Monday, June 19, 2006

Halachos of carpool: schirus or not?

My wife got involved in a rather heated discussion in the comments section of another blog regarding the following scenario: a carpool driver was on the way to bring a bunch of first graders to school. En route, the driver passed a neighbor who had a broken leg and was painfully struggling to make a train and get to work. Should the driver pick up the neighbor and go a few minutes out of the way to bring them to the train at the cost of the kids being a few minutes late to school, or is getting the kids to school exactly on time (something one of the other carpool members obsessed over) the priority? My wife's view is that from the perspective of chinuch, the lesson of stopping to pick up the person outweighs getting the kids to school exactly on time. Her analogy was to a kohein gadol stopping to attend to a mes mitvah en route to bring the korban pesach . In other words, she was weighing one mitzvah against another and considering whether to employ the rule of osek b'mitzvah (of bringing the kids to school) patur min hamitzvah when efshar l'kayeim shneihem (machlokes rishonim). While practically I think the correct answer here is to pick up the neighbor, I formulated the issue very differently. It seems to me that car pool is a form of schirus, like 'nachesh imi v'anachesh imach' - you drive one day in exchange for the 'payment' of your friend driving tomorrow. There is an implied contract with tna'ei schirus involved. Osek b'mitzvah is a ptur from mitzvos, but not from financial obligations, i.e. you cannot tell your boss you are exempt from work because you have a mitzvah to do. In the case of carpool you are effectively contractually employed to drive the kids on your day in exchange for others driving the other days. The issue is a purely contractual debate: when people enter into the implied contract called carpool, does the agreement allow for a driver to deliberately delay getting the kids to school by a few minutes for the greater good of a gemilus chessed like picking up someone with a broken leg? I would hope so, otherwise that is not a good carpool to be in! Any other ideas on the parameters of how such an agreement works al pi din? Should a kinyan be required to set it up to begin with?


  1. Anonymous10:16 PM

    One can argue that the implied contract in the carpool situation is to get the children to school. Ideally, one gets them there in time for the start of the day, but one may be yotzeh the obligation so long as they get there pretty close to on time. There are no guarantees in commuting. I often see school buses arriving somewhat late, too, which indicates that a certain grace period is expected (by normal people)

  2. Anonymous10:17 PM

    Another thing: if the mitzvah involved in bringing children to school that of bringing them to learn Torah, then demonstrating a Torah lesson should also be a fulfillment of the very same mitzvah!

  3. So, how bad off does the person have to be before it can supersede the implied contract of the carpool? What if they were hurt?

    I agree with your assessment that there is a an implied contract with the carpool. However, I agree with your wife: you should pick the person up.

  4. Anonymous12:23 AM

    Perhaps we should say that such a contract always keeps in mind the potential for such situations as this: there is an implied provision that if the opportunity to perform a mitzvah arises, especially if a chinuch element is involved, the driver can perform it without failing in his or her duties under the agreement.

  5. What happens if a person decides he can't do carpool one day. If there is an element of sechirus, would the other members of the carpool have ta'arumos on that particular driver?

    Also, how does one quantify the value of a kid coming late to school. If you break the contract and don't get the kids to school in time can the other drivers be toveia you for money?

    Finally, one can argue that one of the parameters of a carpool is not to cause a negative effect on the chinuch of the children-almost like an anan sahadi. For example, listening to rock music while driving carpool could violate the parameters of the carpool. That being said there could also be an anan sahadi that anything that contributes to the kids chinuch would be mutar. Hence, it would be muttar to give a person with a broken leg a ride.

  6. On a practical note, I think children should be dropped off 10-15 minutes before school, not at the last minute. So, ideally there would be extra time built into the carpool schedule that would allow for unforseen circumstances, and in this case, an unforseen opportunity to do a real chessed.

    As for carpools being a contractual arrangement, I can see them being in this category. But, from the carpool stories of late children, parents holidng their chidlren up, and more, it seems like the arrangement is much more casual than formal and there would be no break in contract if the driver needed to take a small break, since that seems implicit in the relationship.0

  7. Anonymous10:49 AM


    I think you need to start with a more basic question: what should a parent do if driving their own child or children to school and then the opportunity presents itself to help someone in such a situation but that will cause the children to be late to school?

    IMVHO it depends upon whether the children involved are boys or girls.

    If girls, then we are sending them to school for chinuch, and it would seem that the chinuch of helping someone is as appropriate as the chinuch they would get in school.

    For boys, we are also sending them for Talmud Torah, and thus there is a potential for bittul Talmud Torah. It would seem that the halakha of whether the mitzva is efshar leheasos al yidei acherim would apply. If someone else can give the person a ride, then one would not be permitted to be mevatel Torah for that purpose. If not, then one would be obligated to do so.

    Any thoughts on the above?

  8. Anonymous12:28 PM

    Tal: Chaim does not have access to a computer for most of the day. I reported your comment to him on the phone. He made me his shaliach to respond, though I am softening the language a bit.
    There is no issue of bitual Torah in the instance I referred to (which did take place about 6 years ago in the neighborhood adjacent to yours). The children in the carpool were in first grade and pre1A. At that age, the talmud Torah falls under the general rubric of chinuch, for boys as well as girls.

