Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Myths are important. As part of a proper Jewish education, children should be taught myths as history. An early belief in myths as literal truth will frame human history for them in a way that will stay with them forever. They will be better people and better Jews for it.

At some point a person should achieve sufficient intellectual maturity to recognize myths as, well, myths. If a person has been properly socialized from an early enough age, the moral impact of these myths will not diminish. If a person's intellectual development is accorded the proper respect by those in positions of authority, this awakening need not be traumatic.

Unfortunately, things don't always work out that well. The idiots who never quite get it seem to be attracted to chinukh. And the half-wits who think they deserve a Nobel Prize for figuring it out seem to have a compulsion to ruin myths for everyone else.

Smooth transitions to more mature intellectual attitudes about cherished childhood beliefs are difficult enough as it is. But when the idiots and the half-wits egg each other into an arms race there's no hope at all.


Blogger ADDeRabbi said...

ppl tend to forget that the verse 'chanoch lenaar al pi darko' has a second half.

did you see my series of posts on pesach? very similar ideas.

an apocryphal story: r' dr. david berger sent his kids to a charedi elementary school. when a colleague asked him about that choice, he replied: i want my kids to know that yaakov was a good guy and esav was a bad guy before they learn the opposite.

12:34 PM  
Anonymous Moshe S said...

I have no idea what this is in response to as you don't give any context, but I was really surprised to read that first paragraph coming from you.

As a parent of young children, the oldest of whom has just started first grade, I have struggled for a while with the treatment given to midrashim, and the way they are taught on equal footing with Torah. Most children have no idea which of the stories they've learned are Torah and which are midrashim, which, shall we say, should not always be interpreted literally. Even for those who receive a good education, many reach adulthood continuing to remember those midrashim as "fact," part of the "story from the Torah."

I personally have trouble understanding many popular midrashim and struggle with the message they are trying to convey. I have spoken to several intelligent people about this, including educators, and have decided to not teach my children midrashim "as literal truth", but rather to explain what is Torah and what is... elaboration.

To see you seemingly advocating the opposite concerns me. Can you please elaborate on this point? I don't imagine you need me to give examples of what I consider questionable midrashim which are commonly taught to young children, or what topics I would have the teachers discuss instead.

Of course, I may be reading you wrong, and you're referring to the simple reading of Torah as myth (that whole archaeologically inconvenient flood story, for example), forget about adding midrashim in to the mix.

12:39 PM  
Anonymous zalman said...

Do you really think the issue is about maturity of intellectual attitudes about cherished childhood beliefs? Isn’t the greater issue, “if this story is a myth, then what about that story?” I don’t see the latter issue as riding on maturity of intellectual attitudes about cherished childhood beliefs.

2:43 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

ADD, Thanks. If I lived in the States I probably would've sent my kids to a chareidi school too for exactly that reason.

Moshe S, You read me wrong. vd"l.

Zalman, Live dangerously.

4:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"half-wits"? Come now Benny. I'm not sure that "figuring it out" generally takes less than a Full wit.

Each person's life and story is unique, but I'm pretty sure that my "figuring it out" in the face of a family, a community, a history and - to my mind - World that said fakert and Meant farkert (B'Emunah Sheleimah) took more than half a wit, not to mention courage and intellectual honesty.

I like your approach to how (assumably) you're raising your children and I salute you for it, but to margainalize the true believers as 'just a few kooks' and to mock the critical thinking individuals as evangelical half wits doesn't seem all that fair.

(andpardon the
myopic writing that comes from cell-typing)


1:05 AM  

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