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Friday, August 27, 2010

How To Keep Your Kid 'On The Derech'

Rabbi Horowitz, in his latest column, listed a “Top Ten Things Parents Can do to Keep Their Children on the Derech”:
A charming twenty-something Chassidic fellow pushing a baby carriage containing a newborn child floored me with his response. “Rabbi,” he said, “My son is two months old. Just tell me what I should do so [that] he doesn’t go off the derech.” And he wasn’t kidding.
That comment reflects the deepest fear that parents have nowadays – that their adorable child might c’has v’shalom (G-d forbid) morph into an unruly teenager who veers off the path (derech is Hebrew for path) to a successful life, abandons Yiddishkeit, and falls into a sub-culture of antisocial and self-destructive behavior.
Disregarding the obvious bull-shit of ”and falls into a sub-culture of antisocial and self-destructive behavior”, it is interesting to note that there is such a deep-rooted angst for one’s kids to go off the derech.
Why do you think is that?

(Interesting detail is that a haredi Rabbi is willing to acknowledge the issue in public. Is the teshivah movement not about to bring Moshiach? On the other hand, he is spearheading a ‘kiruv krovim’ outreach organization called Project Yes, so this probably serves his cause well.)

RH thinks the problem lies mainly with the way parents deal with the children.

The ten things he suggest for parents who seek to prevent their kids to get into antisocial and self-destructive behavior are (some comments in square brackets):
1. Belong to a kehila with a Rov who can guide you, and live spiritual, meaningful and inspired lives where you are true role models for your children. [Get a guru to control your family unit]
2. Create a happy and nurturing home environment; avoid corporal punishment and refrain from sending them to settings where it is condoned.
3. Spend quality time and nurture your relationships with your children and seek help should you find yourself exuding negative energy with them.
4. Be flexible – treat them as individuals and allow them to chart their own course in life. [This advise is obviously necessary in frum circles but mostly superfluous in secular families]
5. Protect them from abuse and molestation.
6. Live in a forbearing community where the members have good Torah values and guide your children to develop friendships with peers who have good middos and share those values.
7. Provide them with a good and broad-based education – in Judaic and general studies. [I thought the gedolim think that secular studies will cause people to go ‘off’?]
8. “Stay in the Game” – never give up on them no matter how bumpy the road educationally or socially, and professionally identify and address any learning disabilities.
9. See to it that your values and those of their schools are consistent and maintain congruence between your words and deeds.
10. See that they exercise (very) often and have varied hobbies and interests.
And … always and above all, daven to Hashem for siyata dishmaya.
OK, so these are actually 11 points :)

Notice how the majority of these points concern issues that are not related to OTD but ensure the emotional well-being of the child, such as creating a safe environment, stimulating emotional and physical health, as well as ensuring proper education

However, IMHO, Rabbi Horowitz missed out on at least five points that may well keep people in the cozy nest of frum and heimishe yiddishkeit:
  1. Stop teaching kids the literal and fundamentalist understanding of the Torah and other ‘holy writings’. Every child with a half a brain will sooner or later figure out that the stories of creation, the flood, etc. are etiological at best.
  2. Stop this nonsense of gedolim being super heroes. They are all normal people who can be manipulated by askanim (see here).
  3. Stop teaching these ridiculous midrashim from The Midrash Says; kfitzas haderech and the moon being shrunk are an insult to a youth’s intelligence.
  4. Stop forbidding masturbation; everyone does it, will subsequently feel terribly guilty, and then start to resent Judaism.
  5. Start saving marriages by teaching children in puberty about sex and leaving room for pre-marital, consensual sex. Many divorces can be avoided like this.
Whereas RH thinks that the problem lies (besides the factor of ‘siyata dishmaya’) solely with the way the parents treat their kids, the ‘problem’ lies with the product he is trying to sell: authentic / antiquated Judaism.


  1. may i add to your list?
    6. stop this nonsensical separation of genders. perhaps when boys and girls become young adults, they'll have an easier time interacting, thus leading to better marriages where both halves of a couple can have a NORMAL conversation and know that, yes, this is the person with whom they'd like to have a long commitment.
    7. stop the paranoia. these communities are so afraid of "the goyim" that they put up barriers against the outside world. after a while, it feels cultish and like they're suffering from mass paranoia. and if they were so sure that judaism, or their brand of it, was really so 100% filled with truth, etc., then they shouldn't feel that they have to sequester their youth in self-imposed ghettos, not allow them to go to pursue higher education (or quality education). it's almost like they're so afraid of losing the kids, that they imprison them in the community.

