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Sunday, 4 January 2015

It takes a village to raise a child

Daf Yomi Yevamos 91

A number of years ago in Edmonton, a certain family pulled their kids out of Menorah Academy and placed them in public school.  They then went to the Kollel and wanted to arrange for the rabbis to learn with their children each afternoon after school.   Rabbi Hassan, the Rosh Kollel was conflicted.  On the one hand, by doing so, he felt like he was aiding and abetting their decision to send their kids to public school.  On the other hand, the official Kollel policy was that the rabbis were willing to learn with anyone who so desired.

He called up Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetzky, the Rosh Yeshiva in Philadelphia to seek his wise counsel.

The Mishnah states: A woman’s husband went overseas and witnesses came and said, ‘your husband died, and so she remarried.  Afterwards, the husband appeared, and so she must divorce both of them.  She needs a gett (bill of divorce) from both and does not receive the kesubah payment from either.    And neither’s heirs receive the kesubah payment.

The Gemara asks: What does this last clause about the heirs not receiving the kesubah mean?  There is no kesubah payment!
Rabbi Pappa answers: It refers to the “kesubah payment of male sons,” which is a rabbinic enactment whereby if a woman is widowed and then remarries, her original dowry and kesubah monies do not automatically pass to her new husband and his family and instead remain with the children of her first marriage.
The Gemara exclaims: That is obvious!  No kesubah means no kesubah!
The Gemara answers: One would presume that while the Rabbis penalized her for her transgression, her children should not be penalized by the Rabbis.  Therefore, in this case, the Mishnah presents this different teaching.

Rabbi Kaminetzky’s instructions were loud and clear: You must agree to learn with these precious children.  Just because their parents acted irresponsibly by pulling the kids out of the Jewish school, the kids should not be penalized and denied Torah learning.  At this point, the classic adage of it taking a village to raise a child had to kick in, since the parents had failed in their duty and responsibility.  

We have had similar discussions time and time again at the shul.   Newer members of the board are always asking why we allow the children of non-members to “take advantage” of our youth programs. 
“Our members pay for the youth director and the programs,” they contend, “and so unless these other people are willing to pay, they should be denied access to the activities!”

But, as Reb Shmuel teaches, we must never penalize any child for the irresponsible decisions of their parents.   Just because the parents don’t get it, it is unfair to make the kids suffer.  We have an obligation to educate and care for every Jewish child.   This is an important message to shuls and schools alike.  Our mission must be to provide a Jewish education and experience for every child and hopefully the parents will eventually do the right thing.  But no child may be turned away due to the stubbornness and folly of the parents whose lives and homes they happened to have been born into.


The Talmud tells us that when we read in the Shema “You shall teach them to your children,” it refers to your students.  In other words, every child to whom you share the mitzvah of imparting Torah knowledge, while they may not be your biological child, is considered your spiritual child.  May you merit advocating for the inclusion of many children in shul and school programs so that ultimately you will merit being the spiritual parent to many precious kinderlach!