Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Punishing Children for the Parent's Misdeeds

Vos Iz Neias is reporting that the children of one of the attendees of the Iranian holocaust conference have been kicked out of their school in Vienna and their father has been told that they will not be welcome in any schools in Austria.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that this is only based on one side of the story and that not all of the facts are in. However, if the plain facts of the story as presented are true (i.e. that his children were asked to leave because of his attendance), then the school is making a grave mistake.

I think we can all understand the need to ostracize someone who participates in an event such as the Iranian holocaust conference. I am in full favor of asking him to leave his shul, not giving him any kibbudim in the community, etc. I think that any and all non-violent measures should be taken against the people who participated in that event.

However, the punishment has to start and end with him alone. Punishing his children for acts that they had no control over is completely wrong. And yes, I'll agree that having his children in school is a convenience to him; but, nonetheless, the fact remains that the expulsion punishes the children for something that is completely not their fault.

The same principle can be applied to many of the yeshivos here in America. Many yeshivos today would threaten to kick children out (or refuse admission) for things that are not their fault. One such case happened with me personally -- my parents are divorced and my father is not frum. When looking for a yeshiva for me in Brooklyn after the divorce, my ba'alas t'shuva mother found that one yeshiva would only admit me on condition that I wasn't allowed any contact with my father. In another case that I am aware of, a family was threatened with expulsion from a yeshiva because they had a dog. They were told that "either the hunt goes, or you go." Considering that I went to the same yeshiva at the same time, I should consider myself lucky... we had two dogs!

But the fact of the matter is that punishing children with expulsion because of their parents' level of observance, because of household factors over which the children have no control (and, furthermore won't "corrupt" other children -- how is having a dog a danger to classmates?) is wrong - for several reasons:

Firstly, it's wrong because punishing someone for something that have no control over is simply wrong.

Secondly, it can potentially turn a child off to Judaism. Seriously, would you want to belong to a society where you will be ostracized by something your relatives may do tomorrow and over which you have no control? Do you want your children thrown out of yeshiva because your brother decides to marry a non-Jew? Or because your sister doesn't cover her hair? Of course not - every person wants to be judged on his or her own merits - not the deeds of others.

Thirdly, we see that even in the Torah there are cases where a punishment is set aside because it would affect his children. A classic example is an eid zommeim (a specific type of false witness) who gives testimony that so-and-so the Kohen's mother is a divorcee and that he is therefore not a Kohen. If he is proven to be an eid zommeim, he should be subject to the same penalty that he tried to subject the person to - i.e. that he (and his children) should be considered non-Kohanim (assuming that they were Kohanim to begin with). However, the Gemara points out that the Torah says to punish *him* and not his children - and so the punishment to him is altered to one that punishes only him and not his children.

So, to sum up, I have no problem with punishing someone who went to this conference; but the punishment has to start and end with him - not his children.

The Wolf


Jacob Da Jew said...

Your post reminds me of a huge problem in the Yeshivish world with regards to the children of divorced parents. These individuals have major problems with shidduchim because there is a stigma associated with children of divorced parents.

Frankly, its repulsive and disgusting. I had recommended a shidduch to my friend's mother. When she heard that that the girl's parents were divorced, she declined. The reason: She wants someone with an"intact household". So they did not go out.

Incidently, he is still not married and his mother still asks me if I know someone for him.

It's so sad because perhaps people will not find their true love because of such petty concerns.

Perhaps you should write a post on the matter.



Nice Jewish Guy said...

Funny- I was just the other day contemplating the whole 'getting-thrown-out-of-Yeshiva' phenomenon. I was "temporarily" expelled, and suspended numerous times, from my Yeshiva HS for stupid things like coming a few minutes late , goofing around (what kid doesn't?), and playing videogames in a store during recess. But I was thinking about my brother, who I strongly doubt is observant anymore. He was kicked out of a Chassidishe yeshiva (that I was enrolled in as well) on the FIRST DAY for coming back late from lunch. He was never all that acedemically inclined anyway, though he is quite intelligent, and subsequently went to one of "those" Yeshivas for the "problem kids".

I wondered: what kind of message does it send to a kid when he is so summarily kicked out of a Yeshiva, and for such a minor infraction? Or for being different or having a family situation that is beyond his or her control? You know what message it sends? "You're expendable". So the kid winds up feeling thrown away, discarded. And then he thinks: well, they don't want me, so why should I want to be a part of that world?

And we wonder why we have "at-risk" kids today.

Pesky Settler said...

A woman wrote on a forum that her 8 year old son was told by his yeshiva that he is forbidden to talk about his parents' divorce, his father's remarriage and his new half-sister.

The child has a need to share.. while all the other kids are talking about new siblings, he wants to join in and the yeshiva is telling him it's assur.

Nice Jewish Guy said...

And we wonder why people leave Frum Judaism.

Anonymous said...

Since the time of Yehoshua ben Gamla, the community has been responsible for educating Jewish kids. Surely the question of what to do with relatives of straying Jews has been around at least as long as the forced conversions of the Middle Ages. Although I don't know of any sh"ut on the subject, I am sure they must exist. I do not understand why this is an area where each school (never mind each blog) feels free to go with their gut reaction.