Thursday, January 19, 2012

Teaching our Children by Making Judaism Part of the Conversation - Thursday Kavvanah, 1/19/2011

I have been thinking lately quite a bit about parenting, not only because my wife has recently returned to work full-time and so I am spending more one-on-two time with my 4- and 2-year-old, but also because Rabbi Howard Stecker and I have been teaching a class on parenting to 40 eager parents. It occurred to me today that we read the words of the Shema incorrectly, at least in translation:
וְשִׁנַּנְתָּ֣ם לְבָנֶ֔יךָ וְדִבַּרְתָּ֖ בָּ֑ם בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ֤ בְּבֵיתֶ֨ךָ֙ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ֣ בַדֶּ֔רֶךְ וּֽבְשָׁכְבְּךָ֖ וּבְקוּמֶֽךָ׃
Veshinantam levanekha vedibarta bam, beshivtekha beveitekha, uvlekhtekha baderekh, uvshokhbekha uvqumekha.
The translation from the Conservative movement's Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals (1998) reads as follows:
Teach them, diligently, to your children, and recite them at home and away, night and day.
But here's the problem: the etnakhta, the major pause of the verse dictated by the te'amei hamiqra (the trope or cantillation marks) is on the word "bam" ([recite] them).  That is, it should read is follows:
Teach them diligently to your children and recite them, at home and away, night and day.
with the comma grouping together the teaching and reciting, and the home and away / night and day bit is therefore modifying BOTH commandments.

That is, the way that we teach our children is by speaking the words of Torah in their presence, at home and away and night and day, i.e. all the time.  These should not be understood as two separate mitzvot, but rather a single commandment.

And how should we interpret this as modern Jews, firmly ensconced in the wider society and yet with a connection to ancient traditions?  That topics related to Judaism - God, the Torah, and Israel - should be readily discussed at home.  We cannot teach our children to appreciate Jewish life merely by dropping them off a couple of times a week at Hebrew school; we must make the words of Jewish living part of the fabric of conversation in our dining rooms, living rooms and bedrooms.

~Rabbi Seth Adelson

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