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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ask Orthonomics: Chanukah Present Dilemna

Dear Orthonomics:

I wanted yours and your readers advice on a dilemma that came up, regarding chanukah presents.

My grade school age son wanted a very specific and expensive toy for his birthday that was well over our "birthday present" budget. We told him that if he waits for Chanukah, and gives up his present now, we can combine the two presents, plus Chanukah money from his grandparents, to buy the toy. He agreed and did not receive a birthday present.

Now that Chanukah is approaching, I looked for the toy and saw that the store that was selling it went out of business. This is more of a specialty type toy, and costs significantly more online (over 50% more) than it would have in this (now closed) store.

At this point, we are unsure what to do. My son did the right thing and delayed gratification to get what he wanted later. To now not get him the toy might teach him the wrong lesson. We would not normally be willing to "add" the extra funds, as it is a significant amount of money that is much more than we would generally spend on a present. In addition, the "online" price is really too high to spend on any toy (almost $200), even if he will gain years of use.

So I am torn. Should we provide the extra funds to buy the toy? After all, we did offer to buy it based on the price that it was at the time of the offer. What message are we sending by buying such an expensive toy? My son does not have significant funds of his own to contribute (he offered his piggy bank), but should we could take money out of his savings account (which we would normally never do), and replenish it next birthday? I am looking for ideas on what would be the best way to be a good parent, while still not spoiling my child and still teaching him the value of money.


Nephew of Frum Actuary

Dear Nephew of Frum Actuary,

This is a really interesting dilemma and I'm waiting to hear from my readers. Personally, I don't like the idea of spending hundreds on a single toy, for a single child no matter where the money is coming from. That said, you are beyond that point as you have already promised this gift and to your misfortune the store selling the gift is now out of business and you are looking at paying double unexpectedly.

Unless you see that your child is becoming very spoiled through his behavior, I don't think you need to worry as much about one pricey gift being the spoiler. If you practice restraint in your home and your children generally follow suit, I wouldn't get caught that this gift is going to tip the scales.

In life we sometimes have to "eat the cost." Sometimes we quote a price in the course of business only to discover the work is far more than we counted on. Sometimes we tell out kids we will take them someplace thinking the cost is one thing and we discover we really underestimated (when did certain attractions triple in price?). We might not like eating the cost, but when we have given our word, we have given our word. We shouldn't spoil our children, but they should feel secure that when we give our word, we will follow through.

I am assuming that your son is one who understands deferred gratification and a bit about the value of money as he already chose to delay gratification. Before making the purchase, it might be a good idea to revisit the subject and make sure this is what he really wants. Oftentimes, the coveted item is no longer what is desired. If your son has his eye on something else already, you have some wiggle room. If your child still does still have his/her heart set on this toy and the money is there to spend, I'd follow through and "eat the cost".

There is definitely a lesson to be learned here, it just might not be the lesson that you were aiming towards and that sometimes happens.

One more note: I don't believe that a single (or even a few) large purchases or indulgences will ruin a child. I think that sometimes the "small" things that we do (often without noticing) which create a sense of entitlement. Rather than concentrate on the material (and we can spend some time evaluating the material) we should ask ourselves about the overall environment of the home: Are we, the parents, in charge of our home? Are our children overly demanding? Do our children take direction without constant fuss/Is there too much negotiation going on in our home? Do our children take their discipline without threatening, etc? Do I constantly need to cajole the children just to run this home? Oftentimes we realize that something is amiss and our children are acting like spoiled brats and we haven't bought them overpriced toys or otherwise monetarily spoiled them. Hence, I do not worry that a big experience or purchase is what will take a child into spoiled-dom.

I am not of the opinion that money is the root cause of spoiled children, although how we spend on our children can play into creating an overblown sense of entitlement. I can think of just as many children from poorer homes as I can from wealthier homes who are spoiled!

Readers, let's hear from you.




aaron from L.A. said...

The child held up his part of the bargain.If the parent doesn't,it sends a very bad signal to the boy.This turn of events could certainly be used as a teaching moment.Assuming the boy is old enough to understand what happened,the parents should tell him that they're eating the unexpected cost because(except under extreme circumstances)a promise is a promise and a person's word should be sacred.The child will learn from this and and act accordingly as he grows up.

Nephew of Frum Actuary said...

I don't like the idea of spending so much on a single toy either. It WAS supposed to be more reasonable (when we agreed to get it).

Thanks for posting and your advice, and I look forward to hearing everyone's thoughts.

Dave said...

If you can actually buy the item (that is to say, it wouldn't result in the family going hungry, or missing rent/mortgage payments, and so on), and the child still has his heart set on the toy, then I think you need to buy it.

