Thursday, October 12, 2006

Sesame Place and Chareidim

On the first day of Chol HaMoed, I went with my family (and some extended family) to Sesame Place out in Pennsylvania. The place was rented out by an organization called the Yeshiva Fund (I have no idea who they are) and accomodations were made for Orthodox Jewish guests (kosher food, sukkos, no mixed swimming [although I actually managed to snap photos of boys and (fully dressed) girls in the same pool at the same time anyway]). The crowd was, in my estimation, overwhelmingly Chareidi. While some Jewish music did blare from the speakers on occassion, the majority of time the music played consisted of Sesame Street songs.

While there, I mentioned to a cousin of mine that I was sort of surprised that this event was so well attended by Chareidim, considering that the whole theme of the place was centered on a television show. His response was that the majority of the people didn't know that it was based on a television show. I countered that I was reasonably sure that just about everyone there knew what Sesame Street was.

My cousin pointed out that, as far as television shows go, Sesame Street is certainly one of the most harmless shows out there. And, he's correct on that point. However, that doesn't seem to be the way the Chareidi world looks at things. They prefer to take a "ban it all" approach. I remember when the Menahel of my son's school would speak to the parents, invariably he would bring up the subject of television (and he always based it on the same ma'amar Chazal). He would often add "and don't tell me that it's OK because it's an educational show, or it's a nature show, or whatever. It's all tamei." The same applies, of course, to communities that have chosen to ban internet usage.

I think that we can all agree that there are television shows, movies and internet sites that children should not see. And, I think that we can all agree that it is the responsibility of the parents to monitor what their young children see and watch. Granted, there are those parents who, out of laziness, ineptitude or simple lack of concern will abdicate that responsibility; but that's no reason to treat the rest of us who do take that responsibility seriously as if we're incapable of doing so. The approach of "it's all tamei" regardless of its content is akin to saying that we should ban knives from homes because some parents are careless about letting their children play with them.

Ultimately, no one knows my children better than I do (except for Eeees). No one knows better than we do what is appropriate for him to watch, what he can handle, and what his interests are. The Menahel, if he had his way, would have banned nature videos - but that's precisely the type of thing that my oldest son loves. He has a fascination about the animal kingdom that most children do not have. He reads and educates himself about the animal kingdom all the time. For his sixth birthday, we bought him a five-tape set called "Secrets of the Ocean Realm" which is an adult-level program about marine life -- and he loved it. I think that he's a richer, better rounded person for it. What should we have done? Told him that he can't have an interest in animals because he can't watch videos or read secular books on the subject? Tell him that the subject that he likes the most is verboten? Of course not -- chanoch l'na'ar al pi darko -- and allow him to use his appreciation of the animal kingdom to better appreciate HaShem's wonderous world. But that's an approach that works for him -- and a "ban it all" approach would rob him of that. In short, all such an approach does is make everyone into cookie-cutter versions of the same mold, with absolutely no diversity of thought or opinion. I know that may be the goal in some programs -- but it's utterly wrong.

The Wolf

11 comments:

SephardiLady said...

My son, until recently, thought that Seasame Street was a series of books since we own so many.

Still Wonderin' said...

"I think that he's a richer, better rounded person for it. What should we have done? Told him that he can't have an interest in animals because he can't watch videos or read secular books on the subject? Tell him that the subject that he likes the most is verboten?"

But, of course, that is exactly what the menahel would have expected you to do. People like the menahel of your son's school are not educators. They do not get education or understand what children need. Rather, they are standard bearers of unrealistic, over-idealized nonsense that parades as hashgafa, which in reality is a manifestation of the lack of religious leadership in this and the last generation of orthodox jewry.

Every single "crisis" the "gedolim" are struggling to solve are the predictable results of their own misguided "policies" that were foisted on a leaderless, rudderless orthodoxy in the last 25 years.

This includes the shidduch criss, the at-risk crisis, and the coming (mark my words) "parnassah crisis".

The people who are elevated and venerated as "gedolim" are for the most part naive fools and those who blindly enforce their short-sighted lead are compounding the problems.

Rare Find said...

I half agree. Yes, parents should monitor what their kids are watching. But I don't think the "ban it all" approach is out of laziness. By allowing some TV, it could lead to other, inappropriate TV shows. It's like allowing one excepetion, and soon the exception becomes common. I may not agree with the method, but I believe that this is the idea, and it does make sense.

The Answer said...

still wonderin:
You stated "The people who are elevated and venerated as "gedolim" are for the most part naive fools"
Do you really believe this? The gedolim are the subject matter experts when it comes to the intersection of human nature and the religious experience. This does not mean you can't disagree, but to call them "naive fools" and blame this list of crises entirely on them labels you as the fool here.

