10 May 2006

On Being a Jewish Parent...

It is easy to argue that being any type of parent is difficult in today's unsure world. Our parents seemed to have it easier. The financial concerns I will save for another entry, but for right now, I want to talk about the increasingly common use of halakhah (Jewish law) and calling on the local rabbanim as a shield against our own inability to parent our own children.

While my children are too young to be affected by this particular issue, it is something that has incensed me since Pesach. It seems that the local va'ad is having public second doubts about one of the rabbanim giving an area donut shop a hechsher. Believe it or not, it has nothing to do with kashrut violations. The concern stems from the idea that this donut shop may become a "hangout" for the teenagers and this interacting in a public place will lead to the kids committing "immoral acts" with each other.

My husband and I have spent many a motza'ay Shabbat at either this donut shop or the one kosher pizza place that does open up on Saturday nights. While the donut shop only received a hechsher several months ago, the pizza place is an institution. In fact, "cool yiddish papa" and I would hang out at said pizza place during our courtship days, so we can vouch for its appeal to the younger crowd. This is the weird part which only goes to discredit the fears about the donut place. The crowds of teenagers at pizza place are co-ed and can be rowdy at times, but no one is committing immoral acts. However, at the donut shop, it is mostly groups of girls coming in. Rarely do I see boys in this mix as well.

I, for one, welcome well-lit kosher establishments for the young people to congregate at. It is especially good that if it is also a place where us or one of our friends could "mix" with the crowds. It beats another popular option in my community: hanging out at the area gas station making soda concoctions while pretending to not be talking to the boy who pulled up in the car nearby. While there are those who feel that boys and girls are not separated enough at school or outside of it, that is fine, but not my life or how I intend on raising my daughters.

I personally am not advocating one-on-one dating for teenagers. The group approach which was my only option until I was 17 worked fine. Spending time with boys was not assur to me and therefore, not too interesting. If my girls want to go with a bunch of friends on a donut run on a Saturday night, all I want to make sure of is that they are indeed going to the intended location and that they feel comfortable enough with me to tell me the truth.

Where I am going with all of this is that I think too many parents today are not doing the job that G-d gave to them when they were handed that tiny baby. Either they are afraid of making a mistake, so they do nothing or they just pass all responibility off on "an authority" so if there is a mistake, then they have someone to blame. While this problem is also common in the non-frum world, the overwhelming tendency in the frum world is for people to attach a rabbi's name or hide behind halakhah to restrict their children from many real and imagined dangers in the world.

Why can't the phrase, "Because I say so" pull weight anymore? Why can't a parent simply say that it is not part of their plan to raise their child instead of saying that the other way is against halakhah? Like the woman in my neighborhood who criticized me for allowing my 4 year old daughter to play in pants in our local park. The tirade included being told that pants are not tziusdik on girls over three, didn't I know that? Well, I think that when a child is climbing jungle gyms, swinging, or bicycling, she is more tziut in pants because of the dangers of showing underwear with a skirt. I am just suggesting that my way may not be yours but that doesn't make it wrong.

Parents need to take back their authority as partners with Hashem in the child-rearing process by saying our family rules restrict objectionable shows. It doesn't matter if your friends from school have their own DVD player, in our home, we watch TV together.

My assignment for anyone who is a parent is to try and make sound parenting decisions based on your own wisdom and not using halakhah as your only authority. Doing it any other way teaches your children to not respect you and eventually, the halakhah becomes the "bad guy" that always says no. Instead, teach your children that halakhah is what guides us as Jews and give them the tools to use this guide properly and not as a yardstick to beat them over the head.


  1. I'll add the story I told you last night. We knew someone who didn't want his daughter to go to seminary in Israel after high school. No problem, just tell her that you're the parent and you've decided for her not to go. Instead, he went on a tirade (I'm sure not the first one she had to listen to) about how girls don't need to learn in Israel, there's no mesorah for it, it's wrong, etc. (Even though most of the frum world does this including this rabbi's own rabbis.) So instead of just asserting himself as a parent, he dragged halacha into it. As a postscript to this, he ended up letting her go anyway - so he still didn't assert himself on something he believed so strongly about, and probably led his kids to tune him out when he talks about things that are asur because they know he uses the word lightly.

  2. Fantastic post Cool Yiddishe Mama. What a way to start of your blog! And, I agree that today's parents lack a lot of confidence and end up relying on every bit of advice but their own. I'm also not sure why a Rabbi is the first person parents call, over their own parents who (hopefully) did a fine job with their children. I know my mother is my first call.

    Regarding Esther's comments: Parents need to remember even a 2 year old is a better lawyer than Johnny Cochran (rest in peace) and it is unwise to reason too much.

  3. This is a great post. It makes me sad when parents can't stand up to their kids. It also makes me worry about letting my kids hang out with those kids. It is bad enough being begged for everything under the sun, but then when "but Shloimy has one" gets brought in, I really loose it.


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