Monday, November 19, 2007

Sefer Breishit:
An Introduction to Human Kind's Trials and Tribulations

I'm taking a very brief break from Orthonomic subjects to discuss something different. I caught this post on BeyondBT from "Anxious Ima." Her 10 year old scribbled a musing about his Rebbe engaging in relationships with his morah, which caused the poor mother to become very anxious, and sent her running to the trash can with her novels. They don't have a TV, watch movies, or allow their children to surf the internet. And yet her son is curious about sexuality.

In my opinion it is normal for a 10 year old to take an interest in such. I remember sitting on the rug in my (public) 3rd grade classroom during a dictionary assignment. The girls were working on the assignment, while a small group of boys (one of whom is a wonderful husband and father, as well as an officer in the US Army serving in Iraq) sat in a circle looking up the word sex and laughing. As I recall, they became frustrated as the dictionary did nothing to help them figure out what this forbidden word meant. The teacher walked by and redirected them in their work, and no one was sent to the principal's office, nor was anyone punished or suspended. The message that the discussion the boys were having was inappropriate was made quietly.

The first thing that hit me when reading the post at BeyondBT is that we are currently in Sefer Breishit! Shlomo HaMelech writes that there is nothing new under the sun and we should need no more proof of that since every societal trial, tribulation, ill, and/or challenge is laid out right from the start in the Torah: murder, homosexuality (sodomy), incest, rape, prostitution, infertility, trickery, dishonesty, and even flirtatiousness.

All parents, myself included, wonder when our children should be introduced to sensitive topics. Do we relate the details of Lot offering his daughters up to the townspeople? Do we relate the rape of Dinah in the upcoming weeks? What do we say about Yehuda and Tamar? If my own son's thirst for Torah learning continues-may it be so-there is no hiding from any of these subjects. Currently, he loves to look at a halacha picture book (for adults) showing the details of bishul on Shabbat (his Mommy is getting a great review). Iy"h, he will soon pick up a Chumash and I'm guesing he won't be skipping over what I might prefer not to discuss.

While our children are relatively sheltered, and will continue to be sheltered, we ave no choice but to discuss certain subjects. Personally I'm glad the Torah gives me the framework to discuss what needs to be discussed.

My kids are young, but thanks to the Chumash, we have already been able to discuss infertility in the context of Torah that they can understand at this point. We have some friends who have not been blessed with children. My son used to ask where X's children were. Now he seems to understand that not everyone has children and that even the imahot had such tribulations. Obviously the discussion will continue for many years. But, I'm glad it has started.

I know that in Bais Yaakov schools the word adultery is not used in presenting the Aseret Hadibrot in the lower grades. Instead children are told that a Mommy and Daddy should love each other. We also did not use the word adultery, since it won't hold any meaning for their age, but while learning the aseret hadibrot, we were able to explain that something about hilchot yichud. And even at a young age, children naturally understand the natural order.

I'd love to hear all of your thoughts on introducing sensitive subjects to your children, and would like to see if you agree or disagree with me that a 10 year old being curious about sexuality is normal (within limits of course).


Charlie Hall said...

"a 10 year old being curious about sexuality is normal"


Ilana said...

Sure it's normal. And I'm glad they feel comfortable enough to ask me. Who is better qualified to answer them than me? I answer their questions at the level they're at, giving them only as much information as they have asked for. It hasn't been a big deal. Their curiosity satisfied, they certainly don't dwell on it. I want my kids to know that there is no topic that is off-limits, *especially* sex.

Zach Kessin said...

I was talking to a friend of mine a few weeks ago who is not Jewish. She was rather amused by the fact that In our shul we sing Shir haShirim every Friday night and its mostly done by the kids. As such I rather expect that most of them have a large chunk of it committed to memory by the time they are bar mitzva.

And mind you this is a Separdic minyan in Israel, so the kids know full well what it is saying

mother in israel said...

