve wholeness in any one area will not bring us to the correct goal. "
Rav Kook's comments must carry great weight as we evaluate our own choices and priorities in life. Are we specialists in a single area, focusing our light and energy to become experts who can shine the greatest possible focused light? Or do we dabble, dispersing ourselves in different directions, but failing to create much light at all?

In education, society has clearly chosen to reject Rav Kook's priorities. In our community, we don't focus only on the diamonds who can achieve greatness. Instead we strive to reach each and every child. The Chareidi community makes a different choice, gearing its educational system specifically towards those who can thrive and achieve greatness. Each system has benefits, but also brings great costs as well. It is incumbent upon our community to at least wonder what costs we pay for rejecting Rav Kook's position by choosing a different educational path.

Are Your Teenagers Addicted?

Our youth spend their late night hours having fun, and the "spinner" has long since been replaced by other activities. Dr, Yaniv Efrati explains.

by Dr. Yaniv Efrati
Dr. Yaniv Efrati

Summer vacation has begun for high school students. How do I know, you may ask? Well, the answer is the boisterous sounds emanating from the boulevard beneath my window.

Our youth spend their late night hours having fun, and "fidget spinners" have long since been replaced by other activities. Our youngsters are wonderful, but any dystopian scenarios (by instilling fear or threats) will be useless in guiding them correctly as far as high-risk behaviors and the development of addictions.
At one of the lectures I attended, the lecturer brought center stage blackened lungs and explained about the irreversible damage of cigarette smoking. After the lecture, someone told me he must have a cigarette to calm down after hearing the lecture.

So what does work? What can we do as parents?

Social learning – our youth are, in fact, a reflection of our society. Social interaction, films and the media are saturated with alcohol and drugs. There must be reliable and coherent information mediation, clearly showing that excessive drinking, inordinate viewing of pornographic materials and drug use are extremely dangerous and can cause irreparable damage.

The question of need – ask a teenager why he drinks, watches pornography or uses drugs. What need does it fill? It is important to differentiate between usage, excessive usage and addiction. Usage is often a response to curiosity, peer pressure or a desire for social acceptance. As parents, information regarding sensible consumption of alcohol or exposure to pornography may provide a good and adequate response. Excessive usage often reflects a need to escape extreme daily pressures (we live in a highly competitive, achievement-oriented society.)

As parents, we must understand that teenagers need our help in confronting their own internal world. Stop for a moment, talk to them, strengthen your bonds and help them deal with the difficulties they face in their lives. Generally, addiction is not defined in the teen years since their personalities have not yet been completely molded. However, it is possible to discern those teens with a propensity for addiction, and refer them to professional help.

Help them, at first, to "crack open" the narrative they tell themselves, that they are in control, everything is fine, and that parents are needlessly interfering. Reflect to them how their lives are unfolding with alcohol, porno or drugs, and what their lives would be like without these behaviors.

Parental presence and supervision – the paradox between allowing independence for teens and controlling supervision is built-in in teen parenting. Many of us remember teaching our children to ride a bicycle without training wheels for the first time. We held on tight from the back, while trying unsuccessfully to straighten them out so they would succeed. After half an hour, the results were not satisfactory and our backs fell apart.

We understood that this was not the way to teach bicycle riding. We put helmets and knee guards on them, gave them a small push to straighten out, and then simply let go. Amazingly, after a few minutes they caught on and started riding alone. As parents, we must learn to let go and to facilitate independence and autonomy in our children (this is vital for developing their independent identity), while, on the other hand, it is important to be present in their lives, to watch over and protect them (helmets and knee guards) and accompany them from the sidelines.

Order in the chaos – help them construct for themselves, particularly for summer vacation, a daily schedule with clearly defined borders. When to get up, how much time to spend on the computer, friends, trips, help at home and curfew time. Prepare a written contract accepted by both sides, delineating times and agreed borderlines. It is vital to create order within the chaos of summer vacation.

Our teenagers are wonderful. Let us be there for them, let us mediate and reinforce our bonds with our children, while conducting fruitful dialogue. Find times to simply sit down with them and discuss love, sexuality, alcohol, drugs, bullying on the web and much more…they need us.

