Monday, October 18, 2010

A Side Note on Reading

Speaking of reading...........

One of my friends has children who seem to represent many of the major distributions of the frum world. A married daughter considers herself as yeshivish and to the right. This friend has had to adjust her thinking when trying to buy gifts for her grandchildren because what she considers as fun and/or useful does not always meet with the hashkafic guidelines this daughter has.

My friend was quite pleased, however, to find that her daughter was reading secular material with her younger children. The book she noticed was an anthology of fairy tales and folk tales. She overheard her daughter reading "Little Red Riding Hood" to her daughters. And then she overheard how her daughter was "taitching" the moral of this story. Was it that you should never speak to strangers? No. Was it that you should always obey your mother or grandmother, even when they are not right there with you? No.

The lesson to be learned was that even "goyish" writers knew that if a woman wears red clothing she is going to attract wolves, she is going to attract trouble. Red is the color of pritzus and black is the color of tsnius. Frum girls keep away from red clothing.

My friend didn't know whether to laugh or cry when she told me this story. Frankly, I can't decide which to do either. What's next? "Hansel and Gretel" as the ultimate example of why mixed activities between boys and girls, even brothers and sisters, is forbidden, because such activities always lead the participants to lose their way and go off the path?


Michelle said...

It was only a matter of time until we got to this point. Surprised that they are reading the fairy tales at all. I guess the jewish presses haven't published Little Black Riding Hood yet.

efrex said...

It's actually far from the worst interpretation of the story. The sexualized element of Red Riding Hood has been proposed by Bruno Bettelheim (and adapted by Stephen Sondheim in "Into the Woods").

That being said, what did the grandmother do wrong in your friend's interpretation? Was she wearing red too?

ProfK said...

Not surprised that Bettelheim used a sexual interpretation--he's a major Freud supporter.

Re the grandmother, my friend did not say but I can guess as to how that would have gone. The grandmother probably got punished because she 1)allowed her grand daughter to own and go out wearing a red cloak or 2)innocent people can get hurt when someone else does something that "passt nit."

The judaic presses don't have to publish Little Black Riding Hood--you can see those Black Riding Hood characters all over the streets of Brooklyn.

Anonymous said...

What is it about human nature that attracts certain people (and there are a lot of them) to extremes? Is this just the natural swinging of the pendulum with extremism/fundamentalism on the uptick now?

JS said...


Wow, I didn't see that moral coming.

I'm curious: how did this family go so far to the right in just one generation? What led to this daughter's change in religious outlook? She grew up in a home where her mother (your friend) read her Little Red Riding Hood and taught her the importance of not talking to strangers (for example) to creating a home where she reads the story to her daughter with a lesson in tznius and backhanded compliments to "goyim."

How did that happen?

Abba's Rantings said...


"What led to this daughter's change in religious outlook? . . . How did that happen?"

my bet is she is simply a product of the schools and seminaries her parents sent her to

Abba's Rantings said...

but then again sometimes people just change

ProfK said...

JS and Abba,
Abba got it right--exposure in seminary in Israel to a couple of roommates much more to the right than she was, plus a warm relationship with one of her moras who was much more to the right. When she came back she got a full academic scholarship to that college in Brooklyn under Jewish auspices, met a bunch of nice girls with whom she got friendly and who were more to the right, and headed off into the sunset with them. This same girl, by the way, has a brother whose Israel experience ended somewhat differently--he's a dyed in the wool Bnai Akivanik and made aliyah even before he got married. And then there is the other son and daughter, same schooling and also were in Israel but whose friends there were more MO--they went to YU and Queens College and fall somewhere in the middle ground of MO.

JS said...

Figured as much. For me, this is just another reason why children shouldn't go to Israel after high school to these yeshivas/ seminaries. These places have an agenda which they are not up front about. They are actively trying to become the sole influence in these kids' lives, to the exclusion of the parents. Further, they act at a vulnerable point in these kids' lives when they are figuring out who they are and what their place is in the world and when they are away from their parents for an extended period for the first time. It's all the worse because they present themselves as mainstream and modern and simply a way of extending and strengthening a child's existing commitment to Judaism for when they are out in the real world. In reality, the intention is to convince kids to never go out into the real world at all.

I've seen the same thing happen at summer camps that offer a religious experience such as SEG and Camp Sports - both under the modern auspices of NCSY, but with a decidedly right-wing bend on getting kids to reject their modern upbringing.

Abba's Rantings said...


"this is just another reason why children shouldn't go to Israel after high school to these yeshivas/ seminaries"

i have my objections to the year in israel, but this isn't one of them. the problem you describe exists, but this is a problem that can be easily solved if parents accepted a little responsibility in choosing the right school.

i will just add that one of the reasons i chose a particular yeshivah in israel is because it didn't consider every student to be a project. but this was a relatively small and very atypical israeli yeshivah with an even smaller american contingent (15 at its peak) in the desert. it wasn't on the radar of most american parents.

