Halachic Status of Children’s Vows

Ask the Rov: Do vows of children carry weight in halacha and must a child nearing maturity preform hataras nedarim?

By Rabbi Chaim Hillel Raskin, Rov of Anash in Petach Tikvah.

For most areas of Torah and halacha, adulthood is reached by boys at age 13 and by girls at age 12. For matters involving Torah obligations, such as writing tefillin, physical signs of maturity must also be verified, while for obligations midrabanan, such as tefila betzibur, we rely on the chazaka that a child at that age has the necessary physical signs.

An exception to this rule is the area of nedarim. Already in the year preceding reaching the age of maturity (mufla samuch le’ish), the vows of a boy or girl who are aware in Whose sake they are vowing, take effect and are binding on others as well. Vows of younger children aren’t binding even if they understand the concept of vowing to Hashem, but they should be reprimanded to not get in the habit of making vows. If they vowed in a small matter that causes no hardship, they should be compelled to observe the vow.

A minor isn’t qualified to separate challa or teruma. According to one view, this is derived from the term “ish” (man) written by teruma, and this would preclude the designation of any minor. (When all the Jews lived in Eretz Yisroel and the obligation to separate challa was a Torah obligation, it required a mature adult. In the current age, when the obligation is midrabanan, the chazaka is sufficient.)

Another view is that the disqualification of a minor is because these designations require daas and thought (as the posuk says “v’nechshav lachem”), and since a minor lacks daas, his actions aren’t reflective of his thought. Accordingly, when a child is within a year of maturity, his designation of challa or teruma takes effect, similar to the way his speech has ramifications for nedarim. In practice, the designation of such a minor should only be relied upon only b’dieved or b’shaas hadechak without a bracha.

Must a child nearing maturity preform hataras nedarim?

If a child made a specific neder and wants to have it annulled, some poskim hold that he cannot, since he lacks the daas to annul his vow. Others counter that if he has the understanding to create them, he can annul them too. Regarding hataras nedarim on erev Rosh Hashana, most poskim advise against boys under bar mitzvah from doing the standard hataras nedarim.

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