To discuss issues relevant to the large and growing world of young Frum families and singles who are fully engaged in the Olam HaTorah and Olam HaZeh. You take your career, learning, family (or dating) and play seriously (not necessarily in that order.) You are nervous about the anti-intellectual trends that you see in your community while being proud of being part of the Torah renaissance in our generation.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Teaching Children Midrashim as fact

My Shabbos table has now (b'h) been transformed as my 5 1/2 year old daughter wants to talk about the Parsha on Friday nights as she is learning a lot about it in school. This puts me in a bit of a bind. Since they are not studying Chumash yet, what they are taught is a tapestry woven up between the actual stories of the chumash and the midrashim - most often those quoted by Rashi - but not exclusively. It is all woven together with no distinction.

Am I the only one who has problems with this method?

I don't take most of the Midrashim literaly but rather figuratively. Did Eisav really try to bite Yaakov's neck when he hugged him but Hashem turned it into stone? Seems to fly against the peshuta shel mikra which indicate that Yakov's approach of submission seemed successfull in turning Eisav's heart. Are Chazal telling us that deep down Eisav still hates Yakov (Halacha Eisav Sonei as Yakov) and only Hashem's intervention can save us? This is conveyed by Eisav biting Yakov but being saved miraculously - percisely at the time of raproachment?

So when my daughter tells me over the literal version of this and asks "isn't that right, Tati?" I want to reassure her 'yes', but I just can't do it. I can't say "yes, that's what happend" when I don't believe it. But she is too young to understand the nuance of Peshat vs Drush so I can't explain that to her yet. So I wish that they would just tell the story as the Torah tells it and save the Midrashim for later so I would not have to be put into this uncomfortable situation of having to chose between truth as I believe and trying to keep my kid on the same page as her teachers.


  • At 12/20/2005 2:29 PM, Blogger CM said…

    Rashi's interpretation has been the "gold Standard" of understanding Chumash for centuries. Whenever you teach anything to little kids it must be explained on a simple level and as the child grows up he/she learns that chumash can be interpreted differently.

    The Pashut Pshat is very dry and concise. Try explaining this weeks parsha to little kid according to strict Pashut Pshat. Joseph spread rumors and his Brothers wanted to kill, they threw him into a pit and then had lunch...

  • At 12/21/2005 12:13 AM, Blogger J said…

    Whenever you teach anything to little kids it must be explained on a simple level

    I am not sure why these midrashim qualify as 'simple level'. They do make the story more 'outer worldly' then the 'pashut peshat' does but thats not the same as 'simple.'

    Your point is valid regarding the difficulty in teaching the stories in Bereishis to kids - but teaching them Rashi does not solve the problem that you raise.

    But you don't deal with my real issue. Possibly because (and I don't want to put words in your mouth) you don't have a problem with understanding these midrashim literaly (while also understanding them on a deeper level as well..) so you don't feel funny in confirming them to your kids as facts. But since i don't accept them necesarily as 'what actually literaly happened', i have great difficulty in acknowledging them to my kids as such.

  • At 12/21/2005 1:14 AM, Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said…

    You might want to try telling your daughter alternative midrashic interpretations and introduce her to the concept of "and some say..." so that she gets used to the idea that the Torah doesn't actually say X, Y or Z (or whatever her teachers embelish the text with) but that there are numerous ways of looking at it.

  • At 12/21/2005 1:14 PM, Blogger J said…

    Thanks for the advice. I did start trying to convey that there are various opinions on issues in Judaism. But I have a hunch that kids need a bit more black and white. Otherwise they get confused. Maybe I am wrong about this.
    This is also harder to convey when you are going through a narrative. But I will give it a try. I am just nervous that she will stop trusting her teacher when the teacher says that 'x' happened, and I tell her, "well some say 'x' happened and some say 'y' happened.

  • At 2/22/2006 1:01 PM, Blogger happywithhislot said…

    I came across the same thing.
    Wether it be dinosaurs or the sun revolves around the earth.
    I explained to my kids, that just like we say 70 faces of torah, there is no one pshat.
    Some say there were no dinosaurs, some say they died in mabul, other say they died out earlier.
    In the case of the sun, i simply said that is a lubabitch shittah, that noone else today holds of.


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