Lev tov (A Good Heart): Rules for Raising Children

Isaac ben Eliyakim of Posen


Chapter 9

[ . . . ] Each man should raise his children to Torah and good deeds. Each man should always ensure that his children learn Torah while they are still young and he should have them learn according to their understanding, age, and capabilities. When the child is still very small, before he starts talking, the father should show him holy books and teach him to kiss the holy books, so that he will become accustomed to treating the holy books with respect. After this, when the child starts talking, the father should explain to him biblical exegesis; he should recite with him the words Moses commanded us the Torah (Deuteronomy 33:4) and the first verse of the Shema‘. And when the child grows older he should begin teaching him the alphabet. [ . . . ]

Following this he should engage a rabbi to [teach] the child until he becomes familiar with the Torah. One must always use flattery when learning with a child. From the very beginning one should give him bribes of fruit or sugar or cake, after this, little pfennigs. Later he should have clothes made for the child, always according to the child’s understanding and age. Then the father should say to him: learn properly and seriously so that you will marry a wife with a good dowry. Then he should say to him: learn properly and seriously so that you will be ordained and become a rabbi. He must do this with him as long as is necessary until the child himself understands that his learning is for purely spiritual purposes. And the father should familiarize the child with going to synagogue in the evening and in the morning, and saying his prayers, and not discussing idle matters, in particular not in the synagogue, and the father should get him accustomed to tzitzit and tefillin, and he should teach his children that they should not eat without making a blessing beforehand and afterwards, that a child should not eat one bite or drink one sip without making a blessing, and his grace after meals, that one blesses after eating. In this way the father should familiarize the child with these things in his youth, so that when he grows older he retains the same good qualities. And the father should pay careful attention that the child goes to his rabbi every day and that he stays with his rabbi in the heder, and women are also obligated in this regard. The man goes out to earn a living, so it is her role to instill a fear of God in her children. [ . . . ]

And she should use flattery to ensure that her child goes to synagogue and to the rabbi. Therefore every community must retain a melamed [teacher]. A community that requires more than one melamed must retain as many melamdim as necessary. And a community that does not have any melamdim is laid waste; other communities place a ḥerem [ban of excommunication] on that community. [ . . . ] A man should always raise his children to Torah and good deeds, and he should pay careful attention to his children that he leads them in the right path. Even though it is a great effort to raise children, the greatest burden in educating the children falls upon the wife. [ . . . ]

When is the father required to engage [a melamed]? When the child is five or six years old it is time to engage a rabbi and to take the child to the study house, to the melamed. But if one waits until the age of ten, fourteen, or fifteen to do so, one has waited too long, and when someone criticizes the child he will run away because he is not used to learning in the study house. Therefore the child should begin at young age, but before five years old he is too weak. Children are very dear to all fathers and mothers, like the heart in their body; this is only natural. But in order to raise their children to Torah and good deeds they should not show their love for their child, so that the child will not become too familiar with his father or mother, because when he is overly familiar he is not afraid of them. [ . . . ]

Each father and mother must take care not to say forbidden things, especially in front of their child, so that their children should not hear bad things like these from them, because children copy all the actions and speech of their father and mother. The saying goes: “What the elders do, the young copy.” [ . . . ] When the father goes to synagogue or to the study house, he takes his son with him so that he learns his father’s good deeds and his father’s customs, and takes upon himself the same good practices. [ . . . ]

The conclusion is that father and mother must pay careful attention to all their children’s deeds and speech; they must take care that their children distance themselves from bad deeds and bad speech. Each father and mother should accustom their children to following the commandments, and that the child goes with the father to the synagogue early in the morning, that he says his prayers with the appropriate devotion, does not discuss idle matters in the synagogue, and that the father takes him with him wherever he goes to do a good deed—visiting the sick, accompanying the dead, and attending a wedding—so that he should get into the habit of doing good deeds. And the same applies when the father makes a sukkah or binds a lulav, he should have his child help with all the commandments, so that he will become familiar with them in his youth and they will come to him naturally.

Translated by


Isaac ben Eliyakim of Posen, “Rules for Raising Children” in Lev tov (A Good Heart) (Prague: 1620). Republished in: Isaac ben Eliakim of Posen, Lev tov: Ale das menshn dinim vi men zikh fer halt, fun zayner giburt biz er vert alt (Dihernfurt: Be-vet uvi-defus Yosef Mai, 1808), pp. 43–45.

Published in: The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, vol. 5.

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