  2. Most of his points are good advice, though your right they have nothing to do with going OTD. And there is the real problem. The frum community clings to the belief that those who question Judaism do so because there is something wrong with them. It is inconceivable that there might be legitimate intellectual problems that might lead one off. And so we have the quote,

    “their adorable child might c’has v’shalom (G-d forbid) morph into an unruly teenager who veers off the path (derech is Hebrew for path) to a successful life, abandons Yiddishkeit, and falls into a sub-culture of antisocial and self-destructive behavior.”

    It is only rebellious teenagers who have the chutzpah to question revealed wisdom, and leaving the community leads to a depraved lifestyle.

    Your suggestions, of course, are not really feasible in the Chareidi world, but they describe parts of the MO world pretty well.

  3. The "problem" is that he thinks there's a problem. OJ is not for everybody.

  4. How about stop teaching the Bible and the Talmud. Sure there wouldn't be a derech to go off, but there also wouldn't be any OTD problems either

  5. I'm not OTD. I'm Conservadox, which most people find muddled, but oh well. I want to make three points: 1) Rabbi Horowitz is working within a certain system. Within that system, he is doing the best he can to steer parents (and thus their children) the right away. The fact that he talks about the community's problems (especially child abuse and learning disabilities, not to mention spiritual torpor in the home) in public makes him a maverick in that world. Of course, those of us not in that world see the fact that those issues are not discussed in public as wrong and pathetic. But no one in his world will listen to us, and they will listen to him, so give the guy the break. 2) As per 1), it is unrealistic to expect Haredim not to teach their young children Talmud, or the divine origin of the Torah. I do wish older children were allowed to ask more questions. 3) I agree that his perception that there are two choices, "On the Derech" and "depraved," is nuts. You are right, UK, that someone working in outreach (or in-reach), is served by presenting those as the choices. I hope that by working with some young people with questions, Rabbi Horowitz will see the point differently.

  6. Oops . . . I meant, "give the guy a break," not THE break.

  7. #11 Not have a comb over.

  8. You only need one. Judaism is BS. Nothing can fix that. Nothing can make the Torah not be blatant mythology, legends, and lies.

    Anyone who gets skeptical and starts digging will find this out quickly. Especially with modern studies concerning Biblical criticism, archeology, mythology of the ancient Near East, and historical reality. Once the seed of skepticism is planted nothing will stop it, it will grow and grow. Some people might learn faster than others, but it cannot be stopped.

    In the end your only choices will be orthopraxy or bailing.

  9. I think #10 is the most significant.
    See that they exercise (very) often and have varied hobbies and interests.

    Body narcissism is primary. All the pop psychology of feeling good about yourself and paying attention to the little tachshitim won't help much if a kid, especially a girl, hates the way she looks and feels. Socccer,lacrosse,yoga, swimming and running would change the kolel system which is a cause of much poverty.

  10. I think most of Horowitz's advice is better than yours, kofer.
    Especially your suggestion to promote pre marital sex. Why do you think that's a good thing?

  11. You're not asking me, but I definitely think (safe) pre-marital sex is a good thing.

  12. kisarita, UK's point is to dispel the myth that well behaved= on the derech. Though UK's list I assume is satire for if it were implemented, everyone would be OTD. And what is wrong with pre marital sex? We have evolved over millions of years to compete and reproduce. Why do the sadist thing to yourself and hold yourself back? (obviously use a condom)

  13. So basically UK recommends raising your children as modern rather than ultra Orthodox in order to keep them Orthodox, even though the modern Orthodox are a small, shrinking community with a far higher drop out rate than the ultra.

  14. He is right about the problem being in the parenting. If a child is given love and care he would not feel like going secular in the first place. This makes no difference if the "Derech" is correct or not. To go off requires a rebelion. A normal child that is parented with love will not turn out as a rebel and would not go off. Personally, I witnessed people go "off the derech", and it can all be cured with work and women (for guys of course). All you have to do is give kids enough work to keep them busy, and marry them off when they are very young (or allow coeducational schooling). If you make them work a full day job they will not think about purpose or meaning, and they will stay on the "derech."