Dr. Yaniv Efrati is a lecturer at the Orot Israel College of Education, a researcher of sexuality and addictions, and the founder of IHS, The Israeli Center for Healthy Sexuality.

An Inspirational "Fashion Show"

bv Yoni Kampinski, Arutz 7

Instead of super-models, illustrious, inspirational women from the Religious Zionist public participated in this moving event in memory of Chani Weinrot z"l.

Orot Israel College, together with the "Bat Melech" organization, held an extraordinary "Fashion Show" for the students of the College and religious women from the general public. The slogan, "Walking with Valor - When External and Internal Beauty Meet," headlined the event, which featured inspirational woman, rather than super-models.

The event was dedicated in memory of Chani Weinrot z"l, who valiantly battled cancer over the last nine years. Weinrot had planned to participate together with the other women, and to present the remarkable story of her confrontation with her illness.

"I visited Chani a few days ago in the hospice. She said, 'Yemima, no one is willing to talk to me about that world. Tell me what happens there.' I told her that it is a world of pure goodness. Then she asked we sing together. She gave me her hand, and with a bashful smile, began to sing with me the song we will now hear. We will imagine her and her valor walking together down this platform. 'Imagine a Beautiful World' is the song Chani wanted to sing at the end, and we will now sing the song, together with her." This is what Rabbanit Yemima Mizrahi related in her opening remarks, leaving not one dry eye in the audience.

Among the women taking the stage were MK Shuli Mualem, an IDF widow, Dr. Adva Biton, who lost her daughter Adelle in a terror attack, Ofra Boaron, who was evicted from Amona, Pedut Rotenmar, a diminutive teacher of theater, Adv. Tzilit Jacobson, Chairwoman of "Bat Melech", and others.

The women were dressed in designer clothes by Beruriah Bartler, a popular stylist in the religious public, who was sent by the magazine, "Penima", which took an active role in the event. At the conclusion of the "Fashion Show", each of the participants presented her personal story. Dr. Tzippie Rhein, Director of the Family Center at the College, who initiated the event, said, "Our goal is to promote an event for the empowerment of women. Our sense is that fashion shows and the beauty industry emphasize only the external facets, thus weakening women. In this event, "Walking with Valor", we send a message about the correct balance between external and internal beauty. External beauty is important, but the emphasis should be on internal beauty. We believe that every woman has external beauty, but primarily, has internal beauty, and each one walks in valor through her journey of life."

The event also included a fair, with dozens of stalls selling products from the Shomron, and performances by Dafna Chasdai and the Dance Troupe of Orot College. Riveting lectures were delivered by outstanding lecturers, like Dr. Chana Kattan, Dr. Tzippie Rhein, Rabbanit Naomi Shachor and the Rabbanit, Dr. Leah Wiesel.

Finally, at the conclusion of the event, the extraordinary women who took part in the "Fashion Show" met with the women in the audience to share with them their personal stories.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

In Those Days and In Our Time

By Reuven Spolter

In his powerful essay Kol Dodi Dofek, Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik outlines what he views a six "knocks" – divine messages from heaven which a sensitive Jew must hear, recognize and incorporate into his or her religious worldview. He writes,

First, the knock of the Beloved was heard in the political arena. From the point of view of international relations, no one will deny that the rebirth of the State of Israel, in a political sense, was an almost supernatural occurrence. Both Russia and the Western nations supported the establishment of the State of Israel. This was perhaps the one resolution on which East and West concurred [during the Cold War era]. I am inclined to believe that the United Nations was especially created for this end — for the sake of fulfilling the mission that Divine Providence had placed upon it.

The Rav reminds us that sometimes political events, especially related to the Jewish people, represent something greater than simply the decisions of individuals. They reflect the guidance of the Divine, bringing blessing to the Jewish people and to the world.

I believe that this past month we experienced just such an event. For the first time since the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple, the individual who represents the most powerful nation on earth (the President of the United States) officially recognized Yerushalayim as the capital of the Jewish State, the homeland of the Jewish people.

