The Books in the Dumpster

Anxious Ima

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

83 comments on “The Books in the Dumpster

  1. As a gentile teacher in an orthodox yeshiva, reading the wide variety of postings have given me new hope. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve left school fealing so disheartened that some of my favorite writers, such as Poe, Crane, Dickens, Shakespeare, Bradbury and countless others received such scant support from the bochrem and raised eyebrows from the rebbiem. I began to think that the Frum community was like the mindless drones of so many anti-utopian novels written in both the modern and post modern periods; yet something kept telling me that this could not be so, and that jew, gentile or whatnot, people are people! I was happy to read that not all of the observant have so ignorantly and arrogantly dismissed secular literature. By the way, another incident rekindled my hope in the Family of Man: on a busy sidewalk, I saw an observant young man flash a smile at a scantily clad young woman who crossed his path? Score one for Old D.H. Lawrence!

  2. ” Being moderated could sound like, ‘you don’t fit in here’, even if that is not the intention. I don’t think that difficulty should be minimized”

    As previous commenters wrote, a lot depends on the “tone”. At least on many types of threads, tone can bridge the gap not only regarding differences within the observant world(Right/Left/Center), but even between observant/non-observant. In that way, many more people could “fit in”, rather than being rejected. I wish the moderators success in trying to satisfy as many people as possible who “are looking to grow in regard to their service of Hashem” .

    Regarding the substance of this specific thread(a different issue), I don’t believe that there is a, single, correct way to respond to the original posting. People are looking at the original posting from different perspectives and are expressing valid points. There is an obvious benefit and importance to focusing on the primary issues of kosher/non-kosher reading materials. But it is also legitimate to focus on “secondary” issues(e.g., answering children’s sensitive questions, principal’s reaction). First, there are people who for whatever reason relate better to a Torah way of life by discussing the secondary issues, so this angle has value as far as interest. Also, the Torah applies to all aspects of life, so all angles have merit in of themselves. As above, “tone” of comments can bridge the differences in focus and perspective.

    I hope that this comment, itself, will not suffer from any “moderation ” :)

  3. (Regarding comment 79)
    Being moderated can be difficult. It may feel like being judged or evaluated. Some who post here may be trying to find where they fit in, in Yiddishkeit in particular. Being moderated could sound like, ‘you don’t fit in here’, even if that is not the intention. I don’t think that difficulty should be minimized. It sounds like it is something the moderators here understand and take seriously.

  4. s/b “important as that”, not “important than that” above.

    I also want to thank the moderators who have put up with or even fixed my typos.

  5. Mark Frankel makes the word “moderated” sound sorta like “tortured” or “liquidated”. Commenters should be grown up enough to handle rejection-for-cause and find a way not to sulk.

    I realize Beyond BT has many uses, but the forward progress of the general readership is at least as important than that of the aggressively anti-Orthodox commenters with “another side”.

  6. At this point I’d like to step in to point out that there is often a side to a person that you don’t see in comment threads. We are often privy to a little more information due to behind the scenes communications.

    Sometimes we will moderate a person for what we see as the greater good of the Beyond BT community as has been pointed out previously.

    It’s always a tough call to make and there is usually significant pain felt by the person who is moderated. We’ll take this opportunity to apologize to those people who have been moderated and have experienced that pain.

    There are no set rules but our one key focus is trying to see the good in *every* Jew and doing whatever is possible to bring them closer to Hashem and His Torah.

    Another focus is that this is primarily a site for people who have accepted the obligations of the Torah and are looking to grow in regard to their service of Hashem.

    Thirdly we recognize that different people grow in different ways in different communities at different times in their lives. So when somebody comes in with a very shtark (I’m definitely right) viewpoint, we encourage them to try and tone it down.

  7. Katrin, Bob, and anyone else who’s taken offense at my (usually) impulsive responses to discussions – I’m still trying to learn to think before I submit (or talk), and regret any offense I may have caused. Hope you stay on the site, because you’ve both been great contributors!

    You know the old story – 10 Jews, 10 opinions.

  8. Where I was coming from was this:

    People can approach this blog with the overall goal of understanding, practicing, or teaching halachic Judaism—or with the goal of undermining it.

    There have been cases of commenters looking to dispute cardinal principles of Judaism through mockery, half-truths, and even outright lies, while pretending to be what they’re not (that is, BT’s), and that’s what I object to. This has nothing to do with writing style, colorful personal ways of expression, etc.

  9. Katrin,
    In case any of my comments have any acute connection to your complaints, please read the following apology and explainer……….