By ten years old, children need information about their body's changes during puberty, especially girls. Almost certainly earlier.

Commenter Abbi said...

I think making a sex a forbidden topic at any age, but particularly from ten years and up, you are inviting a lifetime of sexual dysfunction.

Each stage of development demands more or less details. But keeping the topic forbidden only means they get the information from unreliable sources which is just an invitation for trouble.

David said...

I think 10 is an absolutely normal age for the beginnings of questions about sex and sexuality.

Anonymous said...

In most 10 year old's classes in a yeshivah or day school there will be a pregnant mother or an older sibling either dating or getting married. Does anyone thing 10 year olds are not curious about such things. It is one thing to shelter young children from some of the coarser aspects of popular culture. It is another thing entirely to expect them to remain completely unaware of such a central part of human life; that is impossible. And, frankly, I can't imagine the 10 year old was reading his mother's Phillip Roth novels.

Anonymous said...

How does the author know he found out about it from her secular books? Almost all the bad things my kids say and do come directly from other kids (most specifically, kids who aren't home with their parents, and are in daycare/cheder/school). I assure you, most yeshiva boys are so illiterate anyways that they wouldn't be reading a book to find out about sex. I'll bet one of the boys at school has a Playboy, and this woman's son just didn't know how to keep their newfound secret knowledge quiet.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I was told by a Lakewood family that the kids aren't supposed to really know that there is a baby in their fat mother's belly, or even the word "pregnant". They are just told that so-and-so is "expecting a baby", but "pregnant" is considered a bad word.

I don't think we should push sex knowledge on kids like they do in public school, but we need to have reasonable answers to their questions. The only influence on my daughter is us, and yet she comes up with questions that can be really embarassing just by using her sechel, and we have to give her proper age-appropriate answers. Ignoring the question or punishing the question just makes her want to know more.

Actually, if the rebbe really wants to keep the kids from knowing about sex, just have the limudei chol teacher devote a week to learning the gory details. The kids are taught to never listen to their limudei chol teacher anyways.

Anonymous said...

Aryeh-I appreciate you coming from Baltimore to tell us that in Lakewood pregnancy is a bad word etc.I'm 35 lived in Lakewood all my life and this is the first time I heard of such a thing.

Ahavah said...

I second the notion that other people's kids were most likely the source of the boy's musings, and that it is perfectly natural at his age to be curious about it.

And in this day and age, sorry as it may be, it is a terrible disservice to attempt to leave children in the dark about issues they may have to deal with whether it's appropriate for their age or not. Short of locking the kids in the basement for 18 years, there is no way to avoid having them come in contact with reality.

Worse case: Either they themselves or someone they know could be approached inappropriately or even abused, and without a reasonable knowledge for their age concerning normal relations and improper activities and what danger looks like, they have no defense. Because they are naturally curious, they have no "red flag" warning in their heads until it's too late. Saying that "it's so rare that my child would never know someone or be that someone" is, frankly, not true. It's not that rare - there are recent studies that are very disconcerting, and scandals with enough evidence for legal indictments that involve hundreds of kids at camps or meetings with adults that seem harmless on the surface. To suggest my child or your child could never have to deal with themselves or a friend in this situation is actually unrealistic. They need to know what is not right and that no matter what threat is made against them, they MUST tell their parents and teachers and not be afraid.

That's the world we live in, and we have to deal with it realistically. May Messiah come soon.

miriamp said...

"The kids are taught to never listen to their limudei chol teacher anyways."

Generalizations like this really bother me. My children are taught to respect all their teachers, not just the Limudei Kodesh ones, not just the Jewish ones.

As for the topic at hand, my 10 yr old (he may have only been nine at the time, it was late last year) and his friends tried the encyclopedia. It has a lot more to say about "sex" than the dictionary does! And they covered the basic concept this year (for plants mostly, I think) in Biology of "male sex cells" and "female sex cells", although somehow he missed the basic fact that an egg is a female sex cell. Maybe because it was plants, not animals, so it was seeds not eggs? (The egg discussion came while baking. "What are we checking them for?" "Why would it have a blood spot?" etc.)

