4 Strategies to Reduce Whining

September 16th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting No Comment yet

My mother rarely baked. There was no need to do so as she was blessed with her own mother nearby who happily delivered mouth-watering birthday cakes, challahs and holiday specialties. We even had a great kosher bakery only a few blocks away from our house. Between Grandma and Mottel’s Bakery, our home was well stocked.

Baking was not an easy activity to do in my mother’s  kitchen. The necessary utensils were kept either high up or low down. Mom stored roasting pans in the oven. This meant they needed to be moved elsewhere before you could bake. Making cookies or a cake meant spending a fair bit of time and energy just pulling the necessary items together and clearing space. Did my mother not bake because it was so much trouble or did she organize her kitchen in this way because she didn’t plan to bake? I do not know.

I do know that we can make many of the things that drain our energy much easier by organizing things differently. Whining and nagging children are a prime example. If we are at the end of our rope because of our children’s incessant demands, the good news is that the problem most likely lies with us, not them. While this may be a bitter pill to swallow, it means that the solution is in our hands. Even if we are willing to live with unpleasant brats, we owe it to our children to help them become individuals who others will also want to be around.

Children nag because it works. Every single time we say no and then change our minds after hearing a request repeated a few times, we teach our children to bug us. Every single time our “no” is met with sulking or aggression or tears and we respond with an emotional outburst of our own, we send the message that our children can control us. Whenever we agree to a an appeal that was delivered in a whiny or impolite tone we provide positive reinforcement for that method of communication, regardless of whether we are happy to say yes to the particular request.

Here are four steps that worked in our home. Obviously, it is easier to set up a relationship this way from the start and it takes longer and much more patience to break established bad habits. As with any new skill, these steps may feel unnatural at first and require intense concentration. When we make a mistake, we need to try over and over again, just as we do when learning a new sport or how to play a musical instrument. Eventually, we begin to do things instinctively and that is when we reap the benefits.

The happiest families I know are those where the parents really enjoy spending time with their children. No one that I know looks forward to stomach flu or lice infestations or some of the other accompaniments of family life. But there is every reason to expect to take pleasure in the majority of our time with our children. We are in charge of making that happen.      

1) Don’t respond to your children instinctively or with your attention focused elsewhere. From a very young age children can learn not to interrupt a telephone call or conversation. From a slightly older age, we parents can learn not to answer the phone, or respond to other attention-diverting technology, or to try to have an intense adult conversation at times when we know that our focus should be on our children. We need to be present in more than a physical sense when interacting with our children. 

2) It is completely appropriate to remind a two-year-old to say please. It is completely absurd to remind a seven-year-old of these same words. If they are missing, or if your child’s tone of voice is unpleasant or rude explain (softly and matter-of-factly) that you aren’t able to listen to a request presented in such a way and your child can try again in five minutes. Then set a timer so you both know when the time is up. Depending on the age, there might be an “X strikes and you’re out” rule.

3) When everyone knows the rules, life is simpler. If sugary snacks or computer time or messy arts and crafts are limited to certain times and occasions, then no one will expect them to be available around the clock. Very few children in Vermont beg to go to the beach in February. If you never allow the glitter to come out within an hour of bedtime, no one will ask for it. 

4) Some of the whiniest children I know are the children of complaining, less-than-grateful adults. Monitor your interactions with your spouse, parents, siblings and children. Do you speak to each other respectfully and in a pleasant tone of voice? Are you rude to other people in your life? Do you model gratitude or entitlement as you go through your day? We can’t expect young children to behave better than we do.

We spend a great deal of time with our children. Let’s not let whining ruin those special hours.   

