Question: May a man have yichud when his young son or daughter is sleeping in another room?
Short Answer: A man may have yichud with a woman when his young child (ages 7-9) is awake in the house, even if the child is in a different room (as long as the doors to the rooms are open). However, yichud is forbidden if the child is asleep.
I. The Precocious Child
While the Gemara (Kiddushin 81a) states that one man cannot have yichud with two women, the Gemara (ibid, 81b) states that a man is permitted to have yichud with a woman and a young girl who “knows what relations are” but “won’t submit herself to relations.” Rashi explains that this refers to a child who is old enough to report to others that something improper took place, but young enough that she has no “yeitzer ha’ra” for relations and thus there is no concern that she herself will participate in an aveirah with the man. The Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer 22:10) codifies this halachah.
As an initial matter, when the child is a boy, there is certainly no yichud, as we discussed previously (Article #3) that, according to the Rama, two men and one woman are not a problem of yichud. The abovementioned halachah adds that even two women and one man is not a violation of yichud when one of the women is a child of this age. See Divrei Sofrim (Yichud, p. 121).
II. What Age?
Aside from listing the Gemara’s description of a girl who “knows what relations are” but “won’t submit herself to relations,” the Shulchan Aruch does not list the precise age where a young girl may protect against yichud of another man and woman.
The sefer Ohel Yaakov (Yichud, p. 134-135) collects the various opinions of contemporary poskim. The Chazon Ish ruled when the girl is between the ages of six and nine (or possibly ten). The B’Tzeil HaChochmah even permits yichud when the girl is as young as three, but the T’shuvos V’Hanhagos and the Sheivet HaLevi hold that the minimum age is five. Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l is cited as ruling that the minimum age is seven, while Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l ruled that eight was the minimum.
Accordingly, there is certainly room to be lenient with a girl aged 7-9, and possibly even with a girl aged 5-10.
III. Together or Alone
However, there is a fundamental problem with this halachah. As discussed previously (Article #2), the Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer 22:11) rules that a man may not have yichud with a girl above the age of three. As such, how can a man have yichud with a woman and a young girl together? Since he is forbidden to have yichud with each one separately, shouldn’t he be forbidden to have yichud with both of them together?
The Bach (Even HaEzer 22:10) answers that there is a fundamental difference between having yichud with a young girl by herself and having yichud with a woman and a young girl together. It is forbidden to have yichud with any girl above the age of three (even if she does not have any idea about relations), because there is always a fear (albeit remote, baruch Hashem) that the man will violate her. On the other hand, a man will, of course, not violate a young girl when there is another woman in the room. And because the girl has no yeitzer ha’ra for relations yet, there is no fear that he will seduce the young girl, and if he seduces the woman, the young girl will likely tell people. This is in contrast to the prohibition where a man is together with two adult women, where there is a concern that the man will seduce both of them, or one of them and the other woman will keep the aveirah private.
IV. Man’s Own Child
Now that we have established that there is no prohibition of yichud when a man secludes with a woman and a young girl, what about when the little girl is his own daughter? In other words, may a man have yichud with a woman and his own young daughter, or does this leniency only apply with a woman and a young girl who is not either of their daughters?
The Mishnah (Gittin 73a) states that a man may not have yichud with his wife after he writes her a conditional divorce (i.e., “You are divorced from today when “x” occurs...”). The Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer 148:2) codifies this halachah and adds, based on a Tosefta, that even if her young child is with them, there is a prohibition of yichud. The Maharam Ziskind (cited in Divrei Sofrim, p. 122) proves from here that a man may not have yichud with a woman and her young daughter, and that the leniency of the Gemara in Kiddushin of permitting yichud with a woman and a young girl only applies where the girl is not the daughter of the woman. When it is her daughter, there is a tacit understanding that she will keep her mouth shut.
The Divrei Sofrim, however, cites many Acharonim who disagree, including the Chasam Sofer and the Makneh. They rule that there is no difference whether it is her child or not; the leniency always applies.
Moreover, the Divrei Sofrim notes that, according to the d’var halachah, even the Maharam Ziskind would allow a man to have yichud with a woman and his own daughter, as here there is a fear that the young daughter would tell others if something improper happened between her father and the woman.
V. Same Room
But does the young girl need to be present in the same room as the adults in order to serve as a protection against the prohibition of yichud?
The Aruch HaShulchan (Even HaEzer 22:10) equates the case of the young girl in a different room to a case of yichud on the road, where we are always concerned that any “shomer” will need to step away and something improper will occur when he is gone. Similarly here, the Aruch HaShulchan rules that the young girl only serves as a protection when she is in the same room as the adults, and that is the only room in the house.
However, many disagree with this strict ruling of the Aruch HaShulchan. For example, the Ohel Yaakov (p. 136) cites the Chazon Ish, Rav Yechezkel Roth zt”l, and Rav Elyashiv zt”l, who were lenient to allow yichud with a woman and a young girl in different rooms of a house, as long as the door to the rooms are open.
VI. Awake or Even Sleeping?
Does the child need to be awake, or is it sufficient that the sleeping child may wake up at any point?
The Divrei Sofrim (p. 121) cites the Binas Adam, who implies that the child must be awake in order to serve as a “shomer” to permit the man and woman to have yichud. Similarly, the Ohel Yaakov (p. 137) rules that this leniency only applies when the child is awake.
[As an aside, this leniency also does not apply by night, as the Rama rules that one requires two shomrim at night (see Even HaEzer 22:5). But see Ohel Yaakov (ibid).]
Next Week’s Topic: Is it permitted for a man and woman to have yichud where there is a video stream recording them?