    Sometimes, I get a little carried away trying to understand or argue a concept, it’s a different way of learning. (I’m not looking to develop a fan club of fanfare fanning, confetti tossing followers that insist on drooling over my ideas)…..
    If any of my rough around the edges/ uncut sentences/run-on comments/run-away points/ questions or outrageous suggestions ever offended you, I apologize and will think harder before arguing.
    So dont do the “do not visit” thing cuz of my comments.

    Bob Miller, “ditto” for you to.

  10. It goes without saying that moderating this blog requires us to walk a tightrope. It is not possible, nor is it, IMHO, advisable,to allow for open and honest discussion and also squelch the opinion of some who may not agree with a particular post.

    Sure, there are the easy calls. Someone who preaches anti-torah sentiments (I think I just made that term up) is not welcome. But, like life, the tricky part is in the gray area. IMHO, disagreeing with the manner in which someone handled a situation does not constitute loshon hora or an attack. Of course, that determination depends greatly upon the famous “not what you said” but “how you said it” rule.

    I recently had a conversation with a blogger here who expressed his/her concerns about the tenor of the comments. I asked him/her if (s)he could point out particular recent comments that (s)he would have moderated or deleted if (s)he was running the show. (S)he couldn’t point out any particular comment. Now, that doesn’t mean that such comments don’t exist (in fact, in reviewing this thread, I did find some comments that probably should have been moderated) but I think it points out the difficulty of balancing the duality of keeping out what’s unwanted while exposing our readers to the panoply of Torah thought and insight.

    We appreciate the constructive criticism and we really do take it to heart. We encourage everyone to continue participating and continue providing your input as to how to make the blog a better place.

  11. dear administrators

    what disturbs me is not the difference in opinion per se, but how it’s expressed. for example, i try my best to treat other posters here with respect; to avoid lashon hora, slander or hurtful speech.

    i may still upset some people – and if i do, it’s inadvertent and i apologise. but i’m finding the debate on beyond bt, far from creating more achdut and understanding between different jews, appears to be creating a lot of bad feelings, negative (and often very inaccurate) stereotypes and hurt

    i can only speak for myself. i’m doing my best to have ahavat yisrael. but then if i choose not to respond to a ‘baiting’ comment, it kind of leaves the floor clear for those that don’t appear to be showing the same sensitivity to posters who don’t agree with them to continue on unchallenged.

    i don’t know what the answer is, but i do know that i don’t want to participate in a forum in which people are attacked for being religious jews.

    and i also know that the people who want to avoid loshon hora – and respect a whole slew of other commandments about how we interact with our fellow jews, whatever their views or background – will probably also find it very difficult to continue to participate.

  12. Time to assess costs vs. benefits. Possibly, the few benefited at the expense of the many (readers).

  13. “Beyond Teshuva is focused on providing ideas, connection and support for Baalei Teshuva in their continuing quest of learning, growing, and giving.”

    the above is the ‘raison d’etre’ of this site. anything that doesn’t fit this ‘raison d’etre’ doesn’t belong on this site, and given the sensitive nature of what is being discussed on this site, is not only out of place, it’s actually terribly destructive.

    churning out the same cynical comments time and time again – whether or not they ‘fit’ the thread – does nothing to further honest debate, or to try and support people who may be genuinely struggling to find their path.

    it’s obvious that many of these ‘negative’ commentators have already chosen their path – in direct opposition to that of the torah – and are now actively engaged in trying to pull other people away from living an inspiring and fulfilling torah life.

    if this site is indeed the correct forum for this type of attitude and behaviour, then it’s not reflecting its ‘raison d’etre’ – and it’s not the site for me.

    the moderators will of course have the last word, but i made it clear in my earlier post that i have utmost respect for them, and the vision they had for this site.

    but it’s been hi-jacked one time too many by people who if they had a shred of honesty would admit that they aren’t ‘searching for answers’, and are really only interested in taking cheap potshots at others who are genuinely trying to grow in their yiddishkeit.

  14. “How about starting with a home based on open and honest communication in addition kedusha v’taharah? Why are those two mutually exclusive?”

    No one did. What I gleaned from Anxious Ima’s story is that she saw these books as a potential roadblock to many issues including a home based on Kedusha v’Tahara and eventual sex education within those parameters.

    IMO the essense of this article is summed up in this line

    “If I want my sons mind to be clean I have to be vigilant about my own mind”

    I didn’t see anywhere in Anxious Ima’s article any ideas that she feared her son had read these books leading to his improper behavior or that she considers the topic of sexuality to be forbidden.

    Furthermore she was discussing her own approach and nowhere pontificated that it should be sought across the board.