But Everyone Else Does

September 12th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance No Comment yet

A ‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ post by Rebecca Masinter

When school starts, fads tend to pick up.  Remember fidget spinners?  Deuteronomy 17:14 gives mothers a perspective on trends and fads that we may find helpful.  It says, “When you come to the land that Hashem, your God, is giving you, and you inhabit it and settle in it, and you will say, ‘I will place upon myself a king like all the nations around me…’” 

Sure enough, this is what happened.  When the prophet Samuel was nearing the end of his life, the Jewish people came to him and said,  “Make for us a king to judge us like all the other nations.”  (1Samuel 8:5) Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us that the concept to appoint a king is one of the 613 commandments of the Torah. (Deut. 17:15)  We were supposed to have a king once we were settled in Israel. 

But, the line, “just like all the nations that surround us,” was not part of the original idea. That is included in Deuteronomy as a prophecy, describing what will happen—and it was not a good thing.  We were supposed to ask for a king because it was the right thing for us, but not because  any other nations had monarchies.  Right request, wrong reason.

I don’t know if you have kids at all similar to mine, but pretty much as soon as I give something or permission to do something to one of them, someone else is bound to come to me and say, “Since you said so and so can do this, can I also do it?”  Probably, just as you do, I respond, “What your sibling does has no bearing on what you do.  Ask me again for what you want, but this time don’t tell me what someone else has, just focus on yourself.” 

This is the message we can learn from the way the Jewish people ended up asking for a king.  Monarchy may be the right choice, but not for the wrong reasons.  We were supposed to ask for a king because we were commanded to do so, not because the neighboring countries did.

This is an important message for us to give to our children. Life is not fair, and we are not given equivalent gifts in this world.  Our children will be in situations their whole lives long where they see other people having things and doing things which they won’t be able to, or shouldn’t, have or do.  If we can help them learn from a young age that we should each focus on what is right for us, regardless of what anyone else has or does, we are giving them a valuable tool for life.  Yes, everyone else in your class may have a fidget spinner, but even if you should have one, the fact that others have it is not the reason for you to get one.

Love Yourself – Forget the Neighbor

September 12th, 2019 Posted by Susan's Musings 30 comments

The impetus for this Musing came from two disturbing clips I heard on National Public Radio’s This American Life program.  Each on its own is minor, but I wonder if, together, they do represent a larger issue.

A little background. My preferred exercise class is a twenty minute drive from our house. This travel time is perfect for listening to podcasts and This American Life is in my rotation. Each week’s episode has a specific focus and listening for few minutes usually tells me if it will be a worthwhile investment of my time. The show gives me insight into the lives of Americans I might not otherwise meet and topics  I might not encounter.

Two of the shows I recently heard revealed a common problem. It didn’t have to do with the topic of either show, but each show included a throw-away statement that caused me to gasp. Both shows were repeats having first run a few years ago, but I doubt that the troublesome attitude has improved over the intervening years.

The problem was insufferable self-centeredness. Most troublesome was that the hosts interviewing each of the individuals involved didn’t seem in the least bit troubled. They seemed to accept their subjects’ words as perfectly reasonable and possibly even amusing.

Show #1: The idea here was to place reporters at a rest stop on the New York State Thruway and have them interview drivers utilizing the rest stop as well as employees of the various franchises. At the time of the taping, the franchises brought in foreign students to work. While they weren’t paid much, they were provided with housing and their visas allowed them time for a month of travel after working for the summer, making it an appealing deal for these young adults.

In the specific portion that troubled me, one of these employees was talking about wild parties taking place in the lodgings. He seemed completely unfazed by the neighbor’s complaints. His interviewer asked him if he was worried that the apartment complex where he and his peers were being housed might not accept temporary workers the next year. His casual response? Why should it worry him since he isn’t planning on coming back?

Show #2: The next extract that bothered me came from a show about Americans living in Paris. A very articulate and professional-sounding lawyer was interviewed who expressed shock at how people in Paris objected when she jumped to the front of the line at a movie theatre. Why did this shock her? Because, she explained, as a Black woman in America, she regularly intimidated white people in line when she jumped to the front and they hesitated to call out her bad behavior. She went on to say how she appreciated the lack of racism in Paris, sounding completely unaware that her behavior back in the States  relied on and exasperated dissension between the races. Having used her race to unfair advantage and specifically to cause fear among those of other races, she seemed blithely oblivious to the idea that she was among those causing others of her race to be viewed negatively. The interviewer chuckled at her story.

