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Monday, March 17, 2008

Gambling Literature For Your Yeshiva Student

Recently I highlighted a Letter to the Editor in the Yated labelled the "Gambling Crisis." I'm not sure how much of a problem gambling is in the frum community, but I am sure it is a growing issue (possibly fueled by desperation, lack of a vision for an achievable plan) that has negatively impacted the lives and the finances of many a family in klal yisrael. I also know that gambling comes in many different forms including "investing" which may include putting a lot of (sometimes borrowed money) on risky stocks, businesses, or real estate. It may also take the form of "tzedakah" potentially masking problems that could be more easily diagnosed if the "donor" was going to Atlantic City or Vegas and diverting money away from basic necessities. And, of course, we have gambling with a hashgacha such as the Chareidi Lotto in Israel which I reported on not too long ago.

The proclivity towards gambling can be included in any discussion about the draw to other vices and temptations that will never be eradicated completely. What I have an issue with is mainstreaming gambling, and especially mainstreaming it at a young age.

I'm sure it is obvious that I like to read articles and editorials in frum publications. Recently, while at a friend's home, I picked up a publication geared towards children the young elementary grades called the Binah Bunch. It appears to be a publication geared towards elementary Bais Yaakov students and cheder boys.

Therein was a story about a father and his son. The father was reading the newspaper and recognized the numbers from the lotto. He called to his son, "do you still have the lotto ticket you bought last week?" The son finds his ticket and is thrilled to find out he is now rich. The story continues about his dreams of being a gvir (running into easy money and becoming a "gvir" isn't exactly the dream I have for my own children) and some halachot given over by a pesky little sister who informs him he will have to put his ticket in his pocket during tefilla as he can only hold a siddur. In the end, the boy finds out his ticket is a week old which is supposed to convey some sort of lesson, but it wasn't the message I'm afraid the kids reading it will receiving.

As you noticed, I highlighted the words which indicated the father was knowingly involved in introducing his young son (a son who can't even buy a lotto ticket himself legally) to gambling and the unhealthy focus on making easy money that comes with such (we an all dream and we all do dream, but I don't think this is something to encourage particularly). This (hopefully) fictional character wouldn't be the first father to introduce his sons to gambling, but he might the first portrayed in a large velvet kippah and a long beard.

Here is a blast from the past my husband and I ended up discussing after seeing this story. When I was in early elementary school (the same grades as the readers of the Binah Bunch magazine), the lotto became legal and it was the craze. There were parents whose children would mimic adults by carrying around their own lotto tickets their parents had dutifully bought for them. My parenets would have no part in any of this and spoke a lot that year about wealth, gambling, and chasing dreams. I recall a lot of these conversations took place at one particular gas station that was littered with discarded tickets (which I wanted to pick up and take to school since it was "cool.") My parents spoke a lot about how wealth is normally built through hard work and discipline, how those who receive a windfall and lack discipline often loose it all, how the gambling industry makes its money by ensuring an large overall loss, how the odds are stacked against this player, and how people can loose tremendous sums of money in the long run as they spend just "one dollar" more thinking it will be the winning ticket out. My parents would also point out how gambling preys on those who can afford it least by pointing out establishments in rough intercity areas (normally stations near a pawn shop and a check cashing establishment).

The teachers were also visibly annoyed with this lotto craze. I remember them telling students to put away tickets, confiscating them at times. They expressed their distaste and eventually the gambling distraction seemed to pass. While advertisers for the lotto were clearly doing their best to sell an entire generation on the lotto, even before any of us could legally buy our own tickets, the teachers were not participating directly or indirectly as I recall (and the public schools were a beneficiary of some of the proceeds).

Unfortunately, it seems that gambling is being mainstreamed in the chinuch of some frum children. I'm not about to come out and say we should live in a world where any game of luck should be made assur (playing card games can be a lot of fun, dreidel is a highlight of Chanukah and part of our messorah, entering a store raffle is something I've done from time to time and once my mother won a necklace during a jewlery demonstration in Sears which was exciting). But, I can't help but be concerned when a story about a young boy buying his own lotto ticket, with his father's knowledge and approval, is featured in a children's publication.

How did such a story make it past the editorial board of a frum children's magazine? (This is cynical, so please excuse me, but there is no way a young girl's elbow would have made it past). Somehow, I'm guessing that a similar story would not have made it past the editorial board of Scholastic Magazine, although perhaps I'm out of touch and mistaken. Parents seem to be demanding more and more frum publications out of fear of the Berenstein Bears (yes, Berenstein Bears as bad reading material was featured in a Yated letter to the editor long ago). But, do these same parents know what their kids are reading about and what values are being promoted?

Ultimately, a society that has 9th graders taking a dreidel spin for $10 a turn, shouldn't be shocked that a "crisis" is brewing. Presuming the Yated Letter Writer did not over exaggerate, it shouldn't be surprising to find out this brewing 'crisis' also has a self-inflicted component.

Perhaps it is time to look deeper into what messages our children are receiving about gambling in particular and money/wealth/material objects in general. Because between the very popular Chinese Auctions, which are highly tempting, to "innocent" stories like the one I have featured in this post, might be sending some messages that we don't particularly want our children to be receiving.

Or, perhaps I'm just off my rocker and there really is not problem with elementary students buying lotto tickets and/or reading about it.


Anonymous said...

I don't think you're off your rocker in the slightest. Lotteries are taxes on people who are bad at math, and I do not believe that the government should have anything to do with gambling.

mother in israel said...

THere was a big gambling scandal among 7th graders from a yeshiva high school in my area. I don't remember the details, but I think it involved cards. I heard about it from someone who who knew the parents. The parents encouraged their son because the admired his "business" acuity. Getting kicked out of school did not make much of a difference.

ProfK said...

I'm still shaking my head about a frum magazine for children having a lottery ticket as being central to a story it published. With every possible chumrah known to man being thrown at Klal, the lottery is picked for exemption?
thegameiam is not wrong that the chances of a win in the lottery are astronomical--although explaining that to the person in our neighborhood who won the last biggy lottery won't do any good--but it's not the poor chances of winning anything that should keep the lottery away from our children. It's that they are children. There are some activities that adults indulge in that are perfectly okay but would not be so for children. I don't hold with a blanket ban on every form of gambling or game of chance, but I would hold with such a blanket ban when it comes to our children.

I'm almost afraid to ask why the Berenstain Bears came under attack.

anonymous mom said...

I have a Purim-related question. I just found out that the learning for boys that has become en vogue in many Shuls on Purim morning is often sponsored by people financially so that they can get the merits of the learning or some other Zechus for their family. In other words, the boys are being told that if they learn for an hour in the Shul after Megillah, they will get a door prize, plus be entered for a big-ticket item such as an IPOD or expensive bike. I found this out because we asked the Shuls in our area if they could give the boys the name of a sick relative of ours to keep in mind and say Tehillim for while they are there and we were told we would have to cough up some money. Every Shul, but one had the same response. Any thoughts on this?