Saturday, February 11, 2006


Mordechai understands that, just because someone is being michallel Shabbat (desecrating the Sabbath or doing an activity prohibited to do on the Sabbath), does not mean that they're not Jewish. They could very well be Jewish but not religious. (I refer, of course, to major prohibitions not a case where people "hold" differently.) Since we live in New York, there's plenty of that. Our next door neighbors in our building are a good (glaring) example. When we're off to go to shul, we often meet them in the hall waiting for or coming out of the elevator. Mordechai's questions: Why don't they keep the Torah? Don't they know what a special present it is? And if they don't, why not? Is it a secret?

I tell him that, no, of course it's not a secret. They simply weren't taught about how special Torah-life is by their parents. That's the part that is obvious. It gets sticky though after that. Well, if we tell them, why don't they listen? How do I explain that, to them, Orthodoxy is irrational, restrictive, oppressive? Or that, they don't believe the Torah was given by G-d?
I haven't been terribly coherent in this post but it's a cofusing topic to explain to a child, at least for me. I need some help here. Anyone?


PsychoToddler said...

This is something that's difficult to answer to anybody, but because kids are so concrete in their thinking, it's almost impossible.

I've had this discussion with my kids over the years. There's no good way to explain it.

queeniesmom said...

we've explained to our children that not everyone observes the same as we do. yes, so and so is jewish but they don't observe shabbat like we do. we emphasize that this doesn't make them a bad person and usually point out the helpful things they do. we've analogised this to keeping kashrut, how not everyone keeps kashrut but we do. this is a concrete explaination that they can understand and makes for better relations with our neighbors. also remeber young children like to clasify things, people into groups as they are trying to figure out how everything fits together. this has been an acceptable answer for our kids as it allowed them to create another group , jews but not like us.
hope this helps. shavoah tov.

Ayelet said...

He has no problem with the fact that there are Jews that do things differently than he does. I've been very careful to stress that it doesn't make them bad (although in his black-n-white view of mitzvah vs. aveira, I don't know if he really buys that). He just doesn't get why they wouldn't keep things like he does. In his view, Shabbat is so special, they'd be crazy not to take advantage of this gift of a mitzvah. And, I assume he also thinks, why would you do an aveira - don't you know you'll get in "big trouble" and you won't get rewarded and you won't help bring mashiach, etc. etc. (He has been brain-washed well, hasn't he? ;)) (RELAX! I hear half my readerdship bristling at that last line. I really was just kidding!)

Anonymous said...

"they could very well be Jewish but not religious."

You mean not OBSERVANT. They could be more religious than you.

Ayelet said...

Anon - Forgive me if I'm being an obnoxious idiot but I'm not sure what you mean. What's the distinction?

Ezzie said...

There is a slight difference... Religious generally refers to belief, while you are referring to following halacha, which is a matter of observance. A "Mesorati" Sephardi, for example, may be (and often is) far more "religious" than you or I, but not as "observant".

(I'm not the anon, but I think that's what he/she meant...)

Oh - and I have no clue how to answer that one... Not up to there [yet]!

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Ayelet: I remember my first exposre to Conservative Judaism as a 10 year old. My parents sent me over to play with a kid who's parent's were conservative, and they just told me not to eat anything there.

My friend's older teenage sister gave me an earful on what conservative Judaism is, and how they are like Orthodoxy, but don't have a mechitza in shul...

It was rather confusing at the time.

Living in Israel, my kids see this daily. We say its an issue of chinuch and background. They grew up a certain way...and unless someone teaches them nicely, they will continue doing things that way. In fact, here its all very dynamic -- with a constant ebb and flow of chozrim betshuva and chozrim b'she'ayla. My kids know both types...and I hope we provide a solid enough background for them to stay on the derech.

Even here in Israel, life's a big challenge. On the positive side, Jews remaining in Israel have a much better chance of marrying Jews than those in chutz laaretz.

Lastly: Drop me an email when yu get a chance -- I have a project you may be inetrested in (about children's books).

Shavua Tov.

Rebecca said...

This is a very touchy subject. I am always so amazed when I overhear parents discussing things like this with their children and the amazing things they come up with. I wish I had enough experience to answer your question but I do hope when mine gets a bit older you will be a pro and will tell me all there is I need to know!

Rebecca said...

ps- I do think it is amazing that Mordechai is on such a high level that he views doing mitzvos and keeping shabbos as something special. You guys are doing something right!
When I was little I used to love uncle moishy's "shabbos is going away" because I couldn't wait until shabbos was over so I can do some melacha! How nice...

PsychoToddler said...

The trick is not to instill in your kids a condescending attitude towards others, while at the same time making it clear that you don't consider the observance of halacha to be "optional".

jordan Hirsch said...

Observance of halacha is optional. All the more reason to be grateful for exercising that option. If your kids want to know why they shouldn't tell their neighbors, the answer is that it is not their business, and everyone has to come to love torah their own way, and that maybe one day they will have an opportunity to do that.