    Several posters who zoned in on those ideas were operating tangentially and extraneously from the article’s content.

    Whether if one agrees or disagrees with the tactics she confronted a responsible realization that a household can be influenced by a parent’s conduct and that conduct can be influenced by thought patterns.

    Also, not related to Abbi’s post but also left unmentioned, was the reaction and conduct of the yeshiva principal which deserved commendation

    “The principal actually smiled at us, told us how much he liked our son.”

  15. “but also striving to build a household based on Kedusha v’Tahara.”

    How about starting with a home based on open and honest communication in addition kedusha v’taharah? Why are those two mutually exclusive?

    Not that either is mutually exclusive. And I have nothing against her throwing out all of her books, if that’s what she really wants to do. I just didn’t hear anything in the post about how she sat down with her son and had an honest and open discussion about sex, which is the real solution to this issue.

    She can throw out as many books as she wants, I just don’t see how the sole act of throwing out books is going to help her son understand what it means to have a mature attitude towards sex.

  16. I also did a similar thing a few years ago, since I do not want my kids reading what I read way too early, but I am a voracious reader and Jewish books are very expensive- does anyone else have any ideas?

  17. The question of what was done with the books is so utterly besides the point of the post — what a shame this important discussion has been detoured!

  18. I agree that donating books (or anything else for that matter) to worthy organizations is a good thing. However, if we have books that are deemed to contain questionable material (material we feel unfit to have in our homes), then why would we want to distribute these books any further? How do we know where they will end up if donated to a library? If a Yid should come in and decide to borrow the book, we have a hand in that questionable material ending up inside their head. If we have books that we feel could be harmful to our own family, they best be put in the dumpster rather than contributing to the disemination of such materials to the rest of the world…who’d probably be better off without them…

  19. Shkoyakh JT couldn’t have said it any better myself. As a matter of fact way back in comment #19 I didn’t!

  20. A look through our garbage will clearly illustrate that sometimes people throw things away instead of going through the trouble of giving them away.

    Perhaps we can try to be charitable in how we assess the actions of others.

  21. There wasn’t any need to throw away these books. I understand that the author panicked, but there are so many places that you could have donated those books to.

    Extreme perspectives often lead to extreme reactions.

  22. Katrin, regarding your comment number 12 ,
    Its unfortunate for you , if you feel that way about some of the current beyondbt thread content.
    I understand that’s its hard to imagine but , Unfortunately not everyone has been able to attain your unique level of spiritual bliss.

    When trying to color reality and create the perfect life picture its best to avoid using one color exclusively.

    Say musty modest mustard , plain n jolly pollyana yellow or myopically optimistic rainbow opal. This concentrated usage of one color may not always paint reality in so realistic a picture conducive to healthy growth. Fun names notwithstanding. Never judge a concept by its titl. And the fine print is bound to be contradictory or trip oriented if its sounds too happy.
    Individuals tripping on the missed fine print need thread time too, just like the threaders drunk on spiritual bliss.

    In any stable thread life there are thead runners promoting questionable practices of material modesty,while other theead revelers might suggest or promote the need for actual sources and a deeper understanding.
    Its a personal thing the whole growth inspiration thing.
    Some are inspired by modesty tales. Others are inspired by Talmudic debates.

    Mark and David are the best thread content coordinators , threaders and weavers.
    Beyondbt is a carefully coordinated conglomerate of mesmerizing thread mixes and color coordinated contrasts. And the occasional kitchen sentiment. Not that there is anything wrong with kitchens !
    Creating the close to perfect thread content for reading learning, wordplay,give and take, giving , arguing and growing.
    So the question remains, what makes your blanket comment threadings critique, tax exempt from the spiritually sound thread laws you seem to be touting around like a sandy, wet beach towel on a philosophy debate parade float

    Have you any idea how much work,effort,unadulterated care and concern the coordinators Mark and David dedicate to this blog?

    How can you be so careless with your criticism ?

    Sometimes modesty is as modest muses.

    Happy Thanksgiving and Macys day parade watching.

  23. IMO a kid’s first exposure to the concept of sex is very important.

    If they first learn about sex from a somewhat explicit (incestuous?) rape scene in “A Color Purple”–that could be bad. That could give them a lot of wrong ideas and connotations. If they learn about it from looking for the “naughty bits” in the Shulchan Aruch–IMO, not bad.

    IMO the best thing is for parents to talk to their kids at an age-appropriate level, both to ensure that the kids won’t learn about these things from an inappropriate source and to protect them from abuse.

