Showing posts with label American Jewish University. Show all posts
Showing posts with label American Jewish University. Show all posts

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Just back from a family vacation, I open my e-mail to find that this week's Torah Lesson from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University is by one of the most thoughtful teachers from whom I have ever learned - Rabbi Elliot Dorff. So as a public service, I would like to share it with you and your parents. And I recommend subscribing to the Z School e-mails (link is at the bottom).

The Talmud asks "What is a Father's (sic) obligation to his son (sic)?" (Bavli, Kiddushin 29a). Rabbi Dorff extends that question to the role of the grandparents. Let's talk about it. Then let's take action!


Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies

 Today's Torah

Shabbat Parashat Vayehi

December 29, 2012 / 16 Tevet 5773
Rabbi Ed Finestein
By: Rabbi Elliot Dorff,
Rector and Distinguished Professor of Philosophy
at American Jewish University

The Importance of Grandparents

  Torah Reading:  Genesis 47:28 - 50:26

  Haftarah Reading:  I Kings 2:1-12

"Joseph lived to see children of the third generation of Ephraim; the children of Machir, son of Menasseh were likewise born upon Joseph's knees...Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years...." (Genesis 50:23, 26)
We do not really know what to do with the Torah's claims that many of the people in Genesis lived extraordinarily long lives. Once in a while in our times we hear of people living to 110, as Joseph is said to do in our Torah reading this week, but we cannot be faulted if we are skeptical about the numbers the Torah claims our Patriarchs and Matriarchs lived, let alone the lifetimes of hundreds of years for those who preceded them in the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11. These numbers may simply be the Torah's way of indicating that they were mythical figures, larger than life, as it were.

Indeed, the Psalmist indicates that "the span of our life is seventy years, or, given the strength, eighty years" (Psalms 90:10), and it is considered a great blessing to see your grandchildren - "May the Lord bless you from Zion; may you share the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life and live to see your children's children. May all be well with Israel!" (Psalms 128:5-6). 

This is closer to what was probably the reality in antiquity. Many died in childbirth - women and children - and those who survived birth often succumbed to infections and other diseases, but if you made it to age twenty and did not have to go to war, the chances were good that you would make it to sixty, seventy, or even eighty. This was true well into modern times, for life expectancy in the United States in 1900 was around 45 years of age, but that figure reflected many deaths in childbirth and childhood. 

Thus some of us who are now grandparents remember our own grandparents. (In my case, all four were alive when I was born, but three of the four died before I was Bar Mitzvah.) Now that life expectancy in the United States is about 78, more and more of us will see our grandchildren, and some of us will be lucky enough to see our great-grandchildren.

What is the role of grandparents? The Talmud is very specific about that. Not only do parents have the duty to teach Torah (and the skills to earn a living) to their children; grandparents do too (B. Kiddushin 30a), based on Deuteronomy 4:9: "Make them known to your children and to your children's children!" In our day, that might include helping parents pay tuition for Jewish schools, camps, and youth groups for their grandchildren. Grandparents can feel good about doing that, but not too good because it is not an especially generous act on their part; it is their Jewish legal duty!

 Grandparents, though, can and should have a much more direct and personal influence on their grandchildren. I have been a member of admissions committees for rabbinical school for over forty years, and time and time again applicants mention their grandparents as a major Jewish influence on their lives. Not every Jew should become a rabbi, of course, but this illustrates the immense affect that grandparents can have on the Jewish character of their grandchildren's lives. 

Following the lead of my friend, Dr. Alvin Mars, I now Skype with my nine-year-old grandson who lives across the country in New Jersey each week. We study D'varim (Deuteronomy) together for fifteen or twenty minutes, and then we talk about all kinds of other things. This not only deepens our personal relationships; it also communicates my own commitment to Judaism, and it helps him think about his own Jewish life. Aside from that, it is a sheer delight!

This becomes even more important when your children have married people of other faiths. How do you model your own Jewish commitments to your grandchildren so that they know about them and seek to figure out their own Jewish identity as they grow? Rabbi Charles Simon, Executive Director of the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs, and a number of people working with him have produced wonderful materials to help grandparents do that, including Let's Talk About It - A Book of Support and Guidance (on talking with your members of your family who are intermarried) and Intermarriage Concepts and Strategies. Check out the FJMC website to order those materials here.

May we all grow to be grandparents and, if we are lucky enough to be as Joseph was, even great-grandparents, and may we take that role seriously by fulfilling our duties as Jewish educators for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Shabbat Shalom.

Those interested in more on this may be interested in Elliot N. Dorff, Love Your Neighbor and Yourself: A Jewish Approach to Modern Personal Ethics (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2003), especially Chapter Four, "Parents and Children."
Elliot N. Dorff, Rabbi, Ph.D., is Rector and Anne and Sol Dorff Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the American Jewish University, Visiting Professor at UCLA School of Law, and Chair of the Conservative Movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards. Author of over 200 articles and 12 books on Jewish thought, law, and ethics, and editor of 14 more books on those topics, his most recent book is For the Love of God and People: A Philosophy of Jewish Law.
Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University

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