Pathways to Parenting

January 26, 2023

Q&A with Rav Binyomin Ginsberg

Facilitated by Rabbi Mordechai Resnick

Question: What is the rav’s opinion about children watching Jewish videos?

Answer: In general, too much time spent in front of electronics is a problem and has significant educational drawbacks. Rebbeim and moros have a hard time competing with the fast-paced and exciting stimuli offered by technology. Still, in a limited capacity, Jewish videos are usually okay, but parents should always watch the entire video first to ensure that none of the content goes against any of their values. Don’t assume it is good just because it is Jewish or because people you know let their children watch it. There may also be some violence that you aren’t okay with.

Bear in mind that taking a hardline approach when it comes to videos, plays, or any other activity you may not like usually isn’t a good choice because the coveted activity then becomes forbidden waters. Children will often find ways to taste the pleasure behind the parents’ backs, such as at their friends’ homes. This can turn into a cycle of secrecy and guilt that can be far worse than your original concerns with the forbidden activity. It is usually more effective to employ some sort of compromise and to explain the problems you may have with the activity so that children understand your stance and see you are trying to accommodate them as well.

Question: Jewish music has been moving further and further toward disco-style rock. It is often hard to tell that the music is Jewish until a few moments of listening to the lyrics. Is it bad chinuch to let children enjoy modern Jewish artists?

Answer: I am usually more liberal on many topics, but when it comes to modern-day music, I am very troubled by what is happening, and the rock-style music really turns me off. Parents who allow their children to listen to these songs are letting their children lose out twofold; their children are being exposed to this untraditional style of music, and they are being denied the opportunity to listen to the beautiful, hartzige niggunim that are still available even today. Music talks to a person’s neshama, and there is nothing more inspirational than a beautiful Jewish song with meaningful lyrics. Baruch Hashem, there are plenty of beautiful songs to choose from, and there is no need to turn to questionable styles of music.

This new music trend manifests very strongly at today’s chasunos. The band is often very elaborate, and many families even fly in famous singers for thousands of dollars. Often, the wedding becomes more like a concert, with guests crowded around the stage instead of joining the dancing. In addition, the ruach of the music doesn’t always match the kedusha of a chasuna.

There are three aspects to a song—the tune, the singer, and the lyrics. There are many famous chassidishe songs that originated from a non-Jewish tune, and as long as the tune has a kosher ruach, this is perfectly fine. Similarly, English lyrics are also okay, as long as they carry proper Jewish themes. However, only frum singers should be listened to. Just as you wouldn’t allow a reform rabbi to teach a chumash class—even if only proper sources are used—singers who aren’t ehrlich can destroy even a beautiful song because a song is filtered through the soul of the singer.

Music is the language of the neshama. I often go to hotel programs for Pesach as a speaker, and singers typically join the programs to provide the guests with entertainment. One year, a very popular singer joined us. Every night, he held a kumzitz, and even those teens and men who unfortunately did not join the minyanim would come to take part in the nightly kumzitz. I commented to the singer that I think it would be a great thing if every elementary school would set aside ten minutes a day for song. Singing can often inspire children more than any lecture from the rebbi or morah can. The singer agreed but didn’t think that schools would go along with the idea.

Song has the power to inspire children. Think about bochurim who spontaneously get together and make an impromptu kumzitz. Perhaps one person joins them with a guitar. It can be a powerful and memorable experience.

The first year I taught was in the second-grade class. There was one boy who was very lively and not on the program at all. Every week, I would allow one boy to choose a song for the class to sing. This boy became very involved. First, he insisted on being the first to choose a song, and in the following weeks he would speak to the boy whose turn was up to help him choose a song. He settled down significantly and became a whole new child. Many years later, he came over to me by a wedding. He was the band leader. He told me that song is what kept him frum.

Question: My daughter is learning global studies in school. They are taught about ancient religions and cultures. Is that okay from a chinuch perspective?

Answer: Learning about other religions can be a positive thing, if the girls are taught why each belief system goes against the Torah. Chazal say, “Da mah shetashiv,” know what to respond to a non-believer. Unfortunately, the average boy or girl would not be able to articulate to a non-Jew, even on the most basic level, what the Torah finds wrong with Christianity or any other world religion. Arming them with more information can address this issue.

It goes without saying that only frum, competent teachers should even touch the topic of world cultures and religions, and non-Jewish global textbooks should never enter the classroom. Teachers must research the subjects thoroughly to be able to explain the fallacies of each religion, theology, and culture that opposes the Torah. But just teaching about non-Jewish cultures or religions without any Torah perspective would be very wrong and would give the impression of glorifying these societies when the message should be the opposite.