JS said...


Yes, parents should be diligent and research what school they're sending their kids to. However, the problem is that so many of these schools and camps are purposefully deceptive as to what their agenda is. So, even an attentive parent can be lead astray as to what type of institution is involved. Also, even if the institution as a whole doesn't engage in these practices, there is always a risk that a particular morah, rabbi, or advisor may be trying to get kids to change their religious outlook.

I mentioned SEG and Camp Sports above because I know specific examples of kids who went there and were manipulated into changing their religious outlook. The parents did their research and were satisfied that the camps were OK because they were NCSY camps. They associated NCSY with the OU, modern orthodoxy, and the requisite NCSY shabbatons and kumzitzes - perfectly harmless. The girl came back after 4 weeks and immediately went through her entire wardrobe throwing out pants and all of her "slutty, non-tznius" clothing (slutty meaning 3/4 length sleeves and skirts only slightly below the knees). When her mother was away she and a camp advisor snuck into the house to toveil all the kitchenware. I could go on. The boy was subjected to several advisors constantly telling him his parents were on the wrong derech and how he needed to stand up to them for the sake of his neshoma.

You think the parents expected that from an NCSY summer camp?

ProfK said...


You bring up a good point with your story of the NCSY camp experience. We see something of a similar nature happening in many MO designated day schools. Individual staff members, who are the ones interacting with the students on a daily basis and who have the most influence on these students, may have personal agendas that differ from the general hashkafah of the school. Many of these schools have obviously to the right rebbis and moros. Parents may be picking these schools because of what they believe the school's philosophy is, but teachers not in agreement with or not practitioners of that philosophy are the ones giving the instruction.

Re the NCSY, oh boy is this a different NCSY from the one that I was an adviser in. In those days every single one of the advisers was MO and every one of us knew that our job was to present the programs the way our bosses told us to. We were strictly supervised. I cannot ever imagine Rabbi Stolper or Rabbi Wasserman encouraging or countenancing the behavior you describe.

Abba's Rantings said...


"the problem is that so many of these schools and camps are purposefully deceptive as to what their agenda is."

bullony (respectively speaking, of course).
i'm not saying some schools and programs aren't truly deceptive, but in most cases they simply don't advertise their agenda. this is not the same as hiding it. and it stills all falls back on the parents' lap for spending less time to choose a seminary then they would a car.
i can't comment on NCSY or camps.
but seriously, what's deceptive about the israeli yeshivot? do the RW rabbis in these programs wear srugies and post fake diplomas when the parents come to visit? they don't hide how they dress or where they studied, so how dumb does a parent have to be to think there's little chance their child will come under these influences?

besides, as i mentioned when i spoke to my cousin recently (her kids are hitting israel age), you don't need to conduct an inquisition. there is only question that matters that should tell you which schools make the short list: where do the students go after yeshivah.

Abba's Rantings said...


i meant respectfully, not respectively


"Parents may be picking these schools because of what they believe the school's philosophy is"

which is why when i looked at an alternative for my son last year i asked the principal where they recruit the limude kodesh staff from. that mattered more than the professed philosophy.

in any case, i think your statement often isn't true. i've heard many parents justify sending their kids to schools that are much more to the right for various reasons (and sometimes there are good reasons to send a kid to a more RW school). and they always add that they will stay on top of their kids to make sure that the school's influence doesn't overcome the home's influence. of course they are generally not successful, but everyone likes to think they are the exception to the rule. (although i am guilty of this in the other direction.)

Miami Al said...

On a totally different track, the handful of people I know that did the Young Judea programs in Israel for a year came back mature, zionistic, and much more ready to tackle college with a year's break between "senioritis" and college.

But these weren't religious youth. And I'm sure a year of actual physical labor would cause longstanding psychological damage to Frum Jews.

Abba's Rantings said...


"And I'm sure a year of actual physical labor would cause longstanding psychological damage to Frum Jews."

a) there used to be bnei akiva hachshara for frum jews (there still is, but now you have tack on through europe, south america or south africa). also, when i was in yeshiva there was a component that involved working on a kibbutz

b) the truth is that hachshara and young judea-type programs were modeled on the work ethic of the kibbutz, avoda ivrit (jewish labor), etc. but these are ideals that no longer exist for *israelis*, so you can't really blame americans for not wanting to go and work in a kibbutz field.

Ari said...

Yosef and the kesoness pasim (coat of many colors) was clearly a cautionary tale about the dangers of flamboyant dress. Bright colors = eaten by wolves.

Miami Al said...

