Tuesday, February 7, 2017


For many of us veterans of the frum school system, "funny" or "bizarre" stories of misinformed educators abound. Like when they misquoted sources or outright invented halacha to validate personal chumras. 

When I returned home at night, there was often casual deprogramming following these incidents. "Ma, Ma! My morah said that—" "Ta, Ta! My morah said that—" Between the two of them I managed to emerge 12th grade pitying, as opposed to resenting, my teachers. Bless them, but to grant themselves security for their wobbly nerves they drew lines where none were needed. 

Mesorah was the go-to at home. Mesorah is everything. Hey, if we got it, why not stick with it? There is a comforting security when you do what your grandfather did, knowing he did what his grandfather did. 
Jacob blessing the children of Joseph, Rembrandt
There is always room for improvements in halacha, of course. Yet showing the kinfauna how it's done by us is first and foremost. Then we can turn to the newly available old texts. (According to the Maharam M'Rutenburg, we "have to" bring in the newspaper on Shabbos. Really.) 

Wajahat Ali mentioned us folk in his article about raising Muslim kids today.  
One potential route in producing “superior Muslims” is to follow the model of Orthodox Jewish Americans and invest tremendous resources and time to create enclosed schools or home schooling co-ops for our communities.
The "superior Muslims" comment was from his friend: 
Hina Khan-Mukhtar, a mother of three in the Bay Area, said the only way is for us to transform into “Super-Muslims,” minus the cape. “In America, you can’t be a mediocre Muslim,” she said. “You have to be the best of the best, and you have to show your kids that you have a ‘superior product’ that you are offering them. There are so many ‘-isms’ calling for their attention and for their loyalty — individualism, atheism, materialism, extremism. Islam needs to trump them all.”
That means parents really have to bring their a-game. While we do send our kids to private schools, but I made it out sane and informed only because of my parents.
Unfortunately for my children, I excel in mediocrity. This Ramadan, I opened my fasts at home with a date and some takeout food. I usually prayed Maghrib, the evening prayer, by myself in the family room. My wife, a full-time doctor, supermom and pregnant with our second child at the time, did her best to join me, but her schedule left her exhausted.
Ali explains how the available options for Muslim community life don't quite fulfill him and his wife. Yet they want their children to be as attached to Islam as they are.
We’re trying to retain so much of the good we inherited from our parents, throw away the rotten parts and improvise along the way. .  . The sources we don’t trust: shady, unqualified imams and right-wing religious material published overseas.
Instead, we’re turning to our peers and our collective best judgment as well as centuries-old traditions.
At home, my wife and I now deliberately pray in front of the kids. I prostrate toward Mecca and recite the Arabic verses out loud.
Ali adores the Islam he was raised with (his mesorah), yet knows it won't survive with misinformation (morahs with an agenda). When kids find out that something isn't true about one thing, they start questioning the whole enterprise. Luckily my folks were always on call to clarify and explain.    
Elisheva Shira, elishira.com
The Sh'ma says so, flat out: "You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up." Parents gots to be constantly talking about it. 
Two weeks ago, during my night prayers, my son came up next to me, bowed and turned his head and smiled. There is no compulsion in religion, nor should there be. It’s up to him and Nusayba to embrace or reject the faith and our traditions. My job is only to plant the seeds with care.


Daniel Saunders said...

It works fine if you come from a frum family...

I went to a Modern Orthodox school where most of the teachers were Charedi and most of the students were traditional at best. Don't have many horror stories, but I recall one teacher trying to convince us that the pasuk that says that Yaakov loved Rachel actually proves that love is not necessary in marriage (or possibly for an engagement, I can't remember).

Princess Lea said...

I just re-read about this in "Stumbling Upon Happiness": presentism. It's when people project their contemporary values upon those who lived eons ago.

Back then, yes, love was not a variable in a marriage. 1) What did "love" mean, then? Men and women did not socialize and get to know each other. 2) The very nature of marriage itself was very different. Man did his work; woman did hers; they barely saw each other.

I would think for his example it would be Yitzchak and Rivka, because there is says he loved her after marriage, whereas Yaakov "loved" Rochel at the get-go.

Daniel Saunders said...

I completely agree about presentism, and that love was more like lust and a desire for financial security than the type of meeting of souls we expect today, especially if we're frum, although I'd query whether people "barely saw each other" (depends on their jobs, if he was a shepherd like the avot, he might be in the fields alone for weeks on end, but if he was a craftsman, he might be working at home all day).

Agreed also that Yitzchak and Rivka would be a good example. But my teacher didn't pick it! Which was why I got annoyed. The pasuk explicitly states that Yaakov loved Rachel and as a result seven years seemed like a few days. That was why my teacher said he wasn't in love with her, because if he was, seven years would seem an eternity. This makes sense, but contradicts the pasuk which says he was in love! I heard a different explanation from Rav Steinsaltz, who says Yaakov's love was so pure and disinterested that he didn't need anything from Rachel, not even to see her. Just knowing she existed was enough for him. So the days passed quickly, because he was happy knowing she was alive, even though he couldn't see her.

Princess Lea said...

I've heard that concept before (I quoted a modern author's spinoff of "Pride & Prejudice") and I think Rav Steinsaltz (who rocks on a multitude of levels) is spot-on.