Wednesday, November 22, 2006

"Bling Bling", Barbies, And Teaching Hashkafah

Earlier this month, I wrote about my problems with the gifts my 7 year old daughter received at her birthday party and the general issue of teaching hashkafah and a sense of Jewish values to one's child.

I made my move the other day to try to address the issue with my daughter.

I had saved the box that my daughter's "Bling Bling" Barbie had come in, and Monday night I took it out and sat down with my daughter. I reminded her that I had told her then that I did not like the doll. I asked her if she knew why, and she pointed at the picture on the box and said that the Barbie doll was not modestly dressed, and had a lot of jewelry on. I talked to her about the idea of being Tzenuah--modest--and not being ostentatious. She seemed to really understand. I showed her how on the box it talked about the Barbie doll representing a "new lifestyle" and that this is not our lifestyle .

My daughter nodded in understanding.

She then proceeded to point to a picture of a new series of Barbie dolls that are now available that are shown on the box and told me that she wanted one because her friend had one. She didn't skip a beat--she went from complete understanding of and agreement with the idea of being modest, to asking for a half-naked doll that completely contradicted everything we had just been talking about.

I had a similar experience years ago when I was teaching Chumash to a 7th grade class.

One day a girl in my class mentioned that on the soap opera "Days of Our Lives", one of the characters--a religious Jewish woman--had a non-Jewish boyfriend. My student saw nothing wrong with this.

That day, we discussed the soap opera in class.

We discussed the issue of intermarriage. We discussed it from the viewpoint of Halachah and the implications for the survival of Jews, Jewry, and Judaism. We discussed whether it makes a difference if the couple is in love. We discussed if it made a difference if the non-Jewish partner converts and whether such a conversion was sincere and acceptable according to Jewish Law.

Then I took a poll by secret ballot.

In the first part of the poll, I asked whether it was OK for a Jew to marry a non-Jew. I asked if it made a difference if they were "truly in love", if the non-Jewish partner would convert etc. The vast majority of the class said that intermarriage was wrong.

In the second half of the poll, I asked them whether they thought the character in the soap opera should marry the non-Jew. The majority said yes.

After having said in class that even if the non-Jewish partner would convert it would likely not be sincere, after having voted in the poll that conversion should not make a difference--those same students said that in the case of the soap opera it was real love and the non-Jew would probably convert and he would surely mean it.

No matter what they thought in theory, when it came to characters in a soap opera that they could identify with, the rules of the game changed. Remember--these were characters in a soap opera, not real people; yet because they identified with them, all the discussions and reasons went out the window. For many, all the arguments we had discussed in class against intermarriage amounted to nothing more than an idea, a theory, that was coherent and logical, but not applicable to a real flesh and blood situation in life.

I was shocked.

This is the problem I am having right now with my daughter. She understands what I tell her about being Tzenuah--the same way that she understands that if 1+9=10 then 9+1=10. But it is only a piece of information that exists in the world and makes sense, but it is not something that affects her life, her interests.

At least not yet.
But there is time.

After the poll, I kidded the girl who had mentioned this plot line in "Days Of Our Lives" in the first place that the characters in the soap opera would probably not get married anyway, and that if they did, there marriage would not work out. She bet me that they would get married and live happily ever after.

Neither of us took into account the fact that this was, after all, a soap opera.

In the soap opera plot, the girl died.

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