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Library Shaming?

I have an emotional attachment to libraries.  When I was young, our family didn’t have a car. Before I was old enough to travel by myself, my mother regularly took me on the bus to the library. I was a voracious reader and there was an absurd limit on the number of books one could take out so this trip was a frequent occurrence. 

Libraries stayed in my affection and my routine from that time on. As a homeschooling mom, our family was well known at our local branch. This should help explain why, despite the many momentous events happening in the United States and around the world that will impact millions of lives in frightening ways, I don’t see my concern this week as trivial. Retaining the structure of civilization no matter what turbulent  maelstroms are swirling around our cultural foundations not only keeps us better able to cope with life’s vicissitudes but actually affects the bigger picture as well. 

Years ago, as part of a program that helped a beleaguered New York City become a desirable location again after years of decay, the police department began cracking down on “small” crimes. They started fining and arresting people for jumping the turnstile in the subway, for blocking intersections with their cars rather than stopping at the red light before entering the intersection and they paid attention to littering. Lo and behold, when they enforced the law on minor infractions, an atmosphere of law and order prevailed that helped reduce major criminal activity as well. As things go, that style of policing seems to be out of vogue and New York is dirtier and more crime-ridden again, but the point stands. Sometimes, focusing on the micro-issues keeps the macro-issues under control.

Hence my sadness at hearing that an increasing number of library systems are choosing to forego fining readers for returning books after their due date. Recently, Chicago joined the list of cities determined to end “library shaming.” Inevitably, articles on the subject trot out middle-aged women who have avoided libraries since their ten-year-old selves  couldn’t locate their copy of Anne of Green Gables or sitcoms where characters wallow in shame decades after losing their copy of The Yearling. 

A spokesman for the Urban Library Council said, “We’d rather have you come to the library and engage in our services,” rather than feeling guilty. I admit to being a guilt-inducer of the highest order when my children were younger. I’m not saying for sure, but I might have implied that if books weren’t returned on time and in good condition, pictures of the miscreants would appear in the post office right under those featuring the FBI’s most wanted list. I wasn’t trying to stop my children from reading library books and, indeed, we took out —and returned—thousands. Rather, I was trying to instill the following messages that I had been given. 

  1. Growing up is about accepting responsibility in exchange for being granted more privileges. I recall practicing writing my name in cursive neatly enough so that it would fit on the small library card I desired. Even at the age of six, being allowed to take out books under my own name rather than having them taken out by my mother, signaled that I was getting older and more mature. I needed to prove that with the dedicated hard work of perfecting my signature. (Cursive, of course, is no longer a part of many schools. You will not be surprised to hear that studies show that writing in cursive plays a role in brain development.)
  2. I am expected to be a responsible member of society. My nation/state/city/neighborhood/family have so much to offer me. In return, I, too, need to give to them. 
  3. I must treat others as I want to be treated. If I want access to thousands of well-kept books, I need to treat them properly and return them on time so that others can have similar access. 
  4. I must be accountable if I mess up.  Did I take a book to the park and leave it there? Did I spill a glass of milk on a book? Did I lose track of when my book was due? I need to face the librarian and pay my fine. Wouldn’t we be better off if today’s children practiced owning up to mistakes from an early age on minor issues?  

I’m sure there were more lessons I learned as I was given the key to the wondrous domain of the library. My children learned those lessons too. I truly see the change in libraries today as a tragedy. Libraries shouldn’t be about inculcating children into the latest political fad (such as today’s Drag Queen Story Hours) or providing children with a place to play computer games. They shouldn’t be about a child’s “right” to books without any expectations. They should be about how reading opens millions of doors and how honored and grateful we should be to join the ranks of those granted such a powerful key. 

P.S. I was amused to see how many of my previous Musings mention libraries. Here are two of them from years past: A Library Love Letter and Frigates, Coursers and Librarians.

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She’s offering me security. Is that enough?

I am in my late 30s and not doing so well financially (but that’s absolutely about to change having come in contact with your teachings).

I am currently with a lady who is 5 years older than myself and doing pretty well for herself. Should I for financial security settle down with her even though I am not totally confident when I am with her in  public, or leave her and take my chances?

Francis H.