What do these two snippets have in common? Utter self-absorption. Not caring that your behavior is going to make things more difficult for other people. Not caring that rowdy late-night party behavior interferes with neighbors who depend on getting to sleep or that students just like you who hope to come to the United States on a similar arrangement will be less welcome. Not caring that people waiting in line will need to stand around longer if you jump the line and not caring that others who share your skin color might be viewed with suspicion and distaste because of your behavior. Other people are irrelevant; only you matter.  And in neither case did the interviewer express the slightest bit of discomfort with these stories.

I am quite sure that traveling students and African-American readers of this Musing might be squirming with discomfort. These stories do not represent them. They probably feel the way my husband and I felt reading the article about Americans of Jewish descent advocating abortion and  that led to our writing this week’s Ask the Rabbi column. Wouldn’t it be better to ignore this bad behavior by those with whom we are instinctively identified and hope that no one notices? That is one approach and it has a lot in common with the proverbial ostrich whose head is in the sand. I’m choosing to point it out because without awareness there can be no change.

Apathy to “the other” is not commendable but it is understandable. Refusing to recognize that our behavior affects those with whom our lives intersect is unfortunate, but it is human nature. Having it pointed out to you and simply not caring, or boasting about it, seems to be another level entirely.  In a world that has excised, “Love your neighbor as yourself” from the education of our youth, what can we do so that self-absorption doesn’t reach a new low?

What essential messages emerge from the Hebrew word for:



No Memory; No Future

September 11th, 2019 Posted by AAJC Happenings, On Our Mind 1 comment

Not even 20 years have passed since our country was viciously attacked on September 11.  I think it safe to say that 18 years after Pearl Harbor, the date of December 7 meant something on college campuses, in Hollywood and in all corners of the United States.  Wouldn’t it be reassuring to know that September 11th evokes unanimous sentiments of patriotism, support for our troops and feelings of gratitude for being an American throughout this great land?

Follow up: Someone shared the following NY Times tweet: “18 years have passed since airplanes took aim and brought down the World Trade Center. Today, families will once again gather and grieve at the site where more than 2,000 people died.”

Disgusting. Who is the bad guy? Airplanes. People died, they weren’t murdered. Families will grieve, so the rest of America should tune out.

Is what I read about abortion and Judaism correct?

September 10th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 23 comments


Please comment on a USA Today article claiming the Jewish faith teaches that abortion is permitted.  The article was published on July 27, 2019. 

Are they accurately quoting the teachings of the faith?


Carole P.

Dear Carole,

Thank you for bringing this shameful,  painful and misleading article to our attention. The short answer is, no, they are not accurately conveying the teachings of the Jewish faith as expressed in our Constitution, the Torah. You can either build your worldview  around your religion or build your religion around your existing worldview. The latter is what most people quoted in the article are doing. Either religion means something or it doesn’t. You can’t just call on it and define it as you like.

The sad fact which we have to set before you is that about 70% of all self-identified American Jews have values that are not shaped by God’s vision as revealed in the Bible.  As has happened many times in history, they don’t merely wish to scuttle the Bible-based values of Judaism, they wish to change Judaism.   Among the many Jewish values that they have eviscerated is the value of life.  You can take it as a given that the more an American of Jewish ancestry supports today’s radical abortion views, the less he has to do with the faith of Moses and Aaron. That faith, while it does emphasize mercy and compassion, is nonetheless based on laws. When God’s laws are abandoned and only emotions are left, after a long and winding road, what started as compassionate concern for a desperate pregnant woman can step-by-step slide into support for infanticide, though no one back at the time of Roe v. Wade in 1973 would have believed that possible.

