Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Those mean Sodomites, who made uncomfortable beds for their guests!

This past week Junior was out sick from school, probably with the flu. But he did go in for a day or two. I asked him to relate something he had learned about the parsha, and he told me what his teachers had taught him about Sodom.
The people there were very mean. If someone came to them who was tall, they put him in a short bed, so that he was uncomfortable while sleeping, with his legs or head dangling off the bed. And if someone came to them for hospitality who was short, they put him in an enormous bed, such that he was lost in it, and uncomfortable.
I can understand why they would bowdlerize this midrash. Who is going to tell a bunch of kinder-gardeners about cruel amputations and stretching people on the rack? On the other hand, why even tell the midrash if you are going to have to corrupt it that much? I guess it is a way of easing the kids into an awareness of the midrashim.

I can understand such glossing over. For example, I know of a case, decades back, of a teacher who told her very young students about how Rachel died in childbirth. And two kids in that class had mothers who were pregnant, who were traumatized, worried that this would happen to their own mothers.

(On the other hand, I see how potentially one can explain about the advances in medical science, such that dying childbirth is much less common nowadays than it was back then, so there is nothing to worry about.)

When telling over the parsha to Junior, I did not gloss over much. Some of the mechanics of the Lot and his daughters story. But I did tell him over the story of Akeidas Yitzchak. He listened very attentively, and really enjoyed the suspense of the story, as well as the aspect that Yitzchak didn't know what was impending for him, while we (apparently) did. And at the end of the story, he jokingly pretended he was afraid, and said "Aaaah! I'm afraid of him!" Pointing at me. Heh.

Of course, we discussed the implications of the story, both during and afterwards, such that he knew that human sacrifice was out-of-bounds, and that of course he didn't have anything to fear, from his parents.

What do you think? To gloss, or not to gloss? Should there be a difference between the Biblical text and midrashim, in what we feel free to munge?


Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>Who is going to tell a bunch of kinder-gardeners about cruel amputations and stretching people on the rack?

My Morah? Probably yours, too.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

There was a recent column in the Jewish Press middle section about kosher sex ed, and one of their contentions was that ziyuf ha-torah must always be avoided. So while it may be appropriate to tell a child "there is a reason which I will tell you when you are older," it is wrong to fudge, change or make up a reason or something like it now.

They said over a story (yes, I know it must have happened) told to them by a Beis Yaakov principal. He said that when he was new he stepped in on a class around Yom Kippur time and overheard the Morah, who was older and more experienced than him, say the "5 prohibitions" but she left out tashmish and divided eating and drinking into two (my wife and I can both attest that as children this is how it was taught to us as well). He objected to her that it wasn't true, but she couldn't be moved, and he didn't have the gravitas or ability to change such a veteran teacher. Forward 20 or 30 years, and he heard the same lesson again. This time he was a little more mellow and understanding, and after the class he told the young morah, "Ah, I see you're trying to preserve the language of "5 prohibitions." And she had no idea what he was talking about. It turned out that she didn't realize there was a prohibition of tashmish at all.

Akiva said...

I've recently been having conversations with my 14 year old daughter, who's having some challenges with what she's learning because of childish interpretations that were fed to her but never updated.

Since most of these are midrash - and since when did midrash become LITERAL? - or as the previous comment example of avoiding more adult topics for younger children, she's having real hashkafa challenges as her perception of Torah is that it's...childish. And being a teen she wants to shy away from the childish.

This is a real problem.

Yosef Greenberg said...

"Yitzchak didn't know what was impending for him"

He didn't? I'm gearing up for a *big* fight. :)

"To gloss, or not to gloss?"

An issue I constantly grapple with. Divrei Chaim had a similar question recently.

Does smudging a story teach your kids to lie, when they find out the truth in the end. Or will they understand the reasoning behind it and not warp the idea. Even better, it will teach them to use lies *correctly*. For example in cases of darkei shalom.

A clear lesson on this subject might alleviate the issue. If the child is told beforehand that he will be taught certain things differently in order to protect him, this may not constitute a lie at all.

Chanonch lenaar al pi darko.

father said...

When I tried to tell my 5 yr old a story from the Torah, he insisted that he wanted a REAL i.e. true story. I told him that the stories from the Torah ARE real, but he wouldn't budge.
I guess we'll have to work on that.
But, part of the problem is that so many stories are told and there isn't much effort put in to differentiating between real/true/literal and pretend/allegorical.


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