  9. Anonymous1:02 PM

    "There is no issue of bitual Torah in the instance I referred to (which did take place about 6 years ago in the neighborhood adjacent to yours). The children in the carpool were in first grade and pre1A. At that age, the talmud Torah falls under the general rubric of chinuch, for boys as well as girls. "

    1. I was not aware of the ages you were talking about. So what if the boys are in, say, 5th grade? Does Chaim still disagree?

    2. My son in 1st grade is learning Chumash, so why can that not be bittul Torah?

    As a matter of fact, I once heard a psak that tuition is deductible from maaser EXCEPT that portion paid to teach Chumash to young boys, because as to that the father has a chiyyuv of Talmud Torah for which he may not use maaser money.

    3.Of course, they probably don't do much in the first five minutes. How about if one were to be an hour late to school? Would that change things?

  10. How can it be bittul torah when a kid under bar mitzvah has no chiyuv talmud torah to begin with?

  11. Anonymous4:03 PM

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  12. Anonymous7:05 PM

    "How can it be bittul torah when a kid under bar mitzvah has no chiyuv talmud torah to begin with?"

    The mitzvah is to teach the child Torah -- ve shinantam le vaneicha. The rebbe is acting as the father's shaliach.

    That is a chiyyuv deoraysa apart from the mitsva derabbanan of chinuch.

  13. Anonymous8:57 PM

    Ariella filling in for Chaim in response Tal: Chinuch is not equal to mitzvah of talmud Torah of vehegesa bo yomam valayla --which distiguishes your obligation of learning from mine. But my son who is still a year short of bar mitzvah does not yet fall into that category.

  14. Anonymous9:11 PM

    I beg to differ. See Kiddushin 29a-b. There is a mitzvah deoraysa for the father to teach his son Torah. It's learned out from the possuk ve limdatem es bneichem ledaber bam.

    Women are exempt from both sides (so to speak) of the chiyyuv -- as the gemara there learns, whoever is not obligated to herself learn Torah is not obligated to teach her son Torah.

  15. No computer access yesterday, so let me fill in my comments today. As I wrote, I do not think osek b'mitzva is the correct model to use here. Tal, since the students in question have no yet begun learning, one cannot invoke T"T as a dechiya. Secondly, the chessed act here is done as a model of correct priorities for the children in the car and is itself an act of chinuch. Why does that not itself fall under the ruberic of what a father is obligated to teach his children? I don't think that halacha means only formal text based learning. Thirdy, on a pragmatic level, the chessed needed to be done at the moment - get the person to the train and alleviate his difficulty - it was not efshar b'yedei acheirim in a simple way. Fourthly, taking the bittul torah model, one would be hard pressed to justify closing seforim to teach students secular subjects. This problem is compounded at the higher grade levels when one can argue that the skills taught are actually less essential for life than those learned in the lower grades. Lastly, R' Ahron Lichtenstein justifies secular studies (e.g. reading Shakespeare) as not violating bittul torah because of the spiritual and personal growth such study engenders. Kal v'chomer when an act of chessed presents itself that would lead to at best bittul torah b'akrei (see Rama re: bittul torah for secular studies), the gain to the individual performing the mitzvah and in this case the model it sets for children and others offsets the few minutes that may be lost. Unless one is completely asuk in limud hatorah to the exclusion of all other interruptions in life, it seems to be that klerring whether efshar al y'dei acheirim or not for a simple few minutes of chessed is to get bogged down in sophistry at the expense of the greater good.

  16. Anonymous2:38 PM

    Chaim, first of all, you are the one who posted a pilpul about hilkhos sekhirus and stopping to do a chessed. So the charges of sophistry are unfounded.

    Now to the specific points (not in any particular order):

    1. Contrary to what was suggested yesterday, I think it is quite clear that teaching one's son, even a koton, Torah, is a chiyyuv deoraysa, and is counted as one of the mitzvos a ben al ha av in the braissa Kiddushin 29a.

    2. The shaylo you raised is that the chessed would delay one by a few minutes. The reality is that the first 5 to 10 minutes of school the children are simply lining up and then settling into class, so there really is no issue here.

    Change the shaylo a bit. Suppose the chessed would make the children (yours and the carpoolers) 1/2 hour late. Now you have a real conflict between the obligation to get the children there on time (and the mitsvah of TT) and the chessed.

    Would you still do the chessed then?

    3. It is true that most people, including children are not involved in learning every spare minute of the day. It is also true that doing chessed and other mitsvos is an aspect of chinuch.

    But here we are talking about a seder kavuah of the child to learn with his rebbe. It has been determined by the parents and the school that THIS time is for TT -- certainly a crucial part of education.

    My son in 1st grade learns mostly Chumash in the morning with his rebbe, along with some Hebrew, dinim and a few other subjects.
    So there definitely is a bittul Torah aspect after the first 5 to 10 minutes.

    4. That the TT is not taking place NOW does not change the fact that it will cause one to be late to a seder of learning. (Again, consider the late-by-1/2 hour case, not the case where basically the child will miss lineup.)

    5. Doing chessed and other mitsvos are no doubt crucial aspects of a child's chinuch. Secular studies also have their place (if nothing else for parnassah).

    But respect for one's learning time -- especially kavuah learning time -- is also important. It is important that the child (esp. boys) feel that learning time is sacrosanct, and will not be pushed off unless truly necessary.

    6. Since you say that pragmatically the mitsvah is not efshar leheasos al yidei acherim, then indeed one is permitted, indeed required to be mevattel learning for that. So the result in your case is the same.