Parenting Like the Talmud Told You?

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Last week’s New York Times article “So the Torah Is a Parenting Guide?” discusses the prolific use of the book The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children written by a Los Angeles clinical psychologist named Wendy Mogel. Though the book received little attention when it first hit the shelves in 2001, it is now a hot teaching tool in non-Jewish settings including churches, pre-schools, camps, non-sectarian private schools and Episcopal day schools. Non-Jewish mothers and fathers are becoming what the article calls “accidental students of Judaism” as they turn to Talmudic passages for child-rearing advice; advice that instructs fathers to teach their sons how to swim and reminds mothers that children do not belong to their parents. Children are to gain independence and find paths of their own.

This phenomenon raises some interesting questions about the universality of Jewish teachings. There is something both refreshing and startling about an Episcopal minister using the Talmud to teach parents how to raise a child. But this all leads me to wonder: are these non-Jewish audiences embracing Mogel’s book because of its Jewish character or in spite of it? Might this book set a precedent for deeper explorations of parenting styles in other religious traditions? Would we, as Jewish mothers and daughters, feel comfortable using the teachings of other faiths to hone our own parenting skills? Just how instrumental is religion to parenting anyway? Is the wisdom espoused by third-century rabbis more important than the guidance of a child psychologist? Or can the two be complementary?

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