You made a deal, he kept his end (and deferring a birthday present is a big deal for a school aged child).

Conservative Scifi said...

I agree with Aaron. I would also "eat" the cost (though if the product is one like an ipod that would be nearly identical if already used, I might check e-Bay or some other auction site to see if there is a possible bargain available).

Just as important as not spoiling the child is making sure to follow through on any real committment. That is a value I certainly want my children to learn. One of my kids, who postponed getting anything for his Birthday, now has a fairly large amount of "credit" for a larger gift at chanukah (due to the combination of checks from grandparents, aunts, uncles, and our delayed gift). In his case, lack of acquisitiveness is part of the issue, so I have warned him that at some point, if no gift selection is made, the cash will go to savings (with a bit to tzedekah, as per our normal rule).

Good luck and happy Thanksgiving to all (even those who don't celebrate this quintessentially American holiday).

old frum actuary said...

To my dear nephew - buy the gift. I will chip in a couple of bucks too.

Miami Al said...

Sorry to here that your attempt to time the "toy" market failed. In market terms, you gave your son a call, thinking that the price would be constant or fall, and instead it rose, now you want to back out of the deal.

Obviously, if the cost difference would result in failing to meet financial obligations than sometimes you have to back out of the deal because you have another prior commitment.

However, you made a deal, he kept his end, you need to keep yours.

We're Orthodox Jews, we don't steal, and failing to honor your side of the deal is stealing.

abba's rantings said...

i didn't understand from the post if the problem is you can't afford the higher price or if you're worried now about spoiling the child.

i will defer to others on whether or not the child is being spoiled, but whatever spoiling is being done (if any) was done when you first promised it to him. at this point you should suck it up and make up the difference (obviously as long as its not instead of food, medical care, etc.)


this isn't about stealing. if he chooses not to get the present it might be bad parenting (not that i'm one to judge and i'm not saying it would be) but it isn't stealing.

Miami Al said...

Abba's Ranting:

How is it not? As a parent, he made a deal with his child. The child honored his end, the parent doesn't want to keep their end.

In fact, it might be good parentings (teaching that sometimes situations change, i.e. the local business going out of business), but it's DEFINITELY stealing.

You owe the child the toy, as per your deal, and you aren't giving it to them. That's stealing in my book. As SL pointed out, sometimes in business we agree to something, and learned that we made a mistake, we still have to honor our deals. If you expect your children to honor deals with you, you need to be honorable with them.

Nephew of Frum Actuary could have immediately bought the present when the kid made the deal and put it in the closet until Chanukah. The choice to NOT but the toy and get it later on the "spot market" was Nephew's choice, NOT the child. I'm not sure why the child should accept ANY loss from this, Nephew took a gamble and lost. Had the price dropped $20, would Nephew had let his son have a second $20 Chanukah present? Why should the child get no upside and all downside?

JS said...

I have to agree with Sephardi Lady and the other commenters.

If you were concerned a toy that is that expensive would spoil your child, the time to forbid it was back before his birthday when you struck a deal. Your child kept his end of the bargain, now you need to keep yours. Your son needs to know he can trust you and depend on you. Look at the extra cost as buying your son's trust and respect and not just as buying the toy. In the grand scheme of things, the extra money is nothing. Not following through can snowball into something ugly.

A single toy doesn't "ruin" a child. A lifestyle of indulgence and entitlement does. Forgoing immediate gratification and waiting months to get a bigger prize is the exact opposite of that. And, I'd note the famous "marshmallow experiments" (see here:

Care to share what the toy is exactly? Maybe someone here can suggest a cheaper way to purchase it.

Also, I'd point out the toy has gone up in price. It's important for your kid to know that you keep your word no matter what and aren't going to let him down.

Finally, I have to laugh at Al's comment on timing the toy market by buying a call option.

A Fan said...

In addition to agreeing with the above commenters, I just want to add: The fact that your child can delay gratification to the point of giving up a birthday present already makes him less spoiled and entitled than a go 95% of kids today.

Shira said...

If the toy is of good quality, will last, offers more than one kind of play (like the toy kitchen I bought for about that much), then I would just buy it as the gift, and not mention the difference in price to your son. He won't know its gone up in price, if that makes you uncomfortable, but he'll still get what he worked so hard for. And remember that good quality toys can often be resold for a good amount when kids are done with them. I wouldn't take the money out of his savings though, if that's his college fund or something. I'd scrounge it up out of our budget.

Brother (Uncle) said...