I heard a Rabbi (I forget his name, but he was a talmid of Rabbi Wasserman, zt"l) speak on how our kids do get all the details on everything SephardiLady just enumerated: murder, homosexuality (sodomy), incest, rape, prostitution, infertility, trickery, dishonesty, and even flirtatiousness, but they get it purposely, in a Torahdik environment, complete with the "proper" haskafic framework, and that's the best way to explain such topics. What they might learn "on the street" is going to be misinformed at best, and dangerous at worst.

We're not anywhere near Lakewood, but my kids certainly know the word pregnant, and have come on numerous pre-natal visits where they got to hear the baby's heartbeat. They know where babies grow, and have had numerous questions on "how does it get out?" I strive for common sense factual answers laced with an understanding that some aspects of such topics are "private." Private, not dirty, which means it's okay to ask/discuss with Mama or Daddy, but maybe not the grandparents even, not friends who probably don't have all the information anyway, and certainly not random strangers.

I listened to my daughter doing Chumas homework just last week, as she read and translated how Lot offered that he had two daughters "that had not known a man." She explained to me that it meant not yet married. For a 2nd grader, that's good enough for me. More details will come later, I'm sure. They learn the part about Lot's daughters tricking their father into impregnating them too, but that they don't read and translate, they skip it and just summarize it. And they learned the commandment about not committing adultery to be not to marry another person's spouse. Which isn't so far off from the truth, after all, for aren't the adulterers acting as if they are married to each other?

Looking Forward said...

I think I've said before that I studied in public school until 8th grade.

but I think that I should say that my best childhood friend was the worldbook encyclopedia. Even though my family was frum, our copy was not censored, and I will say to it's credit that this encyclopedia has a very clear, honest, usefull and tznius text on the subject. (it was written for young people)

It explains the bare basics, enough to satisfy a childs curiosity and a teens need for info, and it make a number of points: A that boy girl relationships often involve such feelings; B that such feelings left unchecked can lead to *censored*; and C that that act can lead to both pregnancy and STDs.

it gave no statistics, just enough to make one aware that there were possible real consequences to the act.

it said other things as well, but this was the main point.

and complimenting my education from the encyclopedia, I also read (without permission) the halachot of nidda, tznius, kiddushin, etc. in the kitzur, which served to implant a very jewishly balanced sense of approach to the issue.

and I will tell you that as a result, I never messed around in public school, partialy because I was to concerned about the possibly consequences.

Anonymous said...

FREE SCREENING of the Film NARROW BRIDGE: Confronting Sexual Abuse in the Jewish Community

Where: PIkesville Library
1301 Reisterstown Rd., Pikesville, MD

When: Wednesday, January 2, 2008 at 6:00 PM

Attached are copies of the official poster for the event in Baltimore and the one in Washington DC. Please share them with everyone you know who may be interested.

Seating is Limited - Reservations Required 443-857-5560 This is your chance to catch the controversial, acclaimed film that has been making waves in the Orthodox Jewish community. it is the first film of its kind to break the silence on the issue of sexual abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community.

Following the film will be a panel discussion which will be lead by (see bio's below):

* Mesa Leventhal Baker, MD - Medical Director, Baltimore Child Abuse Center
* Vicki Polin, MA, NCC, LCPC - Executive Director, The Awareness Center
* Joyanna Silberg, PhD - Coordinator of Trauma Disorder Services for Children at Sheppard Pratt Hospital

This event is sponsored by The Awareness Center, Inc., which is the international Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault, which is based in Baltimore, MD. For more information call: 443-857-5560 or send an e-mail to,

For more information about The Awareness Center, go to:

For more information about the film go to:

Presenters Bio's:
Mesa Leventhal Baker, MD
Dr. Baker is on the advisory board of The Awareness Center. She has been board certified in pediatrics since 1991 and a Fellow of the AAP since 1994. She has held Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatric posts with the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences in Bethesda and the John A. Burns School of Medicine in Honolulu. She is currently an Associate Professor in Pediatrics with the University of Maryland and a Special Consultant in Child Abuse to Sinai Hospital.