Some will argue that nothing has changed. Currently, they may in fact be correct. The US State Department announced that it has no plans to recognize my daughter (who was born in Hadassah hospital) as having been born in "Jerusalem, Israel" on her US passport. (As of now, she was only born in Jerusalem.) But if it's so unimportant, why did tens of thousands of Muslims protest in Indonesia? Why is the President of Turkey up in arms? Why is Egypt introducing yet another UN Security Council resolution aimed at declaring the American recognition illegal? Politics matter, and have very real consequences in world. While the President of the United States' statement was just, in his words, "a recognition of reality," it also established a new reality – one that Israelis intuitively appreciated and understood.

As religious Jews, we must ask ourselves: What is our religious response to this declaration? Have we responded spiritually in any way at all? I'm not referring to Facebook posts or WhatsApp messages. Rather, has this recent news affected us spiritually? Have we reacted religiously to this great gift to the Jewish people?

Orthodox Judaism is notoriously (and justifiably) conservative. We don't like change, and don't adapt to it very well. Our strength lies in our allegiance to our traditions; to adhering to the way things have been done because that's how our parents and their parents did things. We're reluctant to introduce new liturgy which makes us inherently uncomfortable (I'm still uneasy reciting parts of Lecha Dodi on the eve of Yom Ha'atzmaut). At the same time, that reluctance to innovate and introduce seems downright inappropriate in the face of historic events. If we can't or won't give thanks to God when our Holy City is recognized internationally as belonging to the Jewish people, what does that say about us as a religious people? I believe that one answer to the pull between these two values lies in coming to a new understanding and appreciation of a blessing and prayer we already recite throughout this entire week of Chanukah.

When we kindle the Chanukah lights we recite two blessings – the first on the rabbinic commandment to light the candles – a birkat mitzvah. Tradition teaches us that we recite a second blessing as well.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אלקינו מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁעָשָׂה נִסִּים לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe who made miracles for our ancestors in their days in this time.

This is of course a reflection of the opening to Al Hanisim where we give thanks,

עַל הַנִּסִּים וְעַל הַפֻּרְקָן וְעַל הַגְּבוּרות וְעַל הַתְּשׁוּעות וְעַל הַמִּלְחָמות שֶׁעָשיתָ לַאֲבותֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בִּזְּמַן הַזֶּה:
[And we praise You] For the miracles and for the redemption and for the mighty deeds and for the victories and for the battles that You performed for our fathers in those days at this time.

In his Levush commentary on the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayyim 682), Rabbi Mordechai Yaffe writes that in his opinion, one should add a "vav" to the last two words of this sentence.

We says, שעשית לאבותנו בימים ההם ובזמן הזה – "That you have done for our forefathers and in our time"...[through this language] we give thanks for the miracles that [God] did for our forefathers in those days, and we are also thankful for the miracles that You have done for us in this time, for each and every day He performs among us revealed and hidden miracles, as He did in the era of our forefathers...

The halachah does not follow the position of the Levush; the Taz (O.C. 682:5) rejects his suggestion and we don't add the additional "vav". Nonetheless, I find his sentiment inherently appealing. In addition to giving thanks for the miracles that occurred centuries ago, we must also give thanks to God for those miracles that take place in our time. And, if the author of the Levush – who suffered great persecution and exile, had no problem seeing hidden miracles in his lifetime, how can we, who live in the era of the greatest renaissance in Jewish history, not see even greater miracles today?
Commenting on the timelessness of Chanukah Rabbi Berel Wein writes that,

The Rabbis framed one of the blessings over the lights of Chanuka as recognizing the events ‘bayamim hahem,’ in those days’ bazman hazeh,’ in our time. We always have to look at how past events play themselves out in the current scene.

When we recite Al Hanisim and the second brachah of She'asah Nisim, we must concentrate not only on the miracles of long ago, but those taking place literally in our time – this year, and this month. It is incumbent upon each of us to add a special kavanah when reciting these brachot, to give thanks that dominion of the Jewish people of Yerushalayim has been strengthened and reinforced across the globe.

Finally, we must also give thanks and recognize that this small but significant declaration brings us closer to the day when the Jewish people will light the candles of the menorah not only in their homes, but in God's true home as well.

Rabbi Reuven Spolter is the Academic Coordinator at the Elkana Campus of the Orot College of Education

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Meet Orot President Yuval Sinai

The new academic year marks the first anniversary of the presidency of Professor Yuval Sinai, whose passion and energy have reinvigorated the college on both campuses. A world-renown expert on Jewish Law and the Jewish State, Professor Sinai personifies the combination of dedication to the values and teaching of the Torah and their application to modern life, especially in the State of Israel. 