There is certainly room for a theological and worldview discussion in Judaism as to whether abortion is a category of  murder or whether it falls under a different prohibition.  Regardless, the positions of the Torah and those of today’s Democrat Party could hardly be further apart.   In Judaism,  if a woman’s life is in danger due to the baby she is carrying,  a valid reason for inducing premature labor exists even if the baby is not viable. For this reason, Jews who live by the Torah  are sometimes cynically  manipulated  by pro-abortion groups depicting a woman being forced to die during pregnancy or childbirth rather than having her life prioritized. As you know, American law is nowhere close to this extreme and an extraordinarily small number of  pregnancies today present such a dilemma. 

The dreadful article you cite quotes  one view by an authoritative Orthodox rabbi of the past few decades trying  to “prove” the acceptability of abortion in Jewish law. This is misleading for a few reasons. Firstly, because there is no Pope in Judaism, which is to say that we have no hierarchy of ecclesiastical authority. Within the ranks of those trying to be true to God’s Torah, there will be different opinions and discussions in trying to reach the truth. Each Jew is meant to choose which Rabbinical authority he follows. You can’t go “shopping” for someone whose views you like on a specific issue. We can guarantee you that the people in the article who approve the views of this rabbi do not follow his ritual rulings in other areas.

Secondly, while this rabbi’s position might have been more liberal (for example, to include extreme psychological distress under the heading of ‘danger to life’) in counseling women who personally consulted him thus allowing early labor  to be induced more than other authorities might condone, we can assure you that he would be horrified at being used as the poster boy for Planned Parenthood. The mockery of life that the modern abortion movement celebrates has no basis whatsoever in Torah-true Judaism.

Abortion is not a recent phenomenon.  The drive to completely sever the connection between sex and  reproduction goes back to the earliest pages of the Bible and the times of Noah.  Since then abortion has always been associated with the struggle against God’s authority on earth.  Jews have been among the world’s most ardent defenders of that Divine authority but  those of Jewish descent have also been most active in the timeless battle to defeat the Divine.  Combating this misapplication of Judaism is why the American Alliance of Jews and Christians was established and why we support its work.

One does not “accept” Judaism at some moving moment in life. It is conferred by birth. So  Judaism is almost unique in that you can hear of what sounds like an oxymoron—an atheistic Jew.  You can  hate God; you can disparage  everything He asks of us and yet still consider yourself Jewish. Only a small percentage  of Jews in America fall into the category of those whose daily behavior revolves around following Jewish law. They are not featured in this article.

It is an embarrassment.

Thanks for bringing this to our attention even though it made us squirm with discomfort,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin


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They Give Me the Creeps

September 9th, 2019 Posted by Thought Tools 29 comments

Prawns, shrimp, lobster and crab; as a long-time underwater diving enthusiast, I’ve seen them all in their natural habitat and they give me the shudders.  Even while wearing rubber gloves I’ve never liked handling them.  From once living in Africa, I remember the huge Goliath beetle—not at all fondly.  I know children who keep large hairy tarantula spiders as pets and enjoy grossing out their parents’ guests.  Count me in that latter group.  If cicadas ever invade my neighborhood, I’d probably emigrate.  I don’t care for bugs.

Psychiatrists claim to be able to treat something they call entomophobia, the fear of bugs, but none actually understand it.  There are numerous theories; I know most of them.  Some of these attempted explanations are insightful while others are fanciful.  But whatever explains it, I am not the only person disturbed by creepy-crawlies. It’s actually most of us.

Perhaps some of the near universal revulsion of creepy-crawlies might stem from the Bible’s explicit denunciation of bugs as food.  Bear with me as I walk you through more verses on this topic than you might have expected.  And they are all from the same single chapter in Leviticus.

But anything in the seas or in the streams that has no fins and scales, all the crawling things of the water…are an abomination for you.
(Leviticus 11:10)

These shall be tameh for you…things that swarm and crawl on the earth…
(Leviticus 11:29)

All things that swarm and crawl upon the earth are an abomination; they shall not be eaten.
(Leviticus 11:41)

You shall not eat anything that swarms upon the earth or that crawls…or anything that has many legs; for they are an abomination.
(Leviticus 11:42)

For I the Lord who elevated you up from the land of Egypt to be your God: you shall be holy, for I am holy
(Leviticus 11:45)

I must draw your attention to two Hebrew words.  One is SheReTZ which best translates as both swarm and crawl and appears repeatedly in the above verses.  The second word is Ma’ALeH meaning elevated and appears uniquely in the final verse I quoted.

