Jewish Education FAQs

How important is Jewish education?

Jewish education raises Jewish children who know who and what they are, so that when they become adults, they are proud, knowledgeable Jews who then raise their own children to know who and what they are… It’s a cycle that repeats itself every generation. Jewish education is the secret of Jewish survival. How do I get/give my kids a Jewish education?

Save time and invest wisely

Since you probably work and don’t have time to teach your kids yourself, send them to a private school that’ll do the work for you. These places are commonly known as “Jewish Day Schools” or “Hebrew Academies.” Of course they teach secular subjects too, meet rigorous government standards, and routinely trounce public education in statistic after statistic, so it’s worth the cost. (Sorry, Uncle Sam.) As a matter of fact, it’s an investment in your child’s future—she’ll grow up insulated from the jungle of urban life: drugs, prurience, violence, and will blossom into an adult with something everyone wants—values. Give him or her the right education—a Jewish one.

Jewish education is not a spectator sport, go to the source

Many Chabad centers have (or can recommend) a Jewish day school or what is called a “Hebrew school” for youth who for whatever reason cannot make it to a full time Jewish day school. Hebrew schools meet twice or once a week on Sundays and after school hours. Contact your nearest Chabad center for more information.

Get involved

Jewish education is not a spectator sport. Whether it’s something you or your child brings home, make it real. Discuss it. Debate it. Don’t leave it on the shelves of your mind to gather dust. Ask a question, and get an answer… which leads to more questions and answers, a process of growth and discovery for the whole family. Like someone once said, “the home is a classroom,” and Jewish education is designed for just that—it penetrates your lifestyle. Once you get into it, you’ll wonder how you ever did without it.

 

How much preparation should a child have prior to his Bar Mitzvah?

13 years.

Bar Mitzvah is the age and day when a boy becomes mature enough to be obligated to follow G-d’s commandments and live a G-dly lifestyle.

Until Bar Mitzvah a boy is not only a child, but also strictly human in the expectations of his behavior. At Bar Mitzvah a boy becomes mature and must also live by a lifestyle that is Divine.

This transformation cannot happen overnight. As a matter of fact, living in a physical world as a human being but at the same time living a spiritual life as an ambassador of the Divine, takes a lot of training and preparations. There is much to learn about the ways of G-d as described in His Torah, and much practice is required to get it right.

There is much to learn about the ways of G-d as described in His Torah, and much practice is required to get it right

Just imagine: if one needs six months to a year just to prepare for a Bar Mitzvah CEREMONY – an event that lasts a few hours – how much more time do they need to prepare for the actual Bar Mitzvah itself: living a life of Mitzvahs!

Thus from the moment a child begins to receive an education, he should receive a Jewish education, a Mitzvah education.

Needless to say, all of the above applies to a girl and her Bat Mitzvah.

 

How do I explain death and afterlife to my ten year old son?

Death can be explained as being similar to a promotion or new placement.

Many times a working person is moved by his employer to a new office, or even a new city, to take on a new job position.

Life in this world is one type of job for our employer—G-d. The job of the soul within a physical body is to together make this world a better place.

While the soul is no longer in “our office”—the world as we know it, it is still very much alive and employed by the same boss—G-d.

But there is other life outside of this type of job with which we are familiar. Upon death, the soul goes on to experience another type of life G-d has in store for it. So while the soul is no longer in “our office”—the world as we know it, it is still very much alive and employed by the same boss—G-d.

 

A Childish Understanding of the Torah

Rabbi Meir said: When the Jews stood before Sinai to receive the Torah, G-d said to them: “I swear, I will not give you the Torah unless you provide worthy guarantors who will assure that you will observe its laws.”

The Jews responded, “Master of the world, our forefathers will be our guarantors!”

“Your guarantors themselves require guarantors!” was G-d’s reply.

“Master of the world,” the Jews exclaimed, “our prophets will guarantee our observance of the Torah.”

“I have grievances against them, too. ‘The shepherds have rebelled against Me’ (Jeremiah2:8),” G-d replied. “Bring proper guarantors and only then will I give you the Torah.”

As a last resort, the Jews declared, “our children will serve as our guarantors!”

“They truly are worthy guarantors,” G-d replied. “Because of them I will give the Torah.”

(Midrash Rabbah, Song of Songs 1:4)

The white-bearded sages and the erudite rabbis weren’t sufficient to satisfy G-d’s “need” for a guarantor. Why? Who can better guarantee the transmission of the Law than the intellectuals, philosophers, and theologians who have devoted their lives to developing it and teaching its wisdom to myriads of disciples throughout the ages? Why did G-d prefer the Torah study of the child whose mind is constantly distracted, moving on to far more important subjects, such as which game to play during recess, the caliber of the snack which his mother packed in his lunch bag or his plans for summer vacation?

Yet, there is a unique quality exclusive to a child’s method of learning, a quality which is appealing to G-d and is the most effective guarantee for the future of the Torah.

One cannot study without questioning. “Why?” “What is the basis for your statement?” and “Why can’t it be done differently?” are rudimentary and indispensable phrases for any serious student. However, the child and adult harbor very different intentions when voicing these questions: The adult is doubting the very premise of the idea/law/principle which is being taught, and if the answer is not to his liking, he might altogether reject the teaching. Conversely, the child has an acute curiosity, but he doesn’t doubt that which he is taught; he is aware that his wisdom and knowledge is limited and therefore accepts what his parent or teacher says. He asks questions because he wants to understand more, not because he is skeptical of the information he has heard.