Well, personally I think he should get the toy, and if need be, you should combine the gifts of the grandparents, aunts and uncles (I know one uncle who would glad to give :)).
Also, if you are worried about spoiling the lad, then I suggest, as the others noted, that you inform him that it cost a lot more than anticipated. Also, inform him that since it cost so much, that it is now a family gift and he has to share with his siblings. That should hopefully counteract any ideas of spoiling him.

abba said...

hey, if the item has already gone up in value that much maybe its a good investment and you should buy him 2! let's see how much more it goes up!


stealing is taking away from someone something that belongs to them when you have no right to do so. i think its a stretch (if even so) to say this is caSE OF stealing.

Dave said...

I would not tell him that the price went up, nor would I make it a "family gift".

The terms were "you give up your birthday present, and that and Channukah and gifts from relatives will be this toy", and those are the terms you should honor.

No guilt, no "it cost more than we thought", no "you have to share", those are all changing the deal.

Now, when he's older, and the toy is no longer fresh and new, it might be appropriate to use it as an example of why you keep your word even when things change, but I wouldn't tarnish the joy in the gift when you give it. That just seems wrong.

Miami Al said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Miami Al said...


I'm playing this one (mostly) tongue in cheek. Hence references to upside/downside, spot market, call options, etc.


I don't think it's a problem for him to know that the cost went up. Demonstrating to your child that you keep your word even when you don't want to is a VERY valuable lesson to teach.

But if the cost difference is significant, the Nephew should find personal luxuries that he can cut out. Personally, I'd eat tuna fish for lunch for 3 weeks rather than break my word, but my personal integrity is VERY important to me.

I'm still NOT seeing why the change in price causes Nephew to think that it lets him out of the deal.

JS said...

Geez. What is stealing anyways?

It's breach of contract (oral contracts where the performance date is less than a year don't need to be written under the stature of frauds). Also, I'd say forgoing the birthday present is more than adequate consideration for the contract. Not buying the toy is a material breach. The defense of impossibility or impracticability due to increased costs isn't gonna fly here. If the kid is reading this blog and the comments, I suggest suing now for anticipatory breach so maybe he can get the toy before Hannukah!


Dave said...


I agree, it is a valuable lesson. But it risks damaging the child's enjoyment of the toy.

I would use it as an example *later*, rather than risk ruining the gift.

Miami Al said...


Agreed, but it sounds like Nephew already shook his son down for his piggy bank, so it's not a secret that the cost went up. So since he already cast his son in the role of Lando, might as well teach the lesson. It's a few weeks from now, so he can teach the lesson, and still have the present without the lack of enjoyment.

aunt of nephew aka female life actuary said...

Buy the toy. As DH said we'll chip in. We got DD an American Girl doll when she was 8 with the same sort of deal. She got years of use, and now the nieces play with it (hopefully the great nieces soon)

tesyaa said...

We are all wondering what the toy is. I'm guessing it's not an iPod since that's not a "toy". I'm guessing it's not a set of "The Little Midrash Says" since the father would probably be overflowing with pride to buy that if the kid wanted it. What is it???

JS said...

Second: What is it?

Also, as I said above, maybe someone here would know how to get it cheaper.

abba said...

"I'm guessing it's not an iPod since that's not a "toy"."

they still sell ipods?

tesyaa said...

abba, not everyone can afford an iPhone plan, and little kids are pretty happy with in iPod Touch & wifi :)

And maybe the kid wants an iPod preloaded with Shas and shiurim - no wonder all the relatives are clamoring to chip in!

Amy Smith said...

Another vote for: You made a promise. You have to keep it. You don't, what you are teaching the kid is that it is okay to live.

The fact that the price went up is immaterial. You chose not to buy it when it was what you expected to pay. That's not the child's achrayus. I think the "spoiling" fear is a red herring. You were willing to give the present when it was a different price. So, you obviously didn't think it was spoiling. Don't try to get out of your responsibility by bringing in issues that aren't nogeah.

Mike S. said...

If the present wouldn't have spoiled the child at the original price, I fail to see how the change in the price tag matters. That should be transparent to the child. Of course, if you can't afford it without having the kid skip meals, that would be a different story, but that doesn't seem to be the case. If the point of having him forgo other presents to roll them into this one was to teach him something about the value of money, you have taught him that, regardless of subsequent changes on the price tag.

Had you wanted to avoid the price risk, you could have bought the item at the time of his birthday and put it in a closet until channuka time. Or bought a call option with a reasonable strike price :) I suppose you might want to teach about hedging strategies, but those (as your aunt will tell you) begin on the 2nd actuarial exam, and I gather your child is a little young for that. And anyway, you should teach your kids never to buy insurance on something you can afford to lose.