Hitting the ground running, he has instituted a number of important educational programs that will significantly enhance the educational experience at Orot on both campuses. When asked about his goals as President of the largest Religious Zionist College of Education in Israel, he offered three thoughts: 

"First and foremost, we aim to develop the field of educating youngsters so that our teachers lead a life of faith. A religious teacher, as opposed to a lecturer, is supposed to inspire, to educate, first and foremost, not just teach a subject. Secondly, we are working to establish an international center for the Jewish family, a faith-focused, non-confrontational response to all the dangers faced by the traditional Jewish family today. Finally, as a leading educational institution in Israel, we must broaden our horizons, and work with the various elements of Israeli society, including those in outlying areas. My teacher Rav Sabato, believed that one must speak to each group in its own language. I dream of advancing social-community education, training students for dedicated one-on-one work with youth-at-risk and those who cannot live on their own."

Click here to learn more about Professor Sinai and read an extensive interview on the Arutz 7 website.

Orot Inaugurates Nationwide Torah She'beal Peh Conference

Torah She'beal Peh (the Oral Torah) represents a fundamental aspect of Jewish education taught in schools across Israel and around the world. It includes the study of Mishnah, Gemara and Halachah, the building blocks of Jewish ritual life. Orot Israel College, on both its men's and women's campuses, trains the future Torah She'beal Peh teachers who will transmit these critical Torah values to their students in the classroom.

In order to translate our students' academic knowledge into more personal, relatable material in the classroom, Orot inaugurated the first nationwide Conference of Torah She'beal Peh this year. This three-day conference on two campuses brought rabbis and Torah scholars from across the country to enrich Orot students' understanding and pedagogical ability.

The Women's Campus program focused on "VeHigadeta L'bitcha" – "And You Shall Teach Your Daughter", addressing different ways to improve and apply women's Torah education. Following a panel discussion which included Rabbanit Dr. Leah Vizel, Orot's Dean of Students and Rabbanit Esti Rosenberg, the Roshat Beit Midrash of Midreshet Migdal Oz, the women divided into individual tracks for lectures from Orot staff, as well as visiting instructors including HaRav Yaakov Ariel, Rav of Ramat Gan, as well as HaRav Benzion Elgazi, the founder of the Tzurba Merabanan Program.
The second day of the conference focused on the Torah of Rambam, which has grown in prominence and importance in Israel. Speakers included Rav Arye Shtern, Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Rosh Yeshiva of the Hesder Yeshiva in Ma'ale Adumim Rav Yitzchak Shilat, as well as Nobel Prize Winner Professor Yisrael Aumann.

On the final day of the conference before Pesach, thousands of Orot students and visitors gathered at the Rehovot campus for a day-long program which divided into four distinct tracks: Gemara, Torah Personalities, Law According to the Torah, Halachah, and Midrash and Aggadah. Speakers at the program included Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi David Lau, Rav Shlomo Amar, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, Rosh Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav, Rav Zvi Rimon, the Head of the Center for Halachah and Education, and many, many others.

We take great pride in the excitement surrounding the study of Torah She'beal Peh that permeated the entire conference, and look forward to the second annual conference which will take place during the coming academic year.

Click here to watch the main sessions from the final day of the conference.

Early-Childhood Education in the Sukkah

From a parental perspective, Sukkot represents one of the "easier" holidays. It's not that difficult to excite our children about Sukkot. After all, Sukkot in and of itself is exciting. Our children participate in the building of the Sukkah. We hang the decorations that they painstakingly create. Some families even laminate their children's artwork and save it from year to year. And of course we cannot forget the many meters of chains that our children build and hang as Sukkah adornments.

Yet, from a halachic perspective, we must wonder: Is there an obligation to ensure that our children sit in the Sukkah? Is Sukkot similar to Pesach, where education plays a primary role in the Seder? Or, is it like other holidays, where we want our children to grow into devoted Jewish adults, but their presence is not a fundamental aspect of the chag, and they sit in the Sukkah for educational purposes only?

