Wednesday, July 09, 2008

An Open Letter To George's Camp Rebbi

Dear Rabbi Ploni,

My son George came home from camp very upset today. Specifically, he was upset about something that he heard during your shiur. He reports that you told your shiur that anyone who marries a non-Jew will burn in Gehenim forever.

I would ask that in the future you please be a little more thoughtful about making broad sweeping statement of this type in the shiur. Unfortunately, in our family, we have family members who are intermarried. These are relatives that George (and the rest of our family) love and care for, despite the choice of spouse. I can certainly appreciate the necessity of educating our youth that intermarriage is wrong and is one of the greatest wrongs that a Jew can do today. Nonetheless, telling a child (and yes, even a pre-teen) that someone that they care about is bound to hell forever is highly traumatic and unnecessary. You can easily make the point that it is wrong without having to “scare them straight;” after all, we’re talking about pre-teens here – they’re not going to be marrying *anyone* for quite a few years.

I understand that this was not done out of malice on your part. You probably could not fathom the idea that a frum family would have relatives who are intermarried. Sad to say, however, this is the case and we must deal with it as we can. I ask that in the future you please consider the fact that not all families are in ideal circumstances and that there are children who, because of the nature of their families, can and will be hurt by broad generalizations of eternal condemnation of people whom they know and love.

If you wish to discuss this matter further, I will be happy to make myself available to you in the evenings. I can be reached by phone at [[phone number edited out]] or via email at me@non-Wolfishaddress.com.

Yours truly,

[[Non Wolfish Name]]




26 comments:

Larry Lennhoff said...

You know, it is funny, but when I was George's age, my [non-Orthodox] teachers were telling me "Jews don't believe in Hell." When I was older, this was clarified that Gehinom was a place of temporary (up to 12 months) torment, but the idea that Hashem would condemn anyone to eternal torment was considered completely out of bounds.

Are you objecting to George being told the truth at too young an age, or are you objecting that he is being taught one opinion among many as the sole truth?

BrooklynWolf said...

To be honest, neither.

I purposely did not address the issue of whether the statement was true or not, because, to me, that wasn't the issue at all. The issue was the rebbe being completely insensitive to the fact that his statements might be hurtful or traumatic to others because he can't imagine that there might be people who have intermarried Jews in their lives.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

My son started having nightmares his first week in a yeshiva from similar narishkeit that was being sprouted by the rosh yeshiva who would interrupt English classes to tell his stories. When I checked with my father as I was unfamiliar with some of the things that were said, my father told me he had learned the same stuff in yeshiva in his shtetl in Poland and it was nonsense. My son thanks me to this day (30 years later) for pulling him out and putting him in a secular school where he could get an education and not ridiculous superstition.

Anonymous said...

Ok, so let's skip the fact that Judaism/Torah doesn't have a belief in eternal punishment for any sin. I grew up and live in the Xian world and can say without hesitation that such blather is more Xian than Jewish. We neither believe in eternal punishment nor do we know how Hashem will punish ANYONE. Those who claim to know the thoughts and cheshbonos of Hashem, let alone how he is going to reward or punish people do not belong in any educational institution. I had my fill of it in yeshivos. I was a BT and if I had any doubts as to whether Torah was true, these kind of "rabbis" who spout such Christian denunciations would've driven me away. I wonder how many children in this "rabbi's" class are going to be frum adults, or are going to take scars from the fear he felt in class into his relationship with Hashem and their own children.

-suitepotato- said...

If it wasn't for intermarriage, I might never have decided to convert and remained alienated from any organized religious following. Christians don't tend to worry about intermarriage and proceed confidently as if conversion away was not a possibility.

Judaism needs to do that same thing. A lack of confidence is bad enough, but basing halacha and chumrot on it is just enshrining it as an ideal. Who cares what happened in history. This is about moving forward.

That's all I got to say.

Lion of Zion said...

WOLF:

"because he can't imagine that there might be people who have intermarried Jews in their lives."

what makes you think he is not fully cognizant that this exists. to the contrary, why else would he have even made the statement if he did not know it is a problem

(and what did he respond?)

ANON:

"My son thanks me to this day (30 years later) for pulling him out and putting him in a secular school where he could get an education and not ridiculous superstition"

there is a middle ground too.

ANON2:

"let's skip the fact that Judaism/Torah doesn't have a belief in eternal punishment for any sin."

depending on which classical source you prefer, this can be patently false.

