October 1, 2006

WHAT THEY'RE READING IN THE NEW JERUSALEM:

So the Torah Is a Parenting Guide? (EMILY BAZELON, 10/01/06, NY Times Magazine)

In the third century, the rabbis who put together the Talmud instructed fathers to teach their sons to swim. It’s safe to say that most American Jews aren’t familiar with this directive, whether or not they take their kids to the lake or the pool. But one morning this past summer, a group of mostly non-Jewish parents puzzled over its meaning in a classroom at the Carolina Day School, a nonsectarian private school in Asheville, N.C.

These mothers and fathers were accidental students of Judaism. They had come together because they often felt flattened by achieving the modern ideal of successful children. They were seeking relief in a weeklong course based on the book “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children,” by a Los Angeles clinical psychologist named Wendy Mogel.

Genevieve Fortuna, a 58-year-old former preschool teacher who has been teaching classes on raising children for 30 years, wrote the Talmudic quote about swimming in blue marker on the classroom’s white board. The half-dozen or so parents, dressed in summer-casual shorts and sandals, looked up at her from their seats around two child’s-height tables. Fortuna opened her copy of Mogel’s book. “Jewish wisdom holds that our children don’t belong to us,” she read. “They are both a loan and a gift from God, and the gift has strings attached. Our job is to raise our children to leave us. The children’s job is to find their own path in life. If they stay carefully protected in the nest of the family, children will become weak and fearful or feel too comfortable to want to leave.”

“This is the most difficult part for me,” said Marie-Louise Murphy, a mother of three. “My husband is really protective of our girls. Even more so now that they’re older, because it’s such a critical period for them.” Her 14-year-old daughter is eager to baby-sit, Murphy explained, but her husband “is having the hardest time with it.”

Increasingly, not being involved in every aspect of a child’s life and letting children take risks that used to be a matter of course feels like an act of negligence to many parents. To resist the forces of judgment, internal and external, the parents in Asheville were in search of what every countercultural movement needs — a manifesto. Wendy Mogel’s book may seem an unlikely one, with its reliance not only on the Bible but also on the Talmud and other intricate rabbinic texts. Published in 2001 with a print run of 5,000 and little publicity, it went largely unreviewed, and bookstores often shelved it with their bar-mitzvah fare. Yet five years later, “Blessing” has sold about 120,000 copies at a pace of more than 20,000 a year. It’s the kind of book that has influence beyond its sales figures. Principals press it into the hands of mothers, who read it and then buy it in bulk to give away as baby presents. If you have children of a certain age, chances are that someone you know will own a copy or have lent one away.

Strikingly, Mogel’s book is being used as a text for classes and discussion groups that take place not in Jewish settings but in churches or schools like Carolina Day.


You don't need to be a prophet to know that America will be the last Jewish place on Earth.


Posted by Orrin Judd at October 1, 2006 10:24 AM
Comments

Isn't "Jewish Mother" a code word for overprotective parents who won't let their poor kids be kids, the forerunner of all the OSHA dictates and the rest of the nanny state rules and regs like helmets mandatory for trikes and big wheels.

Posted by: erp at October 1, 2006 1:25 PM

erp:

Exactly. Jewish mothers don't parent by the Bible or Talmud.

Posted by: oj at October 1, 2006 1:42 PM
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