Last Wednesday morning , sometime between sunrise and the arrival of the school bus, I took a few dozen of my secular books off the shelf and deposited them in the green plastic dumpster outside of my house. This wasn’t easy for me; there is something deep in my soul that resists the idea of putting books in the trash. It just seems so unJewish, even nazi.
I probably never would have done it at all had it not been for what that happened the previous Sunday with my son. On that day he tore a sheet of paper from one of his notebooks and scrawled on it a suggestion that his rebbe engage in conjugal relations with his morah.
Why? I’m still not sure. My son is only ten years old. He watches no TV, doesn’t surf the internet, doesn’t see any movies or read smutty books. But he picked up this word, knew it was something outrageous and wrote it down and to his bad luck his rebbe caught him just as he was sharing his purple prose with a boy in the next row. He was reprimanded, dispatched to the principal’s office, and my husband and I, the ultimate source of this dereliction, were summoned to school the following day.
Of course I freaked out; stuff like this drives me wild with fear, what with the exploding population of at risk youth.The last thing I needed on my head was for this son to add to their numbers. He’d already had more than his share of school troubles and this school seemed to have a handle on him. The last thing I needed was to have him thrown out .
I have to say that my prayers were answered because the meeting with the principal went much better than I expected. The principal actually smiled at us, told us how much he liked our son. He explained that the punishment, was ultimately in my son’s best interest, to teach him to control his speech and his writing. That seemed reasonable enough. After all., I wasn’t in the business of raising a future pornographer but the whole thing got me thinking.
If my son has been suspended for writing about the original biblical “knowledge ” what did that say about me? In my bedroom, I had an entire shelf of books describing just such behavior in its many permutations, not trash, G-d forbid, not Danielle Steele or Jackie Collins but classy stuff, by Phillip Roth, and Jhumpha Lahiri, Toni Morrison,and Bill Bryson, all Pulitzer prize winners of course , but with the moral sensibilities of the seven nations whom Joshua expelled from the promised land.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not against secular books or secular learning. “Chochma bagoyim ta’aminu, “ the wisdom of the nations is creditable, believable, something we can learn from, but these books contained something other than wisdom. I’d say it was more like pig flesh, with a New York Times hechsher.
As I picked the books of the shelves to ready them for incineration , the offending scenes flashed back into my mind.. I’ll spare you the unprintable details, but I’m resolved. No more dirty stuff. If I want my sons mind to be clean I have to be vigilant about my own mind.
What will I do as an alternative? Ah, that is the terrible question. I love a good book and the contemporary Jewish novels, well, lets just say that they don’t do it for me,but I’ve got a plan. I’ll try the classics. First the Jewish ones the real food for my soul. I’m proud to say that in the past year, . I’ve gone through the Hazon Ish, Emuna and Bitachon and Pirkei Avos with the Bartenura and Rabeinu Yonah, all on my own, over my morning coffee. Of course these are superficial readings but even leafing through these works has ultimate value.
And for entertainment, I’ll try to stick with non fiction, histories, sociology, and older novels, from a cleaner , more innocent time. I’ll never be trendy—that really isn’t in the cards for an orthodox Jew. So I’ll be old fashioned, harken back to an earlier age.
Edith Wharton anyone?
Originally Published Nov 19, 2007