Friday, April 1, 2011

"Race to Nowhere" - Jewish Sources

“Race to Nowhere” - Jewish Sources

The Talmud delineates certain obligations that a parent has toward a child (they are stated in the masculine, but, aside from the obvious, we can extrapolate to females too):

"A father is obligated to do the following for his son: to circumcise him, to redeem him if he is a first born, to teach him Torah, to find him a wife, and to teach him a trade. Others say: teaching him how to swim as well." (Kiddushin 29a)

What does this mean? Parents must:

- Give their child the chance to take root in the Jewish community through the rituals of initiation

- And to gain proficiency and literacy in Jewish ethics and culture, through the study of our sacred texts (so that they will become good people and comprehend the Jewish vision of the good life)

- In sum, a child has a right to a Jewish identity.

- In obligating a parent to find a child a spouse, the Talmud indicates that parental responsibility extends beyond childhood, until (at least) the children have the means to live fully independently. For some kids, that time may never occur. - But in the hopes that it does, parents are obligated to teach the child a trade. The Talmud states “Anyone who does not teach his son a skill or profession may be regarded as if he is teaching him to rob.” (Kiddushin 29a)

- As for swimming, parents are obligated to provide their children with basic survival skills, so that they won’t drown, either literally or figuratively. In our time, time management skills could be considered survival skills. If kids are staying up all night and gulping down stimulants and pulling all nighters simply to get their homework done, we parents and educators are failing our job.

Some more pearls of wisdom from the Talmud on education:

• Never threaten children. Either punish them or forgive them. (Semahot 2:6)

• Denying a child religious knowledge robs the child of an inheritance. (Talmud Sanhedrin 91b)

• Every parent is obligated to train his/her children in the observance of mitzvot, for it is written: "Train a child according to his way." (Proverbs 22:6)

• Mothers should introduce their children to the Torah. (Exodus Rabbah 28:2)

• A father should be careful to keep his son from lies, and he should always keep his word to his children. (Sukkah 46b)

• If a small child is capable of shaking the lulav correctly, his parents should buy him his own lulav. (Sukkah 28a)

• Anger in a home is like rottenness in fruit. (Talmud Sotah 3)

Rabbah said that a parent should never show favoritism among his/ her children. (Talmud Shabbat 10b)

• A parent should not promise to give a child something and then not give it, because in that way the child learns to lie. (Sukkah 46b)

• The parent who teaches his son, it is as if he had taught his son, his son’s son, and so on to the end of generations. (Talmud Kiddushin 36)

• The parent who instructs by personal example rather than mere words, his/her audience will take his/her counsel to heart. The parent who does not practice what he/she so eloquently preaches, his/her advice is rejected. (Commentary to Ethics of Our Fathers)


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