Jewish Studies Children and Childhood in Jewish Culture
Tali Berner
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 December 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0163


The study of children and childhood in the past and present is relatively new to Jewish studies. While interest in Jewish education and the history of Jewish education can be traced back to the 1940s, corresponding research on children and their lives began only in the 1990s. Inspired by the controversial thesis of Philippe Ariès regarding the absence of a concept of childhood prior to the 18th century, medievalists resolved to check the relevance of this claim to Jewish society. In the first stage of research, scholars began by comparing Ariès’s findings to their own, but in the late 1990s, scholarship in Jewish history, as in that of European history in general, diverged from Ariès and began looking at the internal codes and specific understandings of the place of children and understanding of childhood in their respective areas of study. Following the medievalists, some research was done on the biblical world and Late Antiquity. In the modern era, scholars studied children mainly in the context of the Enlightenment, Zionism, and the Holocaust. While most of the studies can be classified as “history,” some systematic work was done in other fields. Scholars of Jewish law were concerned primarily with parental obligations toward children and children’s own observance of commandments. Scholars of folklore and anthropology have examined life cycle rituals that concern children. The study of Hebrew and Yiddish literature has some relevance to the study of children and childhood, particularly research on literature written for children in Israel and abroad, as well as the representation of children in adult literature. As a new field in Jewish studies, much of the research that has focused on or related to children cannot yet be classified into the category of “history of childhood” or “childhood studies,” either because it fails to use the theories and methodologies of the field or because children are not the central focus of the study.


Sources about children and childhood can be found scattered throughout Jewish texts in all periods. Some efforts have been made to collect various sources. The Hebrew collections of sources concentrate primarily, though not exclusively, on education throughout the ages. The first and most comprehensive, by Simcha Assaf (1925–1943), was later revised and continued in Glick 2002–2009. A collection of sources about education from the Cairo Geniza can be found in Goitein 1962. The collected works of Israel Ta-Shma (Ta-Shma 2010) contain sources from the Middle Ages, and Baumgarten 2009 has English translations of sources relevant to these topics.

  • Baumgarten, Elisheva. “Judaism.” In Children and Childhood in World Religions: Primary Sources and Texts. Edited by Don S. Browning and Marcia J. Bunge, 15–81. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2009.

    The section on Judaism contains an introduction to and selection of sources translated into English.

  • Glick, Shmuel, ed. Mekorot le-toldhot ha-Hinukh be-Yisrael. 6 vols. New York and Jerusalem: Jewish Theological Seminary, 2002–2009.

    This monumental six-volume project, initiated by Assaf and revised and expanded by Glick, includes sources (in Hebrew) on Jewish education and related topics, from the Middle Ages through the 20th century.

  • Goitein, S. D. Jewish Education in Muslim Countries: Based on Records from the Cairo Geniza. Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi, 1962.

    In Hebrew. Many of the sources in this Hebrew-language collection on education from the Cairo Geniza provide material for research on children.

  • Ta-Shma, Israel M. Studies in Medieval Rabbinic Literature. Vol. 4. Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 2010.

    In Hebrew. The last volume of Ta-Shma’s collected articles includes a collection of sources on children and childhood from medieval Ashkenaz (pp. 359–395).

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