After working in private pediatrics and forensic pediatrics part-time for a year, Dr. Baker became the Medical Director of the Baltimore Child Abuse Center in 1998. For the past 6 years at the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, Dr. Baker has seen 600-700 children per year, to reach a total of well over 3000 forensic sexual abuse exams.

Vicki Polin, MA, LCPC, NCC, ATR-BC
Vicki Polin is the founder and executive director of The Awareness Center. Vicki is a Nationally Certifide Counselor (NCC), Licensed Clinical Professional Couselor (LCPC) in the state of Illinois and is a Board Certified Art Therapist.

In the past Vicki has qualified as an expert witness and provided testimony in juvenile court on cases related to childhood sexual abuse and neglect. She has presented educational and experiential seminars to community groups, universities, and at professional conferences on both a local and national level. Vicki served as a board member of several different not-for-profit organizations, which included VOICES in Action, Inc and Alternative Behavior Treatment Centers: For Juvenile Sex Offenders and Sexually Reactive Youth). Vicki also served on the planning committee of Jewish Women International's (JWI) 2nd International Conference on Domestic Abuse.

Joyanna Silberg, Ph.D.
Dr. Silberg is the Coordinator of Trauma Disorder Services for Children at Sheppard Pratt Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and past president for the International Society for the Study of Dissociation. In addition to her role as a clinician, Dr. Silberg is an Associate Editor for The Journal of Trauma and Dissociation, and sits on the editorial board of the Journal of Trauma Practice.

Dr. Silberg is the recipient of the Walter P. Klopfer Award, 1992, for outstanding research contribution and the Cornelia Wilbur Award, 1997, for clinical excellence. She is the co-editor of the book Misinformation Concerning Child Sexual Abuse and Adult Survivors (Haworth Press, 2002). She has presented at 100s of professional conferences and conducts training workshops around the world on the treatment of traumatized and dissociative children. She has authored approximately 20 professional articles and book chapters.

Ariella's blog said...

mother in israel said...

By ten years old, children need information about their body's changes during puberty, especially girls. Almost certainly earlier.

That's one of the tshuvos included in Etzem meattzmay. Though he does not specify the age of the girl, he does say that she should be notified so that the effects of puberty not alarm her. There is a frum book intended for girls called The Wonder of Becoming You, but I have never read it. I searched through the library for something appropriate for my girls some time ago.

As to the TaNach lessons referred to in the post, some teachers do gloss over certain things like saying that Yehudah married Tamar.

Anonymous said...

I never learned those pesukim or perakim in Tanach while in school. I got to high school without ever hearing about Yehudah and Tamar. It's done like this: "Ok, girls, we finished pasuk lamed beis. Now we're starting the next perek." Or "Skip to pasuk yud alef." And who wants to figure out what the hard words in the skipped pesukim mean?

My daughter in 3rd grade just learned about Lot offering his "unmarried" daughters in Chumash, but they skipped the pesukim about him sleeping with them after Sodom was destroyed.

Anonymous said...

Another notch in Christinization of Judaism.

Since when do Jews find sex dirty and shameful. That is not a Jewish trait. Christians identify sex as a human weakness that needs to be conqured and avoided. Hanse nuns and priests and lack of divorces and all that. Jewish outlook on the issue is that sex is just as beautiful and essential as food. But just like food has boundries aka kosherus, so does sex aka marriage.

We do not skip over traif eating in Yeshivahs, but for some reason we skip any mention of sexuality. Why? Do Christians really have so much power over us? [sarcasm]