Abba's Rantings,

1. Mostly making fun of some other blogs, where needing to travel 30 minutes to a school friend's birthday party is apparently an emotionally scarring event that will devastate them for life.

2. Suggesting that while I think a year off between high school and college is a GOOD thing, I think that the LAST thing our children need after 13 years of Day School coddling and self indulgence is a full year of it.

I'm sure that many students do VERY seriously learning in their Yeshiva year, which is a wonderful thing, but I think that it isn't helping with the maturation process, which I've seen is VERY lacking in people that did the year in Israel followed by either Touro/YU, from my admittedly biased sample of Miami Beach.

Scraps said...

JS - Interesting that that's been your experience with SEG/Camp Sports. I went to SEG many, many years ago, and while I did come home religiously strengthened, I don't think any of the advisors there would have done the things you've written about. I guess times have changed. Although I'd venture to say that your opinion of "regular" NCSY is somewhat out of date as well, because in a lot of regions now the administration is yeshivish and there is a yeshivish agenda being pushed.

G6 said...

I don't know whether to laugh or cry...

Anonymous said...

My friend taught in a Chasidish pre-school where the Three Little Pigs was forbidden, as was any picture book with pictures of non-kosher animals!!

Abba's Rantings said...


i don't know about chasidim, but definately many chabadniks abhor books and toys with treid animals. e.g., my wife was treating a chabad girl and her mom asked my wife not to use a therapy mat that had pictures of treif animals.


regarding the adaptation of secular literature for jewish purposes, you might be interested in vol. 7 of zinberg's history of jewish literature

Leahle said...

I don't understand the whole issue that some people make about seeing animals that are forbidden for us to EAT--it's not the viewing that is ossur but the eating. God made all the living creatures. Plenty of animals that we can't eat at all or that we can only eat parts of. According to the logic in the don't read the Three Little Pigs argument, we can't have pictures of cows that show the whole cow because we can only eat certain parts of that cow. Any cow shown in a "kosher" book should be headless, have no hind quarters and be missing most of its organs. Any chickens illustrated in a story would have to be headless (and for some footless also.)

According to this logic we should also be forbidden to go to the zoo, because almost all of the wildlife in it are treif as far as eating goes. Carry this craziness out far enough and you should be forbidden to read supermarket circulars because they clearly show non-kosher products that we aren't allowed to eat and also show dairy products right next to or mixed in with meat products.

Is someone seriously trying to say that reading the Three Little Pigs is going to immediately cause a taivoh for bacon and eggs and a jump off the derech?!

JS said...


My personal experience with NCSY is with shabbatons and regionals about 2 decades ago. The stories about Camp SEG and Sports are from people I know who are younger and occurred about 5-6 years ago.

Abba's Rantings said...


a friend of mine once wrote a restaurant review for the a very popular orthodox (but not haredi) publicaion and the theme was how well the restaraunt adapts recipes that call for non-kosher ingredients such as pork. the editor censored out the word pork, resulting in incomprehensible paragraph.

btw, why are the hind quarters, organs and head of a cow forbidden? tongue is readily available here (what else is there to eat in the head?), and in israel you can have the hind quarters and some organs.

hi said...

Leahle- there already are those who forbid going to zoos because of that. Some say don't go to a zoo while pregnant so you won't see treif animals which will have a negative impact on the baby. Some say no pets, for the same reason (unless you're going for a pet cow or goat; don't ask me how they suggest Jews handled donkeys and camels back in the day).

I guess we should censor the Torah too- it mentions a bunch of non-kosher animals :-)

TJ said...

That would also put Megillat Esther as a no no--a horse figures in the story. And you're right hi about the camels and donkeys. It's okay to use them and to ride them and to own them but you can't look at them or at pictures of them? Just how did they manage that?

Seriously, looking at a treifeh animal can have an affect on a fetus in the womb? Anyone ever attempt to explain to these people how gestation takes place and fetal development? According to that logic if I have my wife look at pictures of gedolim while pregnant our unborn child is going to have a bent towards being a gadol. And if I read to that unborn child all the works of Einstein, does that mean the child will have a bent towards being a genius in the sciences?

Allen said...

If you are really going to be thorough then the dictionary, any dictionary, has to be ossured because a dictionary contains words that are not kosher. And you'll have to ban all secular literature, fiction and non-fiction, because they all have at least a few words in them that aren't kosher. And then we have to ban our own Jewish writings because they also contain non-kosher words.

So basically, reading has to be banned, sending us back centuries to a time of widespread illiteracy. I guess that's one way for a large group of people to commit suicide given the requirements for living in today's times.

Kew Gardener said...

"Little black riding hood"?

Chas v'shalom!

Little? It has to be way oversized so it's not form-fitting!

Riding? Assur assur assur! Not tznius, and kli gever!

Hood? Bad for shidduchim!!