On the plus side, teaching your child that his parents can be trusted to honor a deal, and that one should honor his promises even if circumstances change such that he regrets making them are also important lessons.

The Aruch Hashulchan says that the first question asked of us when we face our final judgement "Did you conduct your business honestly?" does not mean only "did you refrain from stealing?", but also could your word be completely relied upon.

Nephew of Frum Actuary said...

Two points that I should add (really for Al, but doesn't change the facts (is not material)):

1: The store was out of business before the toy was available, but we didn't know that. I only checked because I was planning to go on Friday (when the item was on sale).

2: My son offered his piggy bank (he also offered it to buy me a new briefcase when he saw mine was ripped). I do not plan on taking it. Being that money is slightly tight as of this minute (and his UGMA is earning nothing), I would consider borrowing some from that if I would replace it via additional gifts (that would otherwise go towards that toy). Perhaps that is a mistake, please comment.

In addition, to those (my relatives) who are offering money First: Thank you. Second: That is really part of the question. Why should my son lose out on YOUR gift just because the item's price is higher? Or maybe since we did tell him it would be a combined gift from multiple sources, should we include additional sources (such as an additional Grandmother), even though we did tell him the sources we would require, based on the older price?

Thank you to all those who responded, and I look forward to hearing more of the conversation.

JS said...

Man, you're a tough nut to crack. Not even a hint on what the toy is?

As for the additional gifts and familial issues, that's up to you, but I don't see how it matters. Your son wants the toy. He'd rather have that than lots of other toys apparently.

As for taking money out, I think it's a bad idea as it starts the ball rolling in the wrong direction for the next time money's tight.

aunt of nephew aka female life actuary said...

Our presents are getting dumb anyway. He'll be better off with what he wants. I am probably switching to money anyway because I have no time or patience to figure out what the kids need these days.
I don't think he's losing out on anything.

neice said...

Nephew, when you made this deal with your son, did you tell him, "if you combine your birthday gift with your Chanuka gift then when Chanuka comes we will buy you this toy," or did you tell him, "if you save the $50 we would have spent for your birthday gift and the $50 we would spend for your Chanuka gift then when Chanuka comes you will have enough to get this toy?" If it was the first way, no question you need to keep your word. If it was the second way, I think you have a real dilemna!

Miami Al said...


Sorry, I meant my comments here in jest. You don't have to justify ANYTHING to me. I'm an anonymous guy on the Internet.

I assumed that money was tight (though avoided posting it here, because that speculation was unnecessary), or this really wouldn't be an issue.

Two stories from extended family members:

1. Parents "borrowed" money from a relative's Bat Mitzvah money, it was never repaid. This devastated trust for years, though in her father's defense, her savings account would be for nought if they couldn't cover the mortgage.

2. One remembers her father working a "seasonal" retail job every "Christmas Season" to earn extra money, that's probably what covered Chanukah presents. Not glamourous and definitely beneath him, and not anything she appreciated at the time, but as an adult, absolutely did.

We've all gone through tough times. How you conduct yourself with money when times are good is pretty easy, it's how you conduct yourself when times are tough that shows a man's character. Admitting that the struggle isn't about "spoiling your son" but about the prudence of such a large purchase right now is a good first step.

I've been pretty certain this whole time that it's been a Nintendo 3DS.

I apologize if my attempt at jovial banter with other commentators has hurt you, no malice was intended, but please accept my apologies.

Good luck, but I'd suggest start with your eating rice and beans for lunch for the next few weeks. If you decide to honor your commitment despite the tough times, and pull it off, this will be an important lesson he'll take with him his entire life, even if he never acknowledges it to you.

Nephew of Frum Actuary said...

Miami: No hard feelings.

My wife berated me for posting the tight money part. BH we don't have a problem paying for the toy, but just bought a big ticket item (that was needed & worth buying) that depleted most of our savings.

JS: Part of the question is how much we should but in extra, if anything.

tesyaa said...

My tone has also been a little "jovial", but as a parent of 6, I have been in similar situations. A few comments:

* it is a welcome developmental step to realize that one $20 gift is better than two $10 gifts (multipy or divide as needed).

* it's not the once-in-a-lifetime American Girl doll or other big ticket gift that breaks a working family's budget. (It's the mortgage, tuition, home repairs, etc). If a family is in the habit of indulging kids on the order of $100 gifts every single month, that would be a budget breaker. But that's not your situation.

* Don't renege on the gift if at all possible - you'll feel terrible every time you need something for yourself or for the home, even if is a necessary item.