Prefer to be Anon said...

A post about how hareidi children disregard rules and regulations in public places is sorely needed.

Still Wonderin' said...

the answer, the reason i say this, is because many of the so-called gedolim have succumbed to the same hubris of so-called liberal thinkers or social revisionists, which is to assume that there IS something new under the sun and they have the answer to it.

So they prescribe idiotic, one-dimensional, short-sighted, band-aid solutions which typically cause more problems than the initial concern.

A menahel that has the compunction to insist that "yes, it's all tamei" about educational shows, when doing so includes every possible program, regardless of content and execution falls into the this category.

Ari Kinsberg said...

forgeting about tv, i just don't like it when people tell me how to raise my son in general. it is none of their business.

as far as the inquisition waged by yeshivot against tv, my favorite story is of the yeshivah that does not ask the child if he has a tv at home. after all, the yeshivah realizes that the kid has been coached by his parents to respond that they do not have one. so instead this yeshivah asks the kid what his favorite show is.

BrooklynWolf said...

Rare:
But I don't think the "ban it all" approach is out of laziness.

I think you misunderstood what I said. I wasn't accusing the banners of laziness. I was saying that some parents, out of laziness, abdicate the responsibility of controlling what their children watch and see.

As to your "slippery slope" argument, I suppose you could make the case - but then you'd have to ban every book - Jewish or not (will children be able to make the distiction that Jewish books are OK but Dr. Suess isn't?), every piece of music, etc.

The reality is that we teach our children by allowing them ever-increasing degrees of freedom. When they were younger, I didn't allow my kids to touch knives at all. When they got a bit older, I allowed them to touch and use "butter" knives, but not sharp knives. As they got even older, I allowed them to use sharp knives as well - and they understood the difference and the reasons why one knife was OK and one wasn't. Likewise, in my house, we have several DVDs. The kids know which ones they can watch and which ones they can't.

Ari:
The "solution" that parents have come up with (coaching thier children to lie) is even worse than the ban. At least no one argues that yeshivos have the right to set standards as they please. I won't send my kids to a yeshiva that requires me to affirm that I don't have a TV - because I do - and teaching my kids to lie in order to attend a yeshiva where they teach "m'dvar sheker tirchak" is so totally wrong that you lose more than you gain in terms of instilling the proper values to your children.

SW & The Answer:

Personally, I think that calling gedolim "naive fools" is a bit overboard. However, OTOH, I have to agree that some of the policies and positions taken heretofore have been misguided and just plain wrong. Like everyone else, gedolim have their strengths and weaknesses - all of them (obviously) are experts at Torah. But when it comes to interpersonal relationships, inspiration to leadership and setting public policy, there are those that are better at it than others.

The Wolf

The Answer said...

still wonderin:
You said:
"Every single "crisis" the "gedolim" are struggling to solve are the predictable results of their own misguided "policies" that were foisted on a leaderless, rudderless orthodoxy in the last 25 years."

The corrollary to this statement would be that those groups who don't follow gedolim would not have these issues. This is certainly not true. You find old-unmarrieds and children off the drech in every group and, I would argue, these problems are greater in some groups.

These problems are not a result of specific policies; rather a result of the evolution of Jewish culture and identity amidst the American culture.

PsychoToddler said...

I remember seeing a TV movie (heh) about a fanatical right-wing racist cult that thought Sesame Street was the worst of TV because it was insidiously planting ideas in the heads of children--that black kids and white kids could be friends, that differences are ok, that some families have no daddys (or two mommies), that everybody sleeps, etc.

I can see Chareidim having real issues with many of these.

Personally I look at the "it's all tamei" line as baal tosif. I think this Talibanization of Judaism will eventually backfire.

Still Wonderin' said...

"The corrollary to this statement would be that those groups who don't follow gedolim would not have these issues. This is certainly not true. You find old-unmarrieds and children off the drech in every group and, I would argue, these problems are greater in some groups."

(I know this is well beyond the shelf life of a post/comment cycle...but what the heck)

NOT SO FAST!!!!! You're making a false argument. That IS NOT the corrollary of those who do not follow the gedolim.

By definition of my religious observsnce and belief in the Torah, it would expected that such people (i.e. those who do not follow gedolim) would have these difficulties.

My contention is that TOO MANY OF our so-called "gedolim" are inadvertantly following the same irreligious insitincts AND being too arrogant and blinded by their own ambition and perceived greatness to realize how damaging their foolishness is.

If they would spend less time thinking of new dicutms in the quest to build the bionic Jew, we'd have much more stable, much less neurotic frumkeit in our communities today.