Dear Francis,

While we take great pride in our books, CDs and DVDs and our many other resources and we are elated about the many thousands whom they have benefitted, we’re afraid that we have to question your assumption that they will help you. We are not sure you are ready for them.

We say this because your letter reveals a very unmasculine passivity. One can be in his late 30s and go bald without having done anything to have caused that to happen. You can be in your late 30s and be less agile than you were at 18 even if you eat healthily and exercise. You don’t get close to 40 “not doing so well financially” without having taken some wrong steps in the past and having failed to take some very necessary right ones. Our resources, we feel, are superb but they are not magical elixirs— in order to be effective, and they can be stunningly effective, they need commitment, hard work and willingness to significantly change. Are you ready for that? Think seriously; are you really ready for that?

If you are even thinking of marrying a woman in the hope of her providing you with financial security then we ask you to consider that perhaps there has been a little role reversal going on in this relationship?    We ask you to consider whether, at this point,  you have  the backbone for really hard work. Marriages between younger men and older women are, of course, not automatically doomed, but five years is quite a difference and we detect a desire on your part to be taken care of rather than to be her provider and protector. How can you expect her to respect you when you confess to a lack of confidence when you are with her?  What exactly are you offering her? What do you bring to the table?  That is both a legitimate and an important question.

While it flies in the face of today’s dreadfully defective cultural norms, we would like to remind you that a woman brings herself to a relationship.  And her grateful  man, in turn,  brings his performance, his power, and his productivity.  She gives herself to her man. He gives her the world. Every dating website survey confirms ancient Jewish wisdom that women seek ambitious doers. They are right to do so.  While the whiny boys of our culture decry women as ‘gold-diggers’ and worse, real men recognize that women galvanize their drive.  This is why other than in a few outlying cases, married men vastly outperform their single brethren. 

You ask whether we think you should leave her and take your chances.  Those words you used strongly suggest that you view her as your lifeline to security.  Not good.  We certainly don’t suggest leaving her and “taking your chances.” What we do  suggest is breaking off the relationship and allowing her to find a man with something to offer her.  We suggest that you throw yourself into rebuilding yourself from the ground up physically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually. The very good news is that you wrote to us, indicating that you are well aware  that something in your life is off.  Reaching out for help is a wonderful first step You know that you are at a turning point and that you really  can have many productive and successful years ahead of you. We  suggest you avoid thinking of involving a woman in your life until you see concrete proof that you are on your way to being a new man. You can do this—go ahead and seize the opportunity.

Give it your all,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Save Civilization – Find a Father

Deaths by drug overdose, particularly from the class of heroin-containing drugs known as opioids are generally high. But there is one demographic that constitutes only 32% of America’s population but accounts for over 70% of opioid deaths—single men.  They do stand out, but there is another group that stands out even more conspicuously for deaths by crime, overdose, suicide and disease.  Their statistics are even worse than for single men in general.  This group is  men who are not fathers.  They are the most dangerous and the most vulnerable group in the United States. 

Not only are they vulnerable but by far and away, men who are not fathers and who never had fathers themselves, perpetrate most violent crime.  Mass shooters are overwhelmingly single men but there are exceptions. For instance, Stephen Paddock, the 2017 Las Vegas shooter, had been married twice and had a girlfriend. However, he had never been a father.  If instead of identifying them as single men, we identify  men who are not fathers, that pretty much covers all the mass shooters in recent American history.

For purposes of these statistics, father doesn’t mean any man who has impregnated a woman. It refers only to men who play an active role in the lives of their children.  And men who fail to do so are harming both society and themselves.  Nothing comes even close to restraining risky and self-destructive behavior in men than feeling responsibility for a child.  Unsurprisingly, the insurance industry knows that while some men buy life insurance when they marry, most do after the birth of their first child. 

In the late 1950s Japan implemented its birth-control program called the New Life Movement. By the 1960s it was in full swing and together with their enactment of the Eugenic Protection Act (legalization of abortion) in ten short years they had halved Japan’s fertility rate.  For a number of reasons aggravating the trend men stopped marrying, a pattern that continues in Japan to the present day. One unintended consequence is Japan’s contemporary plague of “kodokushi” meaning “lonely death.”  This refers to people  dying alone and being discovered in some cases, only weeks later. According to Tokyo’s Meiji University, almost all kodokushi cases involve men who never had children.

