June 18, 2024
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The Tools Parents Need

I would like to preface this with a great deal of appreciation for educators such as Rabbi Goldmintz who dedicate their lives to inculcating Jewish values into the next generation of the bearers of our many traditions. I write this as an addendum to those out there who empathize with the outlier child in Rabbi Goldmintz’s class, to those who feel (as I once had), that no one “really explained why it should matter.” (“The Soul of Parenting,” March 23, 2023).

There are numerous articles written in this vein, that much is taught about Judaism except for its pragmatic purpose. A purpose which can stand up to modernity and afford the discerning Jewish intellects who deal with these conundrums to truly feel connected to the way of life of those around them. I would like to, with due caution, offer a perspective which can at least be a starting point.

Our society, as Rabbi Goldmintz points out, has a strong decline in religious affiliation. This decline leads to a lack of meaning paired with a constant anxious and desperate search for purpose, ultimately failing and leading to the pursuit of our most base material passions. The most evident portrayal of this is America’s consumer mindset. Businesses everywhere know, however subconsciously, that the meaningless atmosphere which the American mindset creates is the perfect prey for their sales to increase. America’s population is increasingly filled with people who drown their thirst for purpose in food, shopping trips and the luxuries which can be acquired at a moment’s notice.

This is where Judaism, and yes, specifically Judaism, comes in. Why do we keep Shabbat, kashrut, taharat mishpacha, and prayer when the alternative American lifestyle requires much less commitment? What can parents tell their children when faced with this reality? I believe this question is answered perfectly by Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo, in his book, “Jewish Law as Rebellion” (page 95): “When we tell our children to eat Kosher, we need to to tell them that this is an act of disobedience against self-indulgence, by which human beings are prepared to eat anything as long as it tastes good. When we go to synagogue, it is a protest against a man’s arrogance in thinking that he can do it all himself. When young couples are asked to observe family purity, it is a rebellion against the obsession with sex. The obsession of Shabbat must be taught as an enormous challenge to our contemporary world, which believes that happiness depends on how much we can produce.”

And one final crucial point I would be remiss to leave out. We must place greater emphasis on learning and appreciating the text and library of Tanach. Tanach is an unbelievable library of poetry, theology, psychology, and philosophy. We teach it in a simple manner at our own peril. There is no greater way to connect to Jewish life than to understand the depths of Tanach the same way parents expect their children to understand Shakespeare or other western classics. Tanach is the original western classic. Learn it and teach it to your children. It is the work on which the Talmud, the Shulchan Aruch, and millenia of Jewish thinkers founded their beliefs and we are risking its absolute obsolescence. To appreciate Jewish life and prayer, one must understand the literature on which it is all based. Once this becomes a priority in our lives, much else falls into place.

Dovidchai Abramchayev
Teaneck
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