Jewish Parenting: What is the Purpose?
By Larry Fine
Recently there was an article on Ynet about an eleven year old girl from a Modern Orthodox family that was setting records as a weight lifter. (See: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4254667,00.html) This drew many comments, both positive and negative. I noticed the disparage between the people who thought it a nice past-time and those who thought it horrible.
Now what could be wrong especially in this modern day and age if a girl takes up weight lifting as a sport or a hobby? After all aren’t we all supposed to be open and equal? Don’t we all embrace women’s rights to engage in any profession or sport of their personal choice? Why do some people criticize this girl's personal choice of sport?
If you are 'in' the modern culture, then there is no problem for girl's to engage in any sport of their choice. The question becomes much deeper if you have Jewish values, (as opposed to modern popular values) and even more so if you consider yourself modern Orthodox. The question is just how much of life values comes from the Orthodox values and how much influence is taken from modern contemporary society. We should remember that contemporary modern society and its values is not based and often is in opposition to Orthodox Jewish principles.
The question arises that at what point should or could a person bend his Orthodox, traditional Jewish values and even further, what traditional values shall be or could be abandoned in order to fit into and feel part of the predominant non-Jewish culture?
We are not talking about the extreme Orthodox who disown everything modern and try to live in an isolated existence far away from the temptations of the modern gentile culture. We are speaking about modern Orthodox who try to balance the regulations of religion and observance whilst working and living in a gentile culture.
Whereas the extreme ultra-Orthodox have forbidden the use of the Internet (with several exceptions), the modern Orthodox have not. The modern Orthodox lives very much in this world and tries to make the best of it, and Internet is an integral part of modern life. On this a concession is made for the sake of existing in the modern world.
Internet is a necessity for business, for information and often for education, but is sports such a necessity? And if so, what sports? There is playing a game for relaxation or watching a game to relax, but today’s sports are more than just a bit of fun or relaxation, they become islands of foreign values.
Does playing a sport justify appearing in a immodest garb – that is for those of the Orthodox persuasion who believe people and especially women should not reveal most of their body. Obviously for the gentile culture who lacks this value, there is nothing wrong with near nudity, just the opposite, the main-stream gentile culture views favorably scantly clad maidens. But someone who’s view point is supposed to be connected in some manner with the Orthodox value system women parading their scantly clad bodies in public is considered abhorrent and must be avoided.
Extending our observation even further, traditional Jewish values emphasize the development of positive personality traits and intellectual achievement. It is the non Jewish world that seems to find something great and rewarding in a person who can kick, hit or throw a ball further or faster than his rival. Whereas this may be fun, fun does has limits and is not to be emphasized with a value above that of scholastic achievement. Just the opposite, what we see in sports are those people who lack intellectual prowess going on to win medals, trophies and acclaim; often what is ignored is their sad personal life that may include divorce, adultery, foolish living habits, drugs, alcohol, and loose living.
What is ignored in the media is the relatively happy existence of the intellectual achiever who quietly has made a secure life, with a responsible wife and happy (non rebellious) children.
Going back to our starting point, if Ynet’s article is correct (and there is reasonable suspicion to doubt many of their poorly researched opinion articles) then parents of modern Orthodox persuasion seem out of place encouraging and allowing their daughter to become a weight lifter.
What Jewish value is involved here? Does lifting a weight require some feat of intellectual achievement or perhaps some kind of personality improvement? Lifting a heavy weight does not seem fit for a ‘nice’ Jewish girl, especially if she come from a modern Orthodox home where the Shabbat, the festivals, kashrut, modesty and the daily prayers form a intimate connection to G-d.
The purpose of parenting is to guide young children who lack mental development and experience in the world to help them choose the correct path. The concept of parents (Hebrew: horim from the word l'harim, to raise) is to ‘raise’ children, meaning lift them up in a upward path, not to follow them as they descend into the darkness of the foolish gentile culture that lacks all ethics and moral values.
from the August/September 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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