SP:

"if it wasn't for intermarriage, I might never have decided to convert and remained alienated from any organized religious following.

i'm glad everything worked out for you, but i'm sure you realize that this is not how it ends up in most cases of intermarriage. i.e., this is in no way a justification for intermarriage.

"Christians don't tend to worry . . ."

they don't have to worry. they are the dominant religion.

It's a big world said...

"Christians don't tend to worry about intermarriage and proceed confidently as if conversion away was not a possibility."

That's true in places where Christians represent a majority. However, in places where they are a (often reviled or persecuted) minority, intermarriage and assimilation are a grave concern to them.

BrooklynWolf said...

WOLF:

"because he can't imagine that there might be people who have intermarried Jews in their lives."

what makes you think he is not fully cognizant that this exists. to the contrary, why else would he have even made the statement if he did not know it is a problem


So, you think he intentionally meant to tell kids that some of their loved ones are going to burn in hell forever? Is that an effective chinuch technique?

(and what did he respond?)

Nothing yet... but to fair, he hasn't had a chance to respond yet.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

"So, you think he intentionally meant to tell kids that some of their loved ones are going to burn in hell forever? Is that an effective chinuch technique?"

Yes and yes. Wolf, sometimes you're very naive. Being good is orthogonal to being effective. A community that demonizes intermarriage in the worst ways, shuns and says kaddish for their own intermarried kids and never speaks to them again may be ugly and cruel, but you bet your behind it'll have a lower intermarriage rate than one that doesn't.

BrooklynWolf said...

Anon,

By your logic, we should show six year olds graphic photos of what happens to kids who don't look both ways before crossing the street. You'll certainly have fewer kids getting hit by cars.

Of course, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Just as you don't need to traumatize kids with graphic photos of hit-and-run victims to make the point of looking before crossing, so too you can make the point about intermarriage without telling kids that their loved ones will suffer for eternity.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

You're making a critical mistake. The difference between being hit by a car and intermarriage is that the former has its punishment built in: injury. Intermarriage has no inherent damage to the person doing it; a person can be very happy marrying a non-Jew. That's why they have to create consequences like shunning and hell. If intermarriage made your penis fall off, they wouldn't have to tell kids they'll burn in hell for all eternity.

BrooklynWolf said...

Fair enough... substitute getting hit with a car with smoking. Smoking has no immediate punishment built in.

Should we show nine or ten year olds pictures of blackened lungs and people lying in their death throes of lung cancer to make the point?

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

"substitute getting hit with a car with smoking. Smoking has no immediate punishment built in."

Notice your tricky insertion of "immediate." It doesn't address the point that intermarriage has no inherent self-damage, requiring the artificial creation of some, while car accidents and smoking do.

BrooklynWolf said...

The addition of the word "immediate" was intentional -- but with good reasons.

Kids tend to think that events that are far off in the future are not going to happen to them. They don't think when they start smoking that it may kill them... they tend to think that they'll somehow escape it or that it doesn't exist. (You see the same thing with young people and saving for retirement.) For them at that stage, the future event will never occur... it's pretty much the same as having no punishment at all.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

"Pretty much the same" is not the same. If intermarriage made your penis slowly fall off, they wouldn't have to tell kids they'll burn in hell for all eternity.

My point stands: intermarriage has no inherent damage to the person doing it; a person can be very happy marrying a non-Jew. That's why they have to create consequences like shunning and hell. And since they're artificially created, they need lots of motive force to sustain them, like staying in the air vs being on the ground.

BrooklynWolf said...

I contend that for kids, it is the same. We may just have to disagree on that point.

In any event, there is also the notion of the proper tool for the proper audience. It's one thing to tell an adult that someone they know is going to burn for eternity, but it's altogether more traumatic (and needlessly so) for a kid.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

"In any event, there is also the notion of the proper tool for the proper audience. It's one thing to tell an adult that someone they know is going to burn for eternity, but it's altogether more traumatic (and needlessly so) for a kid."

Again, you're confusing good and effective; good is orthogonal to effective. When they're an adult it's no longer effective. To effectively put someone off of something that's not inherently damaging (and may in fact make them happy) you need to traumatize them about it as a child. The proper tool for the proper audience indeed: but proper in this scenario (at least to the people in question) means effective, not good.

Anonymous said...

(It's really a question of values: they value lower intermarriage rates more than non-traumatized children, so to them effective is good.)

BrooklynWolf said...

Again, you're confusing good and effective; good is orthogonal to effective.