Almost always, God speaks of having ‘taken you out of the land of Egypt’ as in the opening of the Ten Commandments:  I am the Lord your God who took you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage. (Exodus 20:2)  Why only in Leviticus 11:45 do we find God saying elevated you from the Land of Egypt?

To understand that unusual usage we need to return to SHeReTZ, that word that connotes loathsome creepy-crawlies.  It is used only one time in connection with the Israelites. 

And the Israelites were fruitful and they swarmed and crawled; they multiplied and increased very greatly, so that the land was filled with them.
(Exodus 1:7)

The King James translation treats that word SHeReTZ somewhat poetically if inaccurately and redundantly:

And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them.

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that much of verse 7 in Exodus 1 speaks of quantity, describing how rapidly the Hebrew population increased. However, the word SHeReTZ in that verse is not about quantity but about quality.  It lets us know that while their numbers increased, they also drifted from the ways of their fathers and their behavior deteriorated.

Today, in ‘polite company’ it has been made unacceptable to blame the victim in any way.  Yet, in many circumstances it is easy to see that the victim is largely to blame for his predicament.  It is manifestly absurd to insist that the victim is NEVER complicit in his own misfortune.  Thus it was that, at least to some extent, the anti-Israelite policies imposed by the Egyptians in the verses following Exodus 1:7 were influenced by Israelite conduct. Hebrew misbehavior made the Egyptians shudder in revulsion just as so many do when confronted by creepy-crawly bugs.  That is why the word SHeReTZ is used in describing the demographic changes occurring to Israel in Egypt. 

This is why God, at the conclusion of his prohibition of all creepy-crawlies as food, refers to Himself as having elevated Israel out of Egypt rather than merely as having taken them out.  He compassionately focused on what they were doing right rather than judging them on what they were doing wrong. In order to take them out from Egypt, he elevated them above the “creepy” level to which they had sadly fallen.

So many messages in the Bible, like this one, only reveal themselves through the Hebrew. Isn’t it time for you to get familiar with some of Hebrew’s special powers and characteristics (they will floor you!) as well as learning to at least recognize the individual letters? Make this a family project with two of our best-selling resources, Buried Treasure: Life Lessons from the Lord’s Language and Aleph-Bet: A Fun, Rhyming, Bible-based Introduction to the Hebrew Alphabet. Both are on sale this week so you can jump right in.


Nothing New Under the Sun

September 9th, 2019 Posted by AAJC Happenings, On Our Mind No Comment yet

Thank you to our son, Ari, for reminding us of this quote by Alexander do Tocqueville (1805 -1859) in his magnificent book, Democracy in America.

“There is in fact a manly and legitimate passion for equality that spurs all men to wish to be strong and esteemed. This passion tends to elevate the lesser to the rank of the greater. But one also finds in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to want to bring the strong down to their level, and which reduces men to preferring equality in servitude to inequality in freedom.”


What about Socialization

September 5th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Susan's Musings 31 comments

Today’s Musing is actually a triple-header. It was inspired by an Ask the Rabbi question. In order not to make that answer too long, I intended to follow up with a Practical Parenting column. Finally, I decided to bundle all my (our) reflections  into one Susan’s Musing.

Here is Dave’s Ask the Rabbi question and our answer:

Greetings Rabbi and Susan,

I’m a long-time listener and grateful beneficiary of Ancient Jewish Wisdom, the Podcast, Thought Tools, Susan’s Musings and your books.

My question is in regards to the most recent podcast on “Dealing with Death.” In it, Rabbi, you mention that most mass-shooters are basically lonely men; unmarried, childless, disconnected, involuntarily celibate, etc. I completely agree. However, you mention that if these men were more connected to family, friends, sexual relationships, etc., the problem would be virtually resolved.