* Even a grade school boy can be given extra tasks around the house to earn money (beyond his usual responsibilities).

* Stop worrying about whether your kid will be shortchanged if his relatives chip in for the big gift and forgo their usual gift. It's a good opportunity to explain that a gift is voluntary and shouldn't be expected or demanded. And it doesn't sound like he'll be shortchanged at all, just thrilled to get the Nintendo or whatever.

Anonymous said...

Its nice to see the comments in agreement -- the child should have the toy. I don't think the child should be made to feel guilty or, depending on the age, even know about the price increase. This sounds like a mature, sensitive child. Being frugal and non-materialistic is so important, but it is also important to not bring up children who are guilt ridden and cannot enjoy an indulgance once in a long while. A healthy relationship with money requires an appropriate balance.

Anonymous said...

I will provide a different point of view. My parents could afford to give us children a small house to live in, food to eat, and clothing if it was passed on to younger children. They could not afford a day school education for us, but paid for it anyway. I never knew my parents to take a vacation other than to grandparents living out of town.

We did not have Chanukah presents at all, which my mother told us was a Christian custom, and we accepted it. This discussion is so far from my experience and that of my family.

As a result of my "deprived childhood", I value every gift I receive or give to myself. I understand now how much my parents valued Jewish education to send us to day school as their first and only priority.

If you are giving your child a Jewish education, that is the greatest gift of all, and the most lifelong. I would not obsess over a toy more or less.

Mark said...

Al, to continue the analogy, maybe dad wants to declare Force Majeure? :-)

Dad (nephew of FA), buy the gift*, but explain the whole story to the kid, make sure he understands it fully, and make sure he understands why you are making this choice. What he learns from this will eventually be far more valuable to him than the gift.

BTW, is it really a "single" toy, or is it the kind of toy that with "accessories" (say, apps or whatever) can become all sorts of toys. An iPod Touch would be an example of this, add an app and it becomes a whole new toy. Again and again and again.

* Unless God forbid it destroys your household budget and puts the family in financial danger somehow.

tdr said...

I think getting your relatives to read this blog and then posting your financial hardships is a great strategy! How do I do that!? :-)

(I'm KIDDING -- you sound like close bunch anyway just by the way you identify yourselves)

I am in favor of spending decent money on gifts that are worth it. I bought each of my older kids a guitar this year (got GREAT deals on craigslist, but still we are not talking $20). I am planning to get my younger son, the aspiring engineer, some kind of building toy. The 200-piece one is pricier, but the 50-piece one is lamer and therefore not worth it. He wants the $300 Lego robot, but I'm not going there, and he's started saving for it himself.

As for the actual question you posted -- I don't think you need additional feedback at this point. I'm with everyone else on this.

JS said...

It looks like Sephradi Lady has found the single subject that Jews of all stripes can agree on.

Can mashiach be far away?

conservative scifi said...

I hope JS is right, but on a more serious note, when you say you have depleted cash on a recent purchase, I hope that means cash in excess of a reasonable (ideally 6-8 month) emergency fund (or equivalent liquid assets). If you either don't have an emergency fund or it is seriously underfunded, then I would explain that the family's financial security comes first (and let the kid watch Susie Orman on Saturday after Shabbat on CNBC). Then I would let your family members (however many it takes) make up the difference in price so he gets the gift.

We, who are in very good financial shape, only buy one larger present for the kids. We may buy a couple of 2-5 dollar items, but I often simply give a gold colored dollar coin (like the President series) to each kid on most days of the holiday as a token gift. This is what my father and grandfather used to do (well a dollar, not a dollar coin, but it's the same idea).

Anonymous said...

JS, I do not agree with the viewpoint of posters here. You accept the premise that presents on Chanukah are essential, that children's desires are a strong guide to parental behavior, that a promise must be kept despite a material unanticipated change in circumstances, that children want presents from us rather than presence. I disagree on all counts, and that was what I was trying to say in my post at Nov. 23 10:47 a.m.

What truly affected my 5 year old, the promise I made that was not kept, was to be with him on Purim. He mentioned it twice, specifically and clearly. "You said you would be here on Purim and you didn't come." (He is my grandnephew.) When his mother picked me up from the station, the first words he said were, "You didn't come on Purim, and you said you would." "Oh, it's not important," said his mother. I responded so he could hear, "No, it's important to him, he's mentioned it twice to me."