MC Aryeh said...

Ayelet, you raise a tricky question. Not being a parent, I am hesistant to offer an opinion, but I won't let that stop me :) I think I would put it in child terms, just that as a child doesn't always listen to a parent even though the parent has the child's best interest at heart, so too we are all HaShem's children, and when it comes to Torah, some of us don't listen and don't always recognize that HaShem wants what is best for us. But parents still love their children, and same with HaShem.

Ayelet said...

MCAryeh, that's brilliant. Thanks.

PsychoToddler said...

Sorry, Jordan, but where parenting is concerned, some things are not optional. It's not optional for them to brush their teeth, it's not optional for them to go to school, and it's not optional for them to observe halacha.

When they grow up and leave my house, if they decide it's not for them, then there won't be anything I can do about it. But it will mean that I have failed them in some way.

Meanwhile, while they are under my care, they have to understand what I expect from them is not optional.

kasamba said...

Right on Psychotoddler!
The way I look at it, is that spirituality is like a shop. You bring your kids in and let them sample the merchandise, but at the end of the day they have to make the decision to purchase or not...

If they feel that it's something special, and that they're lucky to have what they have in being frum; then you are ahead of the game.

Miss Nibbles said...

Wow, so complicated!

Children are much too brilliant, much too fast, without nearly enough experience....

And I was going to say exactly what MCAryeh said.

But he clearly already said it.

Ayelet said...

Miss Nibbles - so glad you joined me here. Welcome! I'm really excited about your new blog. Do you plan on responding to comments there?

Robbie said...

As someone who doesn't observe to the most machmir of ways (being much more liberal in my interpretation of halacha, and certain laws of shabbat, especially electricity) I think I would say something comparing it to coloring - if you tell a person to pick a blue crayon out of a box of 96 crayons, they may choose light blue, dark blue, cornflower, etc. It's still blue, but it's not the same blue you might choose.

Some people are colorblind and some will go for green just because you tell them to pick blue.

But the important part is that you can always put down one crayon and pick up another! (And the best drawings are always multi-tonal and shaded.)

(I think I'm done with the cheesy metaphor)

Ayelet said...

Robbie- I'm in agreement with PT on this. I'm not into the "do whatever makes you happy, honey" thing that our liberal society has turned into its guiding principle. I believe that there are good colors and not-good colors and I'm here to show my child the beauty of the good colors. I'm not trying to pretend the other colors don't exist, because they're (obviously) there, but I don't think they're good choices and I'll do what I can to hone his vision so that he doesn't stumble into the world color-blind. (Okay, now we can stop with the metaphor!)

And Robbie, thanks for coming over and contributing! Welcome.

FrimFrom said...

Hey Ayelet- These questions are an opening to "brainwash" him towards Harbotzas HaTorah, right? I tell Shimmy that some Jewish people didn't go to Yeshiva and don't know about the wonderful mitzvohs. Mommy and Tatty try to teach people about Torah and Mitzvohs, and we love every Jew, we're all one family, and mitzvohs are so awesome so we want to help other Jews learn about them etc.

Ayelet said...

Frim - It's good to see you (finally!). Your answer is a great one. It's just a little different when you are neighbors of unaffiliated Jews who are not at all interested in you preaching religion to them. He can't very well take upon himself to educate them! But still, I think it is an important point to introduce the concept of being proactive in introducing unaffiliated Jews to the beauty of their heritage.

Timi said...

Hi Ayelet,
I found your blog through your comment on Ask Shifra. And your questions really touched me somewhere.

I'm a traditional Conservative Jew, Shomer Shabbat, Shomer kashrut, etc. But all of these things are shomer according to the Conservative movement, not Orthodox. My Judaism, how I practiced it, was and still is a huge part of me (just like it is for you). I can't tell you how much it hurt when growing up (in a very orthodox neighborhood) the kids next door would say things like "oh, they're jewish but they're not religious", or people wouldn't say shabbat shalom to my family walking to shul because my sister and I would be wearing skirts above our knees (as little kids).

The point is, you may not agree with how I practice Judaism and not want your kids to grow up practicing the same way, but it is my religion nonetheless. And I hold it dear to me, just like you hold your practice of religion dear to you.

It's wonderful that you want to figure out how to explain this to you son, I think it's very important. But I think the poster above adds an imprtant dimension that you fail to recognize as you ask the question. The "they're just not religious" part of the explanation. Some Jews could care less if you say they're not religious, but there are a lot who would be deeply offended and you just don't know who those people would be. As a Jew living in a world with other Jews (which you say your son understands) as with any other human being it's important to make that distinction so as to not hurt someone more than you have to. You may not agree with how some people practice Judaism, but I think a lot of Orthodox Jews fail to see that it's pretty offensive to call someone not religious and I'm sure that that isn't your intention.

