Raising Kids the Right Way

I have been contemplating, of late, the lessons I want my sons to have learned at my knee. I think the most important lesson I want them to remember is that it’s what’s in a person’s heart and soul that counts – not what they look like on the outside.

To me religion and spirituality are about how a person connects with God, and how s/he explores that connection. Religion can mean different things to different people. There is no one right way. For my family, we follow Orthodox Judaism – with a yeshivish bent at times, with a modern bent at times. Does either bent make us wrong? Is it right for anyone to tell us that we are less than them because we don’t fit into their mold?

I recently had an experience with the educational system here in Monsey. A child of mine was seen wearing jeans outside of school hours. JEANS! For shame! A discussion was had. The child was asked to make changes.

He said to me, rightfully so, “why should I pretend to be something I am not?” He reminded me that I have taught him not to be fake, and that he should be true to himself in all walks of life. I tried to explain to him about being respectful – and he said that when he goes to school he does follow the dress code. He said that wearing jeans does not make him a different person, a lesser person. It makes him a person who is comfortable wearing jeans.

When did Orthodox Judaism get so fixated on how we look? When did we lose sight of the important part – our relationship with God? Does God care if my son wears jeans and a tee shirt? Or would He care more that my son is respectful to his rabbis and his parents?

I have long since given up caring what other people think. I dress the way I dress because I feel it’s right and appropriate. Am I am better person than someone who wears short sleeves? That shouldn’t be the yardstick at all.

What are we teaching our children? What do we want them to have learned? What are the values that we want to pass on to our grandchildren?

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14 Comments

  1. Mark says:

    The fact is that as one moves right on the spectrum of orthodoxy, the other people care more and more about the details of how you live your life, how you dress, who you associate with, and everything else. So, as you and your family move right on that spectrum, you will see more and more of it. That’s life (not just in Judaism, but in almost all religions and societies).

    And this is one of the big reasons why I, and thankfully my parents, have actively resisted the move to the right that has taken place over the last 2 to 3 generations.

  2. Mighty Garnel Ironheart had a great post on this concept a few days back. http://garnelironheart.blogspot.com/2012/05/why-theyre-frummer.html

  3. Former monseyite says:

    You are sending your sons to the wrong schools. Yeshivas in Monsey expect the students to dress the same way in school and out. Otherwise it looks bad on the school that kids who dress like that go there. I once had a school give me a lecture how they don’t accept children whose mothers dont cover their hair and this was for preschool and I was wearing a sheitel (I guess it must have been a good one).

    Your complaint is an old one and it’s not getting any better

  4. sheldan says:

    This really is one topic that drives me up the wall sometimes. As Mark stated, it does seem that the people on the extreme right of the spectrum seem to be preoccupied with what others are doing. This seems to be another example of, in the words of Herman Wouk (paraphrasing a quote from his “The Will to Live On”), “No matter how observant you are, you will be on the treif side of someone else.”

    The fact that one may be frummer has nothing to do with how YOU behave. I am in agreement with Mark (the last paragraph) and you.

  5. Julie says:

    WOW. My money and child would go elsewhere. How did you handle this? Everything you wrote is truth.

  6. Hannah says:

    And I totally agree with your son!

  7. Sarah says:

    Sometimes I feel that things have got so diluted. And priorities seem so skewed. I sometimes wonder how the way we keep / view the religion now would compare with the times of Tanach?

    • sheldan says:

      If the Torah is eternal, it is supposed to give us interpretations that would answer modern questions. Things have indeed become skewed. We should be able to function in modern society and still remain observant, which I would call “modern Orthodoxy.” The strictures that some would insist we all follow are not for everyone. I would respect those who want to be more strict, but I still maintain that it is possible to be “modern” and still maintain the boundaries we have always had.

  8. fille says:

    Do you mean “look” in the sense of frum/not frum or in the sense of beautiful/ugly or well groomed/dirty???

    I suspect that you prefer well groomed and beautiful persons to dirty and ugly persons…

  9. Baila says:

    On the one hand I feel that if we send our kids to these schools, we have to play by their rules. But if we hate their rules why are we sending them to these schools?
    It’s stuff like this that happens in my kid’s schools that drives them and me further away from the right.
    To the point that if I was starting over again now, I don’t know that I would send my kids to Yeshiva.

  10. Avi says:

    That’s a tough situation. I would want to say that the Rabbi is simply wrong – because he is, wearing jeans has no bearing on one’s yirat shamayim – but at the same time I wouldn’t want to completely undermine my child’s respect for religious authority. If they’re young enough, I guess the response is to switch schools. If they’re old enough, I guess the response is to have an adult conversation about the extent that dress enforces social codes, the proper reach of Rabbinic authority, and the conflict between individualism (a core American value) and adherence to halacha (even if the halacha in this case is not the clothing, but the kavod for the Rav).

  11. Z! says:

    I think that many have missed the point entirely. It is impossible to know by looking at Hadassah’s son what is in his heart. but looking at his dress, one may make assumptions. ( I happen to know that Hadassah’s children are wonderful and full of Yiddishkeit, derech eretz and love) These schools, due to the sheer number of students and the image that they wish to portray, do want their students to behave and conform to their standards at all times as they represent the study body and the school’s teachings. Is this appropriate? that is questionable, but it is the truth. Jeans are seen as less than appropriate clothing to go about representing their commitment to Judaism in their community. It is certainly easier to spot and reprimand obvious “problems” such as clothing out in the open than it is to find tax evaders, spouse/child abusers and crooked business men/women who SHOULD be publicly reprimanded by these same Rabbeim.

  12. I think that’s the price you have to pay for sending kids to more right wing Yeshivish schools. You could always transfer the kids to more MO schools where they will be allowed to wear jeans out of school without any problem (as is the case in my son’s HS) but you will have to pay a much higher Yeshiva tuition to do so. Everything in life has its pros & cons & no school is perfect!

  13. Me again! I just remembered that my son’s good friend was offered a job at a (modern) Yeshivish Monsey camp last year where he was told that he would need to wear a black velvet yarmulka while at work instead of his usual black suede one. When asked why, he was told, “that’s what the parents want to see”. Did that make this kid more “frum” when he was wearing the black velvet yarmulka? No, of course not but he had the ‘right look’ (pun intended) that the camp was trying to project. Was it correct of the camp to insist on this? No, but if the kid wanted the job at this particular camp, he had to follow the camp rules & he did.

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