My 5 year old has never shown the emotion at a gift that my failure to spend Purim with him elicited. I don't think parents need to make gifts the center of their existence. Your children need your presence, not your presents. This is helicopter parenting, all the worry about gifts to give children, especially on a minor holiday where gifts really are a borrowed custom from our Christian neighbors. A child from 8 years old can understand that circumstances have changed and you can no longer afford the gift promised. You are sorry, as I expressed clearly to my 5 year old that I was sorry I did not keep my promise. He will be disappointed, but he will get over it.

Especially since in my case, I assured my grandnephew that Purim comes every year, and next Purim I will be there! And I will, wearing my magenta sheitel for the occasion.

Miami Al said...

Anonymous 6:45,

You're building up a straw man to attack, that we are claiming that gifts are essential. Find a SINGLE comment in this thread, except your straw man arguments, that you need to give a gift.

Everything here has been about integrity, honesty, honoring a deal, etc.

Last I checked, being honest in business dealings was part of Torah Law, NOT "helicopter parentings."

JS said...

Anon 6:45,

"JS, I do not agree..."

Great. Now mashiach isn't coming.

A Different Nephew's Wife said...

Buy him the toy! I think it would be really devastating to say, "Sorry, circumstances have changed" after he was so mature and wonderful about waiting for it. What he will learn is that you can do everything right and still other people will let you down. And yes, he will learn that eventually, but do you want to be the one to teach him that particular lesson?

I'm feeling a lot of peer pressure from other family members to offer to chip in for this present. So you can count on us for a couple of dollars too :).

Anonymous said...

Miami Al, I'm the sole dissenter. I know you all want to do the right thing and give the right advice. But the underlying premise of your posts is, I'm sorry, that one must give Chanukah gifts. I don't agree with the premise, and it is implicit in all the posts. This is not a "straw man" that I have conjured up. I see what is before me - a united belief in gifts to children as the proper expression of love. I don't think inability to give an over-expensive gift would be "really devastating" and I don't think his waiting for a promised present is "so wonderful" as the commenter above gushed. You can find another way to express your love. The toy is too expensive for the parents, too expensive for the child, and that's one of life's lessons that the commenter above shrinks from teaching. "I don't want him to learn it from me." All I ever heard growing up was "we can't afford it". And why? Because my parents were paying day school tuition for a large family. That's the lifelong gift.

Anonymous said...

And what about honoring a bargain? There has been a material change in circumstances and this should be clearly explained to the child.

Miami Al said...

Anonymous 1:53,

Again, find a statement in one of these posts that "buying a gift" is an expression of love that isn't from you?

Nobody here has said that you need to buy gifts.

The underlying premise of the posts has been "you made a deal, you should honor your deal."

The fact that the underlying parts of the deals involved presents is NOT the same as "presents are essential." Indeed, you've seen comments about consideration (for a contract), lessons of honoring a business deal that goes south, etc.

Nobody has urged giving Chanukah presents OR that they show love.

I think if he said, "I told him I'd get the gift in return for getting the newspaper," you'd see similar comments.

It is a straw man when you invent your own argument for the other side to knock down.

Giving your child a Jewish education and Jewish values is NOT just learning a bunch of Rashis, it's learning how to be a mensche. You can certainly dispute what lesson will be imparted in this, but imputing false statements to opponents is a dishonest way to conduct yourself in a debate.

Dave said...

Because my parents were paying day school tuition for a large family. That's the lifelong gift.

I'm not sure what purpose a religious education is if you aren't going to live the life it is supposed to teach.

Your word is supposed to be good. That's the point that keeps being made.

Mike S. said...

I don't think you have to give Channukah gifts. Indeed, I don't give my kids Chanukkah gifts. Had the parents just said no when the child asked, I certainly wouldn't criticize. There is value in teaching your children they can't have everything. But that isn't what happened; they made deal that the child could have it for Channukah if he agreed to forgo other presents, and he agreed. Learning to live up to your agreements even when circumstances change is also an important lesson.

If the toy wasn't good for the child at $200, it wasn't good for him at $125 either. I'd back a parent in that judgement all the time. But that wasn't the judgement. if the deal was contingent on the discount store remaining open, the parents should have said so.

Anonymous said...

I am the dissenter who raised the "straw man" and is utilizing dishonest debating tactics according to Miami Al. I will disregard these emotional accusations as I have I hope a reasonable amount of ego strength.

In fact, I think all our opinions are irrelevant and emotionally based - yours that the only value is teaching you honor your word in all circumstances - that is not the only value involved. Mine that Chanukah presents are no big deal - that's based on my own "deprived childhood."