The answer to this question lies in the curious language we find in a fascinating Mishnah in Sukkah. In the Mishnah (Sukkah 2:8) we find a seemingly curious contradiction and an interesting story.
 נשים ועבדים וקטנים, פטורים מן הסוכה. קטן שאינו צריך לאמו, חייב בסוכה. מעשה וילדה כלתו של שמאי הזקן ופיחת את המעזיבה וסכך על גבי המטה בשביל הקטן. 
Women, slaves and minors are free from the obligation of sukkah, but a minor who is not dependent on his mother is bound by the law of sukkah. It once happened that the daughter-in-law of Shammai the Elder gave birth to a child and he broke away the plaster of the roof and put sukkah-covering over the bed for the sake of the child. 
The first section of the Mishnah seems self-contradictory: At first glance the Mishnah seems to exempt minors (children) from sitting in the Sukkah – as we would expect. Women and slaves are exempt because sitting in the Sukkah is a מצות עשה שהזמן גרמא – a positive time-bound commandment – from which women are exempted. Minors are exempted from all mitzvot, including the commandment to sit in the Sukkah. But then the Mishnah teaches us that, "a minor who is not dependent on his mother is bound by the law of Sukkah."

 The Gemara (Sukkah 28a) offers a proof from a verse to prove that children are obligated to sit in the Sukkah, based on the verse,
בסכת תשבו שבעת ימים כל האזרח בישראל ישבו בסכת -ויקרא כג:מב 
You shall dwell in Sukkot for seven days; all of the citizens in Israel shall dwell in Sukkot (Vayikra 23:42) 
The Gemara quotes a Baraita that teaches us that the word כל – "all" – specifically teaches that children are included in the obligation to sit in the Sukkah. Later, the Gemara (28b) wonders how this is possible. After all, aren't children exempt from all Torah commandments? Why do the Mishnah and the Beraita seem to suggest that the Torah actually obligated children to sit in the Sukkah?

The Gemara concludes that indeed, the obligation to sit in the Sukkah is in fact, only a derabannan – a rabbinic obligation – placed upon a קטן השגיע לחינוך – a child who has reached the age of education. The Mishnah does not introduce a fundamental obligation. Rather, it is only teaching us that we must bring out children out into the Sukkah in order to educate them so that they properly fulfill the mitzvah when they reach maturity.

Yet, the language of both the Mishnah and the Beraita don't seem to be addressing only an "educational" obligation. Rather, they seem to suggest that a child has a fundamental obligation from the Torah to dwell in a Sukkah. Moreover, the story about Shammai seems strange: why would Shammai break the roof over an infant to ensure that the child slept in a kosher Sukkah? What possible educational benefit can there be for a tiny baby?

Based on these questions as well as other evidence, Professor Yitzchak Gilat (see Perakim B'hishtalshelut Hahalachah p. 23) suggests that in the times of the Mishnah it was widely accepted that a child who had reached the age of education was considered fully obligated in a number of time-bound commandments, including fasting on Yom Kippur, the donning of Tefillin, and the obligation to sit in the Sukkah. He also suggests that during that era, there was no set age of adulthood. Rather, every child became an adult at a different age, based on that child's unique biological development. Centuries later, during the Talmudic era, Chazal sought to standardize the age of adulthood at the now familiar twelve for girls and thirteen for boys.

Professor Gilat's theory raises interesting questions: How could the Tanaim feel that children – even young children – are obligated to perform mitzvot they did not fully understand? When Shammai ensured that his infant grandson slept in a Sukkah, who actually fulfilled the mitzvah? Can an infant even be "commanded"?

Halachically, we follow the conclusion of the Gemara: Children are not obligated to sit in the Sukkah or perform any other mitzvah on a Torah level (see Peninei Halachah Sukkot 3:12). We teach them due to the obligation of chinuch – the need to educate them now for when they grow older. Yet, when we think about it, our behavior, outlook and actions follow the teaching of the Tanaim. We don’t think about our children's mitzvot as educational; we treat them as if they themselves are obligated to perform the mitzvah. We don’t just "teach" our children to sit in the Sukkah; we expect them to do so, just as we do.

When we look a bit deeper, it seems that we educate our children to much more than just making decorations and Sukkah chains. As we train our children to fulfill mitzvot from a very early age, we continue the tradition that the Tanaim established so many years ago.