We are command to study Torah, and this involves closely examining every word of both the Written and Oral Law. G-d doesn’t want us to blindly accept His teachings, he wants us to use our intellectual skills to analyze, probe, and question. However, we must never lose sight of the fact that our minds are inherently limited, whereas G-d’s wisdom is infinite. We are obligated to question, but at the same time to unquestioningly accept each word of Torah to be the absolute truth. Only this method of study ensures the eternal survival of the Torah, guaranteeing that its teachings won’t be forsaken because of doubts which inevitably will arise (after all, that is the nature of intellect—it can always be questioned and doubted).

By the way, for those of you who are reading this and are thinking, “How can an adult be expected to blindly accept a religious doctrine?” — That is precisely why G-d didn’t accept you to be the guarantor for His Torah…

The children aren’t the only guarantors of the Torah. The adult who dedicates himself to the Torah in a childish manner, he too can take credit for ensuring the continuity of the Torah.

 

The Haggadah, the Ultimate Educator’s Handbook

In the Haggadah we read about the Four Sons, their questions, and the proper responses for each one. A superficial reading of these passages doesn’t reveal too much, but a little digging divulges tremendous insight into the Torah’s view on education. Indeed, a better educator’s handbook couldn’t have been written…

The wise one, what does he say? “What are the testimonies, the statutes and the laws which G-d, our Lord, has commanded you?” You, in turn, shall instruct him [all] the laws of Peach [up to] ‘one is not to eat any dessert after the Paschal lamb’.

This child, the one with so many detailed questions, is all too often not recognized as the wise one. Frequently he or she is referred to as “the nudge” or “the pest.” At the Seder table, while the adults are trying to have a nice conversation about “important” matters, this “disrespectful” child keeps on interrupting with questions. Very annoying questions. Especially when you don’t know all the answers…

The Haggadah tells us that this child isn’t disrespectful or a nudge. He is wise. Remember that your child is your greatest and most important responsibility, and nothing will turn-off a child more than a parent or teacher who doesn’t treat their questions with proper respect.

Answer your child. Answer every detail—if you don’t know the answer ask your Rabbi. Otherwise you might, G-d forbid end up with…

The wicked one, what does he say? “What is this service to you?!” He says ‘to you’, but not to him! By thus excluding himself from the community he has denied that which is fundamental. You, therefore, must blunt his teeth and say to him: “‘It is because of this that G-d did for me when I left Egypt (Exodus 13:8)’; ‘for me’ — but not for him! If he had been there, he would not have been redeemed!”

This child asks a seemingly innocent question. Only careful examination of the language of the question reveals the problem.

When we are asked a question, our natural instinct is to answer the question. The Haggadah tells us that sometimes it is more important to address the questioner than to answer the particular question; but this can only be done if the parent/teacher is really listening to the question, even paying attention to the wording of the question. Obviously the question must be answered too, as we learned from the section that deals with the wise son, but that is of secondary importance.

We inform the “wicked” son that if he would’ve been there, in Egypt, he would not have been redeemed. But now is different. Since the Torah was given at Mount Sinai every Jew has a G-dly soul and, like it or not, will be redeemed with all his brethren when Moshiach comes. This hopefully “blunts his teeth,” allowing him to realize that it is useless to try to bite and attack, because this, the Seder table, is his very special destiny.

The simpleton, what does he say? “What is this?” Thus you shall say to him: “God took us out of Egypt, from the house of slaves, with a strong hand.”

This child is asking a quite simple question. Many times a child will ask such a question because he isn’t looking for a detailed technical response. Instead, this child is sitting at the Seder table and wondering: “Why is everyone so excited? Why does everyone gather, year after year, to celebrate an event which occurred many thousands of years ago? What is this?”

Such a question—which isn’t so simple after all—deserves a response in kind. Don’t bog down the child with the laws of grating the Maror and the secret of charoset, that’s not what he’s looking for.

Tell him that it’s fine to be excited and enthused about Judaism because we have a great G-d with a mighty hand who again and again delivers us from the hands of our enemies. This is the miraculous story of a people who have had as many enemies as there were civilizations, and G-d’s strong hand remains steady.

In other words, the parent/educator cannot suffice with transmitting information. It is necessary to imbue our children with a love for G-d and a passion for serving Him.

As for the one who does not know (how) to ask, you must initiate him, as it is said: “You shall tell your child on that day, ‘It is because of this that God did for me when I left Egypt’.”

This child is not one who is “too obtuse to ask”, Nor is he “unwilling to ask.” He simply does not know that he is supposed to ask. He is used to processing all the information that his parents and teachers constantly throw in his direction; but he is not used to using his own mind, to scrutinize, analyze and question. This is actually a quite common phenomenon—even amongst very intelligent children.

The Haggadah tells us that if a child does not know to ask you must realize that (at least partially) the blame lies with you; for you have not initiated the child into the art of thinking.

The solution is to compel him to think. Tell him that “You shall tell your child on that day, ‘It is because of this that God did for me when I left Egypt’.” Such a blank statement, which on the surface makes no sense, is certain to elicit a barrage of questions from any child: “Daddy, on which day are you supposed to tell this to your child?” “Mommy, because of what did G-d do for you?” Rabbi, what did G-d do for you?”

The ultimate educator is one who internalizes the message of the Four Sons:

1. Answers all questions; never trivializing the importance of a child’s curiosity.

2. Not only answers the question, but also addresses the—unspoken—issues bothering the questioner.

3. Permeates the children with a zeal for G-d and Torah.

4. Coaches them to think on their own.

Related Articles:

• Jewish Education
• Jewish Education: How To
• Jewish Education FAQs

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