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Bringing Young Girls to the Synagogue

Many parents bring their young children to the synagogue, and often, young girls sit with their father in the men’s section, or walk in and out during the prayer service. There are many parents who do not enforce upon their young daughters the accepted standards of Seniut (modesty), and the question thus arises as to whether men may pray in the presence of these young girls. Is it forbidden to pray in the presence of young girls who are not dressed according to accepted standards of Seniut, or is this permissible in light of the girls’ young age?

Hacham Ovadia Yosef addresses this question in a lengthy responsa in his work Yabia Omer (vol. 6, Orah Haim 14; listen to audio recording for precise citation). After citing and discussing the different opinions on the subject, the Hacham concludes that one may rely on the lenient view among the authorities and recite Shema, Amida, and the other prayers in the presence of young girls, even if they are not dressed according to proper standards of Seniut. He adds, however, that it is admirable to satisfy the stringent opinion by closing one’s eyes or turning his eyes away as he prays. Thus, although young girls who come to the synagogue should certainly be dressed properly, if a girl who is not dressed according to proper standards is sitting next to her father, the men may continue praying, and if they want to follow the stringent view they should ensure not to look at her as they pray.

It must be emphasized that this discussion relates only to young girls. Once a girl reaches the age of 12, she is considered an adult woman and may not enter the men’s section of the synagogue during prayer services.

Of course, all this assumes that the child sits quietly during the prayer service. The Shela Ha’kadosh (Rav Yeshaya Halevi Horowitz, 1558-1630) writes in Masechet Tamid (Perek Ner Misva; listen to audio recording for precise citation) that one who brings very young children to the synagogue "loses more than he gains." He adds that one who brings a young child to the synagogue must supervise the child and ensure that he stays in one place and does not run around the synagogue. There is no educational value whatsoever in bringing children to the synagogue if they run around, and a parent who brings a child to the synagogue must take responsibility to monitor the child and ensure that he acts in a manner that is appropriate for the synagogue.

Summary: No child should be brought to the synagogue unless he sits quietly and respectfully. Girls who have reached the age of twelve may not enter the men’s section of the synagogue during services. Young girls may sit with their fathers, and of course, they should be dressed respectfully. If a young girl who is not dressed modestly is in the men’s section, the men are nevertheless allowed to pray in their presence.

 


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