Thanks Jewish Side for sending this contribution to the Mesorah Project and for presenting an aspect of mesorah that is both earnest and open.
I believe teaching our children about Judaism is an important thing. But yet the beauty about passing down the mesorah from father to son, is that it is on a personal level. Every child has a different nature and therefore learns differently. What works for one child may not work for another. Therefore, in passing down the mesorah we have to understand our children’s personality and tailor the lesson so that they can understand it.
My little sister once said a brilliant line without even knowing it. It was shabbos day and I was playing a game of cards with her, while singing a song. Then my little sister says, “Jewish Side, stop singing!”. Meanwhile my older brother was singing too, so I asked my sister if she will tell my brother to stop singing too. She answered “No, He won’t listen, you listen so that’s why I told you to stop!”.
I’ve realized it works like that in chinuch too, where parents will discipline one child and not the other. It may seem unfair, but really it’s because the children have different natures and therefore practicing the same technique on two different children can have radically different results. A parent isn’t supposed to change a child’s nature but rather channel the character trait in a positive way.
I had been wondering why Hashem created teeth that don’t go in straight, why is it that many children need braces to fix their teeth? Then I realized, it’s the same concept. That maybe it can be a chinuch lesson, as though the teeth are children, and sometimes they don’t start off right, and might have “bad middos” but with proper chinnuch, and showing the right path, you can mold them to grow in straight again.
Now what do we teach our kids about Judaism? R’ Aharon Hersh Fried answers that in his article “Are our children too worldly?
I remember being taught in High School that “that the world out there is “dark, ominous, antagonistic to Torah values of ethics and morality, and generally void of values”. Then I came to college and was very surprised at how moral non-Jews can be. I took philosophy classes and was impressed at the questions non-Jews would come up with, and you were able to see they were good people too.
R’ Yaakov Kaminetzky was asked whether and how to teach evolution and he answered: “Pages in books should not be skipped, pasted together, or blacked out, as this only increases students’ curiosity about the subject”.
When I was taking a Jewish class in college, the professor brought up a controversial topic and asked me if I had learned the answer to it. I told her that I hadn’t learned about that topic in High School, and she said that she had learned it in school specifically so that she should know how to answer the people who have the question. As the Mishnah states: “Know what (you would answer a heretic,)” … you should know for yourself, so that your faith is strong in your heart, and you continue to strive daily at the gateway of Torah.
חנוך לנער על פי דרכו גם כי יזקין לא יסור ממנו (Educate a child in accordance with his ways, even when he grows older he will not stray from it.), Rav Hirsch explains that when we educate a child we must choose an approach which recognizes the “gam ki yazkin”; the life and the world the child will live in after he leaves our home. We must prepare him for dealing with this larger world.
R’ Hirsh is famous for his “Torah Im Derech Eretz” way of life. He explains that it is important for us to teach our children secular knowledge as well. Since Hashem gave knowledge to all people. If secular knowledge would not be taught, then instead of protecting the children, you will be doing the opposite. Children will believe they have been left in the dark and start to doubt all of Judaism.
R’ Moshe Feinstein says that when children are learning Gemara, they should be taught on a practical level. On how to apply it to life, so that the knowledge shouldn’t be compartmentalized, but rather Torah should be a part of their every day life. Where if faced with a situation, Torah should come to mind on how to proceed.
I was very lucky to attend a seminary where we had a Rabbi that taught us Halacha that pertained to every day life. Where you walked away from the lesson with interesting relevant information that you can apply to situations that came up. One interesting class was on Halachos of Gambling, and whether a Chinese auction is considered gambling.
We also had a class on “taamei Hamitzvos”, where we learned about the rationale of why we do certain mitzvos. In addition to learning from the sefer Hachnuch about the 613 mitzvos. Having these classes really meant a lot to me, helped me with my spirituality.
The Chazon Ish writes that it’s important for children to learn about Jewish History, since it gives them foundations for wisdom. If children were to learn Jewish History, they would have a greater appreciation for why certain practices would be uncalled for and wouldn’t label the Rabbi’s as “unthinking, or ignorant know-nothings”.
The Maharal says we have an obligation to know science. The Noda BiYehudah, his son R’ Shmuel as well as R’ Akiva Eiger all say to be careful to learn the language of the country we live in well and clearly, as clear language is a prerequisite to clear thinking.
I have always believed in “showing rather than hiding” to have the child know something is there and to teach them how to use it or not use it, rather than hiding it and the child finding it on their own and being put in danger.
Our children should be made aware of the existence of “low” and “high” culture in the world “out there.” They should be made aware that there are normative rules of propriety, of derech eretz, that no upstanding Gentile would violate.
When educating children it is important that they feel safe to ask questions. To not put them down for having questions, but rather let them ask it. Many times children who have questions and feel afraid to ask, get turned off of Judaism.
We must transmit Torah in a way that emphasizes the joy of life. Rebbe Moshe Feinstein writes that the reason many people in America who, in the early years of the twentieth century, sacrificed greatly in order to keep from desecrating the Shabbos, did not merit to see their children grow up as shomrei Shabbos was because though they conveyed to their children the required sacrifice of Shabbos, they failed to convey the joy and peace of mind that it brings. Torah learning and mitzvos that are not joyful cannot be transmitted to the next generation.
More contributions to the Mesorah Project can be found here.