The Mishnah (2:4) teaches that everyone my read the megillah for others except for a cheresh (deaf-mute), shoteh (fool) and katan (minor). As these three people are usually grouped together as those that do not have halachic da’at, the Mishnah should not be surprise. R’ Yehuda however argues that a katan can read the megillah for others. We shall try to understand this debate regarding the katan.
The first question is what katan are discussing? The Tosfot (Megillah 19a) explains that we must be dealing with a katan that has reached the age of chinuch and is obligated in mitzvot on a rabbinic level. Prior to that, the katan would not be obligated in mitzvot at all and we have a principle that one has to be obligated in a mitzvah for others to fulfill the mitzvah through him (motzi).
That being the case, why do the Rabbanan maintain that a katan cannot read the megillah for a gadol (adult)? The obligation for reading the megillah rabbinic, which would make a katan and gadol both obligated to read the megillah on a rabbinic level. Being obligated on the same level, a katan should able to read for a gadol. Support for this idea is found in Berachot (20b) which teaches that nashim and ketanim can motzi an adult male for birkat ha’mazon,*provided that he has not eaten enough to obligated him to bench on a biblical level, even though they are only obligated to bench* on a rabbinic level.
The second question raised by the Ritva is that the later Mishnah (4:6) teaches that a katan cannot pores al shema (see 4:3 for full meaning) for an adult. Likewise in Sukkah(38a) it teaches that a katan cannot lead hallel. Both of these obligations are rabbinic yet R’ Yehuda does not argue.
The Tosfot answers that in our case, even though the obligation is rabbinic, since a katan is only obligated in all mitzvot on a rabbinic level, it is as if in this cases his obligation is a combination of two rabbinic ones. How then do we explain the case of birkat hamazon where the gemara suggested that a katan can motzi a gadol that was only obligated rabinically? The Tosfot answers that there, the katan was satisfied from eating which would ordinarily obligate a gadol on a biblical level; meaning that the katan would have one rabbinic obligation like the gadol and be able to recite birkat hamazon for him.
The being the case how do we explain the position of R’ Yehuda? The Tosfot (24b) explain that ordinarily R’ Yehuda would agree that one how is obligated via two rabbinic laws cannot motzi someone obligated by one. Nevertheless, the case of megillah is different. Since minors were also included in the decree of extermination, R’ Yehuda considers their obligation to read megillah like that of a gadol.
The Ritva however understand that when a katan reaches the age of chinuch, everyone agrees that he has no obligation in mitzvot; instead it us that is obligated to educate him. The gemara cited above from Berachot, that suggested that a katan can recite birkat hamazon for a gadol, is not dealing when a minor.1 The beraita uses the term “ben” and not “katan” and is discussing one’s adult son reciting for him. The necessity of mentioning an adult son is because of the curse mentioned in the beraita for one that relies on his son to do so.
If there is no obligation, how do we then understand the position of R’ Yehuda? The Ritva explains that R’ Yehuda allows him to read for a gadol because, as explained above, they were included in the miracle.
Even though we started by trying to understand the debate in our Mishnah we have discovered two very different views on the obligation of a katan in mitzvot in general. Either the katan is obligated on a rabbinic level or he has no obligation and the obligation lies with us.
1 See the R’ Akiva Eiger and the Tifferet Yisrael that discuss this question at length.
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