Men who become fathers, real fathers, are doing both themselves and society a favor.  Obviously no man becomes a father without the cooperation of a woman.   Not only is her compliance required for the biological process, but usually unless she promotes the role of the man in her child’s life, he will have none. 

Sadly, however, a woman becoming a mother is not necessarily doing herself and her neighborhood a favor.  It all depends upon the presence of a father.  Without the active involvement of the father, her chances of living in poverty and becoming dependent upon her fellow citizens through the welfare system are very high. Without the child’s father being involved in the day to day nurturing of a boy, her son stands a very high chance of criminal involvement.  Without the child’s father being involved in the day to day nurturing of a girl, she too faces challenges. These are, to quote someone-or-other, very inconvenient truths.  In summary, a shortage of fathers brings tragic outcomes.

So, I am not surprised that  although there are 1,534 verses in the Book of Genesis,  it takes  only 55 verses to reach the first mention of ‘father’ and ‘mother.’

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and cling to his wife…
(Genesis 2:24)

In other words, only about 3%  of the way into Genesis, we encounter the concept of establishing families.  We see emphasis  on mothers and fathers again in the Fifth Commandment:

Honor your father and your mother…
(Exodus 20:12)

And in other places like this:

Every man must revere his mother and his father…
(Leviticus 19:3) 

That seems about right for something as fundamental as family is to the human experience.  Now if secularists are right and Scripture is nothing but a compendium of ancient ramblings by a bunch of bored Bedouins, there is nothing more to say.  Life is too short to waste time analyzing something so trite. However, if this is God’s message to mankind, subtle patterns are important.  Which is to say that I am curious about why Genesis contains more than 90 mentions  of the word father but only 19  mentions of the word mother. After all, surely they go together?   To have one you need the other.

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that God’s message to mankind wastes no ink telling us things we already know.  A close relationship between a child and its mother is completely natural. Just visit YouTube to see baby giraffes or baby zebras being born and bonding with their mothers.  Fathers? Nowhere to be seen.  When we acquired our beautiful llama, Llucky, he was reluctant to leave his mother. He clearly knew or cared nothing about his father.  Sadly, as God’s message to mankind becomes less and less relevant in public policy and in social life, our human communities increasingly resemble nature. Children are born, bond with their mothers and know nothing of their fathers. (As society disintegrates further, we do even worse than nature, producing women who harm their own children.)

To teach us of this disastrous state of affairs, ideally before we fall off the cliff as Japan seems to have done, Genesis emphasizes the role of fathers five times more often than it speaks of mothers.  Yes, we get the role of mothers. Even nature in the wild gets the role of mothers.  But for a civilized human society you need fathers.  That needs to be emphasized. 

Far more than a father gives life to a child, a child grants life to its father.

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Recycle Your Recycling Ideas

One of the most influential lower-court judges in American history was Judge Learned Hand who served during the first half of the twentieth century. . If you know Hebrew, his name is an especially intriguing one. As my husband and I explain in our book, Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language, the Hebrew word for child, Y-L-D, is composed of the Hebrew word for hand, Y-D, with the letter whose sound is ‘L’ and whose meaning is ‘learned’ in the middle. In other words, when all goes well and you are blessed, your children become extensions of you, extra hands that learned your teachings and can carry them forward. Alas, Judge Hand’s name did not come from his parents deep understanding of the Hebrew language but rather because Learned was his mother’s maiden name. Nonetheless, his name always makes me smile.

The above should give you some idea of the pride with which I read a letter one of our daughters and her husband wrote after hearing that two mothers of girls in their daughter’s class had spoken to the class about the importance of environmentalism and recycling. I have redacted identifying information and added some explanatory words in brackets, but I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

Dear [names of mothers],

Thank you for your dedication to [name of school].  As you were introducing recycling projects through the school last year, I had some thoughts that I did not get down on paper till now and I was hoping you wouldn’t mind if I shared with you some of my thoughts on recycling.

I know that nowadays in the secular world, recycling is seen as the ultimate good project for the future of the world, and I do think recycling is fine as long as it is taught from an authentic Torah outlook.  I don’t know how it was introduced to the students, as my daughter wasn’t in class when the projects were introduced, but these are my thoughts on the matter.