We have no logical basis to go on, no Jewish basis to go on. But there is one means of resolving the problem that is logical and is Jewish. That is looking at the halachah. I recently read a column answering a practical dispute based on halachic principles that was so clear, so crystalline in its logic, and so practical in its solution that I thought I was reading Sherlock Holmes. The columnist was a childhood acquaintance of mine, his name is Rabbi Abba Zvi Naiman, and he has a bais medresh in Baltimore. He writes for the widely read magazine Where What
When. I think the person who raised the issue should write to Rabbi Naiman (even if Chanukah is over and the gift given) to see what his answer would be, to observe how halacha can present answers that we in our emotion would never think of ourselves. Even if he comes out against me (I am emotionally influenced by a childhood of "poverty" and by dishonest debating tactics as Miami Al has told me), I get pleasure from a well reasoned analysis. Here is the link:

Anonymous said...

Pardon, the column says to send your questions for Rabbi Naiman to

Dave said...

So, just to be clear.

It is your contention (after a Day School education), that whether or not to keep your word about a purchase for your child is something that is so complicated it must be refered to a specific rabbi because only he can determine what the correct course is according to halacha?

Anonymous said...

Read Rabbi Naiman's column, then decide whether halacha has anything to add to the discussion. I think a day school education is the tip of the iceberg. As a woman, I never learned gemorah. I value Rabbi Naiman's approach, both logical and practical. Read his column if you are able to.

Miami Al said...


Chanukah presents are no big deal.

Conducting yourself honestly is a big deal.

Conducting yourself honestly in "not big deal" parts of life are important.

Throughout Jewish history, people were able to function in day-to-day life without EVER learning gemorah.

Over the last few centuries, the anti-semites "claimed" that the Talmud was a book full of ways for the Jews to cheat the gentiles. In the 21st Century, we've decided to make it true...

anon426 said...

It is your contention (after a Day School education), that whether or not to keep your word about a purchase for your child is something that is so complicated it must be refered to a specific rabbi because only he can determine what the correct course is according to halacha?

Dave, you over-simplified the issue. It's not simply whether or not to keep your word. As you say, that's a gimme. Everyone knows you have to keep your word.

The real question is which value is of more importance. Is it more important to be financially responsible or to keep your word to your child at all costs?

What if the price of the toy has not only increased significantly, but the poster also lost his job with relatively little savings in the bank? You can buy a lot of groceries with $200. Yet keeping your word is important. There may be other resources for paying for groceries -- sell some unused jewelry, ask for help from tzedakah, ask from a loan from a friend.

How important now is it to keep your word to your kid? I think the fact that we are talking about a chanukah present is immaterial.

I am not claiming to know the answer, just trying to mix things up a little more since the chances of SL posting a new article erev shabbos are pretty slim. :-)

Dave said...

What if the price of the toy has not only increased significantly, but the poster also lost his job with relatively little savings in the bank? You can buy a lot of groceries with $200.

I believe that question was answered almost immediately by most of the respondents, without need for direct Rabbinic guidance.

Anonymous said...

I understand the posters' negative response to refering to a rabbi a question they consider perfectly capable of answering themselves. One poster said above there is not only one value here, there are two, one's word versus financial constraints on the family. The matter is not as simple as most of you believe.

I address myself only to those readers who take pleasure in clear analysis, halachically based, and leavened with common sense. Such is Rabbi Naiman's column. I do not expect those who are threatened by halachic analysis to go near the Rav's column. Halachic learning I'm afraid is reserved for the fearless among us, as is truth.

Orthonomics said...


I believe you have set up a "straw man." The poster might be tight with funds. He did not state a situation of lacking liquidity or instability. He did give his word to his own child.

I appreciate halachic analysis. I'm not afraid of it. I don't think anyone here is afraid of it. You seem to want a Rabbi to state Chanukah gifts are not obligatory. Well, of course they aren't! But that wassn't the question and that it wasn't addressed.

There is also a concept of going above and beyond for the sake of shalom, for the sake of impeccable yashrut, so you don't become a navel b'rishut Torah. I enjoyed the column you pointed to. At the end, the Rabbi reached a practical, logical solution----go beyond the letter of the law because the relationship is most important and get the item shipped asap. It is about being an honorable person. An honorable person would go beyond replacing the item and be quick about it so that there is no loss.

On another subject you bring up, you state that you had no extras and Jewish education was the gift. I'm not comfortable with this position. A Jewish education does entail sacrifice, but I don't believe the sacrifice should leave a bitter taste in a child's mouth. But we are all on a budget of some type, so sometimes we need to get creative so we can provide some extras. I've yet to see a Rabbi come with your attitude when it comes to spending (i.e. no extras). In fact, for the most part the Rabbinate seems to be quite pro-extras and plenty of them provide their children with extras that the "richer" among us can't justify. There are many Rabbis/leaders who very conscious about making sure children are not "deprived" which is not within my comfort zone either because a little deprivation is definitely within my comfort level. But, once again, that wasn't being addressed because the item was already discussed and negotiated on.

