[Avodah] Does "ben" mean "son" or "child"?

Akiva Miller akivagmiller at gmail.com
Sun Mar 10 11:38:12 PDT 2019

I had asked:
> It seems to be a universal practice that the Mah Nishtanah is
> given to the youngest "ben" (however you want to translate it)
> at the table. Obviously, we are excluding those who are too
> young, and those who for some other reason are incapable of
> saying it. But does anyone know how this came to devolve upon
> the *youngest*?

I found a source! For this information, I thank the Haggada Yaynah
Shel Torah by Binyamin Adler (all-Hebrew, 1978 Feldheim)

In the Haggada section, prior to Mah Nishtana, his directions state,
"v'katan hamesubim shoel - and the smallest/youngest of the diners
asks". In the Halachos section, #3:15:10, he gives his source: "ayen
Chayei Adam klal 130, v'od". Before I quote the Chayei Adam, let's see
how this is phrased elsewhere.

Mechaber 473:7 lists several options for Mah Nishtana, and the
descending order of preference is clear: tinok asks spontaneously /
father teaches the ben to ask / wife asks / one asks himself / even
talmidei chachamim ask each other

According to Aruch Hashulchan 473:21, the order of preference is: son
asks spontaneously / father teaches son to ask / daughter asks / wife
or someone else asks

But Chayei Adam 130:7 gives this list: tinok / ben / friend / wife

There are many diyukim one can find by comparing these lists
carefully. For example, the Aruch Hashulchan unambiguously puts the
son and daughter at two different points on the list, and would answer
my Subject line by saying that "ben means son". It is also noteworthy
where each of these sources places the wife.

But finally, to answer my question about the source for "the
*youngest* at the table" -- One can argue whether the Mechaber
considers "tinok" and "ben" to be synonyms, but the Chayei Adam
clearly gives preference to "tinok" over "ben", and what could be the
difference if not age?

Akiva Miller

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