When I heard this, I couldn’t help but think about homeschooling. As a homeschooler (which as I understand your family did also), I often find myself defending our decision to homeschool against naysayers who argue that my children will not receive the necessary social skills they’ll need to function in society. Usually, it goes something like this: “You’re sheltering your children; they’ll never make any friends being cooped-up in your house all day.” Surely they’d receive all their “necessary social skills” in public school. I was the product of a GIC [Government Indoctrination Camp] (one of my favorite acronyms or yours, I must tell you) and will never be an apologist for them. In retrospect, it seems that being forced to go to a place with thousands of my peers every weekday provided harmful “over-socialization” if there is such a thing.

I remember from my school experience is that there wasn’t much learning going on. Instead it was an utter fashion show. I spent every day being hopelessly obsessed with girls, the latest loud music and my own popularity. Now twenty-five years removed from high school, I can’t think of even one life-affirming or life-enhancing connection that remains.

Still, it seems that homeschooling is antithetical to your point about mass-shooters needing more connections. Is this a legitimate disparity, or one of life’s many paradoxes? Furthermore, I’m sure you and Susan heard the same objection to homeschooling. How did you defend your decision?

Thank you again for all you and Susan do. It is more valuable to Christians like me than you might ever realize.

Dear Dave,

You are presenting us with quite a dilemma. The problem is not that we have trouble answering your excellent  question, but  that we struggle to answer it sufficiently briefly.   When we launch into the topic  of homeschooling, it is hard to get us (especially Susan) to keep it short.  [Let it be noted as I (RDL) often do, that one of the many, many great kindnesses that Mrs. Lapin has extended to me has been homeschooling our family.  I cannot overstate how much of my current familial satisfaction is due to those many years our family was all together in our own homemade school environment. Though I immodestly claim “we homeschooled” it is in the same spirit that I claim “Between us we changed about 30,000 diapers.”   True but hardly the whole truth.] For today, however, our solution is to partially answer your question here and then Susan will continue answering.

If your children are actually “cooped-up in your house all day,” we might  be concerned. Somehow, we doubt this is the case. We feel confident that like most of the millions of children being homeschooled, your children do field trips, outings, and perhaps co-op classes with dozens of other homeschooling families.  Additionally they probably attend family gatherings and enjoy playing with neighborhood and church friends, some of whom probably are sentenced to GICS .

A troubling book, Educated, by Tara Westover, describes her upbringing as the daughter of a severely dysfunctional and abusive father who hid many of his activities under the guise of homeschooling. While that book would seem to be an argument for forcing all children into school, to be fair one would also have to read, A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer. This harrowing book describes his experiences with a severely dysfunctional and abusive mother. He did go to school and for years teachers never followed up on the many overt clues suggesting that he needed help. 

Of course, one can also read stories that are sadly available about bullied students and abusive teachers. In other words, it may be a tragic reality, but it is a reality that sick and evil adults can cause great pain to children. Children can also cause a great deal of pain to other children. We do not order society on the basis of assuming that most adults are sick and evil or that any gathering of children will be a replay of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Following that train of thought is futile.

Back to your family. Most homeschoolers we know have a wide variety of activities outside the home and are also part of  the larger homeschooling and general community. They also have extremely strong relationships with their parents and siblings. As your memories from school remind us, being around others of exactly the same age as us does not necessarily help our social skills.

If a teenage boy, in particular, whether he is homeschooled or in a conventional school, has no friends, a poor relationship with his family, is broody and disconnected from all other people spending most of his time alone, we would worry. However, suggesting that homeschooling leads to that conclusion has nothing to do with how the world REALLY works.