My hope is that recycling can be taught within the framework of the following 3 ideas.

Recycling should not be taught as if it is a mitzvah. It is not. It may be good for the planet but I don’t think it can be considered a mitzvah unless Hashem [God] gave us the commandment as one of our 613 mitzvos. [a mitvah—plural, mitzvos or mitzvot—is often translated as a good deed, but that is incorrect. It is a deed that God commands, whether or not we, with our limited human understanding, think it is good or not.]  Non Torah-observant Jews call it a “mitzvah” as part of “Tikun Olam” [a favorite phrase of secular Jews that means improving or correcting the world. However, that phrase is taken from a prayer where it is actually followed by the words, “with the Kingdom of God.” In other words our obligation is not to fix the world based on our own ideas, but only on His.] which is simply a cloaking of their ideals in religious garb without any basis in the Torah.  To borrow the language of those who have abandoned our tradition is damaging to our tradition. 

In the secular world, sometimes subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, people who don’t recycle are considered “evil” or “bad.”  I would hope that our children do not receive this message in any way, and are corrected if they put together a statement on their own, even if it is as simple as “It is good to recycle, therefore if someone does not recycle, they are bad.”  Or “Recycling saves the Earth, therefore if someone does not recycle, they are destroying the Earth.”

In the last century, there has been much emphasis placed on coercing people to do things based on fear.  Of course, this has spread to recycling as well.  Children’s books, television programs, etc, are full of the message that if one doesn’t recycle, the Earth will fill up with garbage and we won’t have anywhere nice to live or the Earth will fill up with garbage and the animals will die.  Sometimes the message is given in the reverse as in, “Recycle to save our planet,” which in fact teaches that the Earth is in danger and is meant to inspire fear among those who care about the Earth and their own lives.  I would hope that any recycling program introduced to [name of school] students does not have any element of fear.

Recycling is fine for those who are inclined to do so, but I honestly believe that the secular world has gone too far with the idea that if more people recycled, the world would be different. I think that sometimes it is hard to focus on what the Torah and authentic Judaism teach about the matter when the world is screaming differently.

In closing, I value our friendship and would love to discuss these ideas further if you would like.

[Signed by our own “Learned Hand” daughter]

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THOUGHT TOOLS

  • Save Civilization – Find a Father October 15, 2019 by Rabbi Daniel Lapin - Deaths by drug overdose, particularly from the class of heroin-containing drugs known as opioids are generally high. But there is one demographic that constitutes only 32% of America’s population but accounts for over 70% of opioid deaths—single men.  They do stand out, but there is another group that stands out even more conspicuously for deaths… Read More

ASK THE RABBI

  • She’s offering me security. Is that enough? October 16, 2019 by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin - I am in my late 30s and not doing so well financially (but that's absolutely about to change having come in contact with your teachings). I am currently with a lady who is 5 years older than myself and doing pretty well for herself. Should I for financial security settle down with her even though… Read More

SUSAN’S MUSINGS

  • Library Shaming? October 16, 2019 by Susan Lapin - I have an emotional attachment to libraries.  When I was young, our family didn’t have a car. Before I was old enough to travel by myself, my mother regularly took me on the bus to the library. I was a voracious reader and there was an absurd limit on the number of books one could… Read More

ON OUR MIND

  • The Missing Words September 23, 2019 by Susan Lapin - I have not seen an advance copy of a new book about adolescence. The title, Wildhood: The Epic Journey from Adolescence to Adulthood in Humans and Other Animals,” is off-putting only because I consider humans to be an entirely different creation, not simply another breed of animal. Nevertheless, judging by an article I read that… Read More

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About Rabbi Daniel Lapin

Rabbi Daniel Lapin, known world-wide as America’s Rabbi, is a noted rabbinic scholar, popular international speaker and best-selling author. He hosts the Rabbi Daniel Lapin podcast as well as co-hosting the Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV Show on the TCT network with his wife, Susan. He is one of America’s most eloquent speakers and his ability to extract life principles from the Bible and transmit them in an entertaining manner, thus improving peoples’ finances, family and community life  has brought countless numbers of Jews and Christians closer to their respective faiths.

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