Dave said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave said...

(I deleted the previous post, because it is unfair to blame a Day School education for the anonymous poster's desire that basic questions be referred to a suitably chosen Rabbi)

Miami Al said...

Rav. Nalman writes very nicely, but he writes total nonsense nicely.

You can't just fiat that a used SIM is $10. A used SIM is worth $0, you activate a SIM, use it, and then it is thrown away at the end. You cannot buy a used SIM card and hook it up to her phone with her old number, you need to replace the SIM card.

Further, to dismiss not having your cell phone for 4 days as "needing to carry a lot of quarters" is also nonsense. Without knowing the ages of the people in question, it's hard to tell, but someone in business would find being without a cel phone for 4 days for slow shipping to be at risk of carrying serious loss.

So he stated the clear Halacha (responsible for the SIM, not the shipping, but covering shipping is nice), though his fiat decision to create a $10 "used SIM" that is equivalent to $60 for the new SIM means that he gave advice for an alternative universe.

Orthonomics said...

I think the charitable reading is very simple. Anonymous doesn't like Chanukah presents and that informs the argument. Take Chanukah out, put someone besides a child it (e.g., I told someone that I supervise at work that I would combine the customary wedding gift with the customary baby gift to give something more substantial) and the answer would be clear: you don't ruin a work relationship by promising things that you don't deliver on.

Orthonomics said...

Miami Al, I know little about phones except how to dial. Thanks.

Bottom line. . . restore the person.

Dave said...

A SIM card (Subscriber Identity Module) is what identifies the phone to the network.

Al is correct, there is no "used SIM" option that would make the injured party whole, much less one with a price of $10.

I suppose I should thank our Anonymous friend for pointing this article out -- it highlights the dangers when a Rabbi makes a ruling without understanding the actual underlying facts, and worse, doesn't recognize that he doesn't.

I am curious as to why this would make me think I should take any questions to this Rabbi, though.

Anonymous said...

I agree that this toy should be bought. However, I also understand the father's concern that the toy may get lost, stolen or broken. If that is the father's concern, I would discuss this with the son. I would stress that the toy is very expensive, and therefore should only be used in the house and not taken outside, or whatever rules seem appropriate for this item in question. There is nothing wrong with discussing some rules and boundaries with him , possibly before you purchase the toy- especially if there is concern that with the reasonable rules attached , the son could change his mind. But do not make rules, just to GET your son to change his mind!

Mark said...

Anon 10:23pm - All I ever heard growing up was "we can't afford it". And why? Because my parents were paying day school tuition for a large family. That's the lifelong gift.

My siblings and I experienced the same thing. We were poor (though we didn't quite realize it until we were older) and didn't have too many gifts/vacations/etc. And we received the same "gift". However I fear that your gift didn't accomplish as much as it could have based on this exhibit of your lack of reading comprehension.

Dave - I am curious as to why this would make me think I should take any questions to this Rabbi, though.

Or perhaps to any Rabbi. So many of them don't do the proper research when answering questions - especially technology-related questions.

Anonymous said...

Response to Orthonomics, Nov. 25, 3:18: Sorry this response is belated.

First, you wrote "You seem to want a Rabbi to state Chanukah gifts are not obligatory." I don't want a rabbi to state anything. I was just saying that the issue is not clear cut to me as it is to the posters.

I also want to clarify that I did not grow up without "extras" and all we had was day school education. Here are the extras we had, just off the top of my head:

library books - lots

The Golden Book Encyclopedia - A to Z, I read it cover to cover in
3rd grade

highly verbal, intelligent parents who gave us a natural "head start" in the heredity department

a father who had graduated college (a rarity in our community at the time), and an intellectually stimulating atmosphere in the home

parents whose creative talents and genes were passed on to their children and have enriched our subsequent lives and careers

These were our "extras". Oh, and our grandmother made us wonderful lemon tarts when we visited.

Anonymous said...

1)Don't tell him about the price going up,
2) Don't make it a family toy, it's his, just as it's important for children to be able to share, it's also important for them to have sole possessions of some items
3)Don't raid his savings.

What happened is unfortunate, but none of this is his problem. He's a child. I also fail to see how there is an issue of spoiling your child. You agreed on the item then, so why is this spoiling him now. In any case maybe you can look around and still find it cheaper.