I know this doesn't answer your question. But maybe it shines a little more light on why your explanation is important. Maybe you should emphasize the positive aspects of the answer to the question, like how lots of people in the world believe different things. I don't know if it's necessary to explain to him that other people think that Orthodoxy is irrational etc. because to be honest that's not why a lot of people are not Orthodox. A lot of times people are just brought up differently and that's that. Not every person goes to a Conservative shul thinking, ugh I can't believe the people going to the shul down the street have to sit with a Mechitza, how oppressive. Does that make sense (I'm not trying to be obnoxious here, just trying to enlighten a bit)?

You've been given a great opportunity to teach your son to be caring to the people in the world around him. And maybe that is what you should emphasize with him. We may not agree with them, but it is our responsibility to respect them as people. Good luck, I'm sure it's not easy.

Sorry the comment is so long, I probably should have just emailed it to you :). But your post touched me in a sensitive place, and that's the beauty of the blogsphere, right? To hear opinions from people you might not hear otherwise.

Jack's Shack said...

Hi Ayelet,

I just saw your comment on the Jewish Connection and wanted to respond.

I teach my children that there are very areas of life that are black and white and that we all do things differently.

Some of those things are open for negotiation and others are not.

From a religious perspective I don't like comments like "they don't know Torah" because it doesn't address minhagim that are based upon time/place with a touch of Halachic support.

I think that it is important to have this discussion with children so that they understand what is important in their house may not be important elsewhere, but that doesn't lessen its significance or importance.

Ayelet said...

Timi, thanks so much for contributing! That is the beauty of the blogosphere.

In response to your argument: Certainly such a situation calls for more delicacy. Please understand that I mean absolutely no offense in considering "Orthodoxy" to be the only true Judaism. I believe in the divinity of the Torah, which clearly states that no changes are ever acceptable in the observance of the commandments therein. In fact, the Torah warns that if a person claims to be a prophet or agent of HaShem and changes any of the commandments, we are to know that this person is a false prophet. And so, although I love you as a fellow Jew, I will not give your chosen path in life a stamp of approval before my children. I certainly respect that you clearly understand the importance of religion. I am also quite sure (from your manner of speech) that you are a moral and wonderful person who is quite dedicated to your religion. I maintain, however, that Conservative Judaism is not a branch of Judaism (which is why I object, in principle, to the term Orthodox Judaism as it implies that it is merely one of many equally valid "forms" of Judaism). It is an ideology that is separate from authentic Judaism, although it shares the term and some observances. Again, I reiterate, all this may be so, but that does not make you any less Jewish in my eyes.

Incidentally, what is your view on the validity of "Reform Judaism"?

Timi, I sincerely hope I have not offended or hurt you in any way by expressing my thoughts. I encourage you to respond either way.

Timi said...

Hi. Found you :). Anyway, I commend you writing a pretty harsh opinion in a relatively non-judmental way. So, while your opinion itself is pretty hurtful (for the same reason all the stuff I wrote about in my first comment was offensive), the way you wrote it didn't offend me, so I will respond :).

Unfortunately, it is inherently offensive that you don't think that Conservative Judaism is a valid form of Judaism. But of course you are entitled to your own opinion, so I think when it comes down to it this is an agree to disagree issue. I'm not going to try to change your mind. So maybe when it comes back to the issue of teaching your children, say what you want about the other streams of Judaism. But be aware that you live in a world filled with lots of other people and also teach your children that is possibly offensive to others to say to them what you think about their religion. You don't have to teach your children to agree with how I practice Judaism, just teach them what could be offensive to me, and to respect anybody they interact with, whether Jewish or not.

As for the validity of Reform Judaism, or Reconstructionist, or anything else for that matter. It's not a question of validity. In my mind it's 100% valid. To each their own. I personally don't like davening in a Reform shul, or practice Reform Judaism because it's missing a lot of what I get out of my own practice of Judaism. It's just not my thing. But there is also a lot of stuff that is missing for me in Orthodox Judaism as well for me, and that is also perfectly valid, just not my thing.

So when it comes down to it, I just wish people could be more understanding of eachother. I've been going to Orthodox shuls for the past 7 years or so of my life (due to location circumstances) and as a result I have lots of Orthodox friends (my inlaws are Orthodox as well). And the thing that shocked me was that none of my friends had any idea what Conservative Judaism was. At the time I think that really offended me, that people would judge me without even learning about me. But now, after talking with you, it kind of makes more sense. It doesn't matter how I practice Judaism if it's not Orthodox. To be honest that kind of puts me at peace a bit more. I'm not looking for your approval, it's just not possible.

I think the most important thing is to teach your children to respect other people. So it might just be important to teach them that while you may think I'm not religious, it's not nice to say it to me.

Thanks for the discussion Ayelet. It's been good.

Timi said...

Ayelet. I just wrote a post over on my blog about what we've been talking about. Go take a look.

Ari said...

ah so this is the question. but I'm not sure how I would answer this question though I think a good idea would be to introduce your kids to other kids like those who go to JEP who came with little/no jewish background and are now learning what it's like to keep Shabbos and other mitzvas for the first time