In love with lifetime learning,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

Did I (Susan) have more to say on the topic? Of course! Here are a few more of my thoughts:

Tell people around you that you are even thinking of homeschooling and before long someone—or many—will exclaim, “But what about socialization?” Most veteran homeschoolers will burst out laughing at that question. Often, their children are busy with so many social activities that they struggle to find time for basics like math. Nevertheless, let’s take a deeper look at the question.

Why don’t we start by looking at the Bing online dictionary definition of the word. My search yielded the following:


[ˌsōSHələˈzāSH(ə)n, ˌsōSHəˌlīˈzāSH(ə)n]


  1. the activity of mixing socially with others.
    “socialization with students has helped her communication skills”

       2. the process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society.
      “preschool starts the process of socialization”

      3. organization of an industry or company according to the principles of socialism.
      “planned economic growth was accompanied by the socialization of agriculture”

One could argue that many professors at university schools of education hew most closely to  promoting definition #3. Many parents, seeing polls showing that after  years of indoctrination in school a shocking number of young adults think socialism is preferable to capitalism, could understandably decide  to homeschool precisely to counteract the effects of socialization.

Yet, most people (perhaps naively) are referring to definitions #1 and #2 when they question homeschooling. Let’s deal with those in reverse order.

I disagree entirely with the example for the definition that reads, “ the process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society.” First of all, in my homeschool we would capitalize the beginning of a sentence. More importantly, the sentiment is far more troubling than the grammar. Society has many  very unacceptable ideas today. The less exposure to them that children get, the better off they are.

Even if positive values are being imparted, preschool, which today generally starts between the ages of three and four, should not be the beginning of learning how to interact with others. That process must begin three to four years earlier. A newborn is completely self-centered. A three-year-old should not be. During that interval of time, little ones should learn many lessons as they recognize that they and their mothers are two separate people and that screaming and crying are not the only responses to discomfort. By three and four they should have been introduced to ideas ranging from standing to the side when waiting to enter an elevator out of consideration for those exiting, to sharing toys with and offering a drink to visitors. If none of these and myriad other ideas are not already familiar by the time a child enters preschool, that poor preschool teacher is facing an overwhelming task.

However, definition #1 is probably what most people have in mind when they question homeschooling. Their imaginations travel to a lone child sitting in isolation, looking longingly out as apple-cheeked and cheerful children prance happily down the block looking forward to a day of education and fun. Seriously, other than pictures of Dick and Jane in the appalling primary readers that helped pave the way to wide-spread illiteracy do either of those images seem realistic?

Most homeschoolers are involved in all sorts of activities ranging from karate to volunteering in old-age homes, from orchestra to geo-caching. There is a major difference however between these social interactions and those in school. The partners in these activities tend to span a greater age range than is found in the classroom. More like real life, you could say where your co-workers and friends are not all born within the same year as you. Rather than taking your social cues from other ten-year-olds, homeschoolers have the opportunity to model themselves after older peers and to be a model to younger ones.

Not every school is a den of bullying and not every homeschooling family reflects the finest character traits. But if socialization means learning to mix socially with others and to cooperate and function in group settings, then parents should feel confident that those skills can be learned both within the school setting and outside of it.


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Should schools be co-educational or single gender?

September 3rd, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 6 comments

Co-education mean girls and boys taught together in one school. This subject is relative and it depends on societies, but in general it is useful educationally. It creates more devotion to studying as boys will be more serious because girls in general like to be serious which inspires the boys. Also  it helps more cooperation and understanding among the girls and boys. Is this narrative correct?

Vinjay C.

Dear Vinjay,

We thought it appropriate to answer your question on a day when many schools are beginning their  new year. You posit two reasons why co-education is a good idea, though if we were making a list of pros and cons, each column would have many more items than just those  you mentioned. If either co-education or single-gender education produced only positive or only negative results, the decision would, of course, be easy. 

