I don’t know what I liked more about this story from The New York Times Magazine: the joy of seeing a sophisticated urban professsional rediscover her family’s historic faith, or the similarities between Judaism and the Catholicism that I attempt to practise myself.
It’s a longish piece, but breezy and enjoyable.
Here’s a taste of So the Talmud as a Parenting Guide?:
To the psychologist [Wendy Mogel], the yetser hara is a way to think about the root of longing and a reminder that passionate desire isn’t all bad. “Without it, there would be no marriage, no children conceived, no homes built, no businesses,” Mogel writes. So children shouldn’t be blamed for their desires. But that doesn’t mean they should be placated either, a phenomenon Mogel heard about frequently from parents. The wildness of the yetser hara can’t be stamped out, and shouldn’t be. But it doesn’t get to run the show.
There is also the good impulse of the yetser tov to be cultivated, which means teaching a child to hold herself in check. “As her parent I accept my dual responsibilities: one is to respect her zeal, her yetser hara, and the other is to help her develop a strong yetser tov,” Mogel writes. “So I will say a calm and emphatic no to the Beanie Babies and the moon bounce, but I will not criticize her for desiring them, for that is her right.” Fortuna read that passage to her parents, and they talked about how to expect generosity from children — like giving away old toys — without blaming them for resisting.
Within Judaism, applying concepts in a time and a place removed from their original context is a respected method. “There is a longstanding tradition of interpreting Talmudic texts not only literally but as symbols for larger constructs or life lessons,” says Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter, a professor of Jewish history and thought at Yeshiva University. “The connection she’s making is homiletic. It’s what rabbis do when they give sermons.”
Another way that Mogel uses the Jewish texts in her thinking about child-rearing is to embrace the importance of action as opposed to pure faith — what she calls “deed over creed.” In Jewish law, there are hundreds of mitzvahs, or sacred deeds, that Jews have been traditionally encouraged to do, ranging from not taking revenge to saying grace after meals. They are to be performed whether or not one feels moved to. “The hope is that you will have kavanah, or deliberate intent, when you do these mitzvahs,” explains Elazar Muskin, rabbi of the Orthodox Los Angeles congregation Young Israel of Century City. “But at the end of the day, the rabbis say that if a person does the act, then there was some kind of intent. And over time, we hope the kavanah will follow.”
Wendy Mogel’s book, which is the inspiration for this story, can be seen here.