I understand the difference... but you have to take good into account. You can't only take effectiveness into account when deciding policy. Otherwise, there are even more effective ways to make sure that kids don't intermarry... shooting them before marriage is particularly effective. So is giving them absolutely no choice in their marriage partner. So is arrainging their kiddushin when they are three. And yet, we realize that just because these may be *effective* ways to reduce intermarriage, that doesn't mean that they are practical solutions.

I will maintain that traumatizing children needlessly is not practical and causes far more harm than good.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

"shooting them before marriage is particularly effective."

That's what's done in some Muslim countries. If chareidim had their own country they would do it too.

"So is giving them absolutely no choice in their marriage partner."

That's the strategy taken by some chassidim.

"So is arrainging their kiddushin when they are three."

See above.

"And yet, we realize that just because these may be *effective* ways to reduce intermarriage, that doesn't mean that they are practical solutions."

If the only thing stopping them from being done is that they're not practical, they will be done when they're practical. And what's not practical to you is practical to many others (e.g. murder).

"I will maintain that traumatizing children needlessly is not practical and causes far more harm than good."

Like I said, "harm" and "good" are values, and their values differ from yours.

triLcat said...

I would think it's much more right to tell them that their kids won't be jewish, will go off the derech, that they won't be able to have the kedusha of a shabbos table, that they may have to deal with hidden anti-semitism in their own family, that their kids will go to grandma's house and eat bacon and pork...

There are plenty of things that would have horrified me as a child but wouldn't make me have nightmares of my relatives burning in eternal damnation.

Paint them an honest picture of their non-Jewish wife coming home with a pepperoni pizza, and any child whose yiddishe neshama is strong will be so taken aback that there's no reason to take it any further.

mlevin said...

Trilcat - I totally agree with you. Anonymous wants us to think that intermarrying has no negative side affects to the person. I beg to differ. I know plenty of intermarried people who claimed to be athiests and didn't care about Jewish mambo-jumbo. But as time goes on and they are contemplating their death and burial suddenly they want only a Jewish cemetary... Suddendly, they are saddened when their grandchildren and great-grandchildren proudly anounce that they are not Jewish...

triLcat said...

A friend of a friend married a nice non-Jewish girl. Neither was religious at all, and everything seemed fine until they had their first argument and she called him a "dirty jew."

I know another couple where they were "nothing" until the husband (non-Jewish) brought home a christmas tree...and the wife had a fit.

the real focus should be on what it does to your family and to your own sense of yiddishkeit.

To act as though we know what Hashem does to people who intermarry is at the very least incredibly arrogant.

I'm all for not lying to kids, but you don't have to show them mangled bodies to explain that car accidents are dangerous.

Can You Say Hot Hot Hot? said...

I don't understand. So you love and care for these people and therefore God's assessment has to follow your feelings? Love 'em while they're alive, 'cuz you ain't never gonna see them again. Stoke the coals!

Zev said...

Traumatizing a child may be an effective way to make sure the child does not marry a non-jew.

Of course, this point is largely irrelevant, since children don't usually get married.

Adults on the other hand, especially those without a strong enough religious conviction to marry within the faith, do not respond strongly to threats of eternal damnation.

I have multiple non-orthodox friends who have made a conscious decision not to intermarry. These people are not motivated by fear of hell, as their lifestyles can easily attest to. (For example, one is a lesbian who is committed to only marrying a Jewish girl). Rather, they believe strongly in the importance of Jewish continuity, a belief that is not formed by repeated threats of hellfire, but by caring Jewish educational professionals, parents, and communities.

If we want our children to maintain a Jewish identity and to marry Jews, we must teach them the importance of being Jewish, and to appreciate the great damage that intermarriage does. Ultimately, this, not threats, will ensure that our children marry Jews.

Zev said...

Traumatizing a child may be an effective way to make sure the child does not marry a non-jew.

Of course, this point is largely irrelevant, since children don't usually get married.

Adults on the other hand, especially those without a strong enough religious conviction to marry within the faith, do not respond strongly to threats of eternal damnation.

I have multiple non-orthodox friends who have made a conscious decision not to intermarry. These people are not motivated by fear of hell, as their lifestyles can easily attest to. (For example, one is a lesbian who is committed to only marrying a Jewish girl). Rather, they believe strongly in the importance of Jewish continuity, a belief that is not formed by repeated threats of hellfire, but by caring Jewish educational professionals, parents, and communities.

If we want our children to maintain a Jewish identity and to marry Jews, we must teach them the importance of being Jewish, and to appreciate the great damage that intermarriage does. Ultimately, this, not threats, will ensure that our children marry Jews.