However, you aren’t asking us for our opinion but rather what the Biblical prescription for education is, so we must answer from that perspective. . The Biblical command is, “And you shall teach your children…” (Deuteronomy 11:19). Each parent is obligated to teach his and her own offspring and, as we see from Jacob’s blessings to his sons, to be aware of each individual’s particular talents, abilities, weaknesses and needs. Furthermore, Proverbs 22:6 famously advises “Teach each youngster in the way most suitable for him.”  This is enormously challenging because all parents have a tendency to favor their own styles and to employ these styles on every one of their children regardless. Turning down their own instincts in favor of generating just what their children most need from them is surely one of parents’ most exciting and demanding challenges. Parents are required to provide a religious education as well as whatever is needed for a full life, including workplace and home skills. 

At a certain point in history, schools did come into being.  Today, most schools in the Western world educate boys and girls together while others separate the genders.  As we all know, almost anything carried too far becomes toxic and the rampant concupiscence and premature sexualization that has become characteristic of American public education is obviously something no responsible parents would want for their children. At the other extreme, some parochial schools insulate boys and girls from one another to an undesirable degree. As with so many instances in life, the golden center is so much harder to maintain than the appealing and simple extremes.  

In general, Biblical direction tends towards separating boys and girls, men and women to a much greater extent than our society does today.  This applies to educational, religious and general social activities. From the time of, “male and female He created them,” until today, while each and every person is an individual, there are still tendencies that most males share and those that most females share, making different methods of teaching and learning more suitable to one or the other gender.

There are possible pitfalls in separating the sexes, including as you say losing out on positive influences from each other and failing to learn how to cooperate with the opposite sex. There is only one solution and that is to make sure that in your family, your home must be far more influential in shaping the moral attitudes of your children than their schools.  If education is outsourced, as it is for most people today, then the family must remain the mainstay for making sure to counterbalance those negatives.

One part of achieving this is for both the father and mother to play equal and complementary roles in the child’s upbringing.  Nothing that children see or hear at school about male/female relationships should influence them nearly as much as how they see their own father and mother interact.

Keep on learning,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Holiness with a Side of Cheerios?

September 3rd, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Your Mother's Guidance 2 comments

A ‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ post by Rebecca Masinter

Leviticus 19 opens with the words: “And God spoke to Moses saying.  Speak to the entire assembly of the children of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I, HaShem, your God, am holy.’”

Let’s not get into what exactly we are supposed to do to be holy.  Today, I’d like to contemplate that this commandment was given with all of us standing together; men, women, children.  Often, when we think of holy people, we imagine someone living alone on a mountaintop with hours to meditate and learn and grow.  Or maybe we’re  more realistic, but we still think of a holy person as a person who has hours of solitude to learn and pray while sitting in his or her quiet book-lined study.

The Alshich, a transmitter of ancient Jewish wisdom, writes that the Torah is not asking us to isolate or live alone and separate from each other so we can work on being holy and fully self-developed people. Rather, he says, that we specifically should  be amongst other human beings, in the assembly or congregation as the verses above teach.  In order to achieve holiness we have to be with each other.

I find this very relevant in my life as a mother.  Firstly, it is tempting to look back and perhaps think how much more holy I was before I had children.  I prayed much more, I never lost my patience, I learned Torah more, I was more active in charity organizations… But that is incorrect.  Becoming holy happens amongst other people and I am much more deeply entrenched with other people surrounded by my husband and children than I was alone. 

God wants me to be holy as I live closely together with my family. 

And yes, that means that I won’t have as much time to devote to prayer, to learning, to charity organizations.  And yes, it even means I won’t have as much time to devote to my personal growth and development, but that’s the point.  Holiness doesn’t really come from isolation.  Holiness is something I can develop and attain as I work on myself amongst my family and amongst the other people in my life.  Developing good character traits is much easier before you live with others!  But true good character traits come when we live with others and still work on becoming better, more sensitive, caring, and giving people.

By being mothers, having little time for ourselves, we may incorrectly think we’re not attaining holiness.  In reality, the opposite is true.  By working on self-development even as we’re distracted and tired, by giving, by stretching ourselves to greater heights of patience, self-control, and love, we’re attaining holiness the way we’re meant to, not in isolation but among the entire assembly of men, women and children.

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