    I’m not sure I agree that kids won’t look through their parents’ books. A curious kid who likes to read probably will. A kid who’s curious about sex and has heard that a particular book has explicit scenes almost certainly will.

  24. I would point out that apperantly the bayis chaddash in a responsa held that there was no problem of unmarried boys and girls talking to each other, but there was a problem of married women talking to men other than their husbands.

    (Teshuvot habach, yorah deah, 55)

    and I really don’t see how you can explain some of his comments in that teshuva otherwise.

    actualy, evidently he held that it was impossible for a man to have even thoughts of sin because of talking to a young unmarried girl. meh.

  25. Adult themes, allusions, and topics, N, can rationally be separated from explicitness as a criterion for drawing a line. The line can indeed be drawn in other places.

  26. You think Edith Wharton is not controversial? There are many underlying connotations in those novels as well

  27. A few weeks ago, I read on (Baltimore) about a couple who sells used books on E-bay to help finance their kid’s Bais Yaakov education. I went through the books in the basement and got rid of the stuff I didn’t want our daughter to read (plus some old textbooks). I can remember going through the basement to find my parent’s old books when I was young. I ended up reading some classics that would have been more appropriate for a much older child and I’d like to avoid that for my daughter.

  28. Bob,

    “No one is pretending that evicting objectionable reading matter from the home is the total answer.”

    However, reasonable people can disagree over the definition of “objectionable”.

    IMHO, the broader message here is on using a negative incident as a catalyst for introspection and self-improvement. What’s laudable here is what Anxious Ima did, ie getting rid of something the she believed was keeping her down spiritually. How she did it is particular to her and her hashkafic needs.

  29. Just to clarify my previous comment, I’m not talking at all about the subject of evicting objectionable material from the home, but rather noting, positively, the fact that kid’s sensitive questions are now starting to being addressed more effectively (or at least there is more awareness than before) as a result of the incident of “Kids/Adults at Risk”.

    About the suspension–I’m not going to judge how the mechanech should have handled the issue, although I myself would probably have handled it differently.

    Someone just sent me a list of some of the other questions, many of which are more intellectual in nature. I would add that if 1,500 “good” BY girl’s #1 question is, “why can’t you talk to boys?”, then I would imagine the same would apply to boys. If so, I think that there should be a sequel for yeshivah bachurim(I believe that R Akivah Tatz’s book for teenagers addresses it partially), or perhaps vaadim(small sessions) are the answer–as I said, I’m not an educator.

    I will also note that R Greenwald is working with AJOP and *within* the Yeshivah system, not agaisnt it.

  30. No one is pretending that evicting objectionable reading matter from the home is the total answer. But it’s undeniably part of the answer.

    Some of the comments sound like “if your course of action isn’t the global all-encompassing solution, don’t waste time on it.” More often then not, we don’t have the big picture (and I don’t mean home theater video or TV!), but we’re duty bound to do Jewishly right things as opportunities arise.

  31. “While this is truly a parent’s job, granted, since yeshivos are so afraid of exposing children to any hint of sexuality (as if our kids aren’t talking about it, asking about it and thinking about it), they will only respond to such an infraction with something like a suspension rather than something that will actually speak to the issue, namely that 10 year old boys are beginning to be aware of sex and interested in it.”

    I heard an interesting interview recently on the Dov Hikind Show with Rabbi Ronnie Greenwald. AJOP is putting out a book titled “Twenty Most Asked Questions by Beis Yaakov Girls”. According to Rabbi Greenwald, the questions below are based on asking 1,500 “good” students, from 24 different Beis Yaakov schools.

    1) Why can’t you talk to boys?
    2) Can you listen to secular music?
    3) About Moshiach

    I’m curious what the other seventeen questions are :), but I would think that the next book should be “Twenty Most Asked Questions by Yeshivah Bachurim”.

    I’ll leave it to someone more qualified to address these issues–I am neither a mechanech nor a rav, nor a psychologist, and have no desire to opine upon it at this time– but I found the above book to be an interesting and positive development. According to Rabbi Greenwald, this is a result of the “Kids at Risk” phenomenon.

  32. “I’ll never be trendy—that really isn’t in the cards for an orthodox Jew. ”
    wow, so i havent read the other comments but that line really stuck out to me as something painful that i discovered recently.
    well not really painful if there is a good enough substitute. but its something that needs to be clarified in our lives. are we going to sacrfice most of our deeds on the alter of cool? And really recognising what we are doing may just be a fashion trend.

    Its hard cus we want to be cool, we want to be accepted but also to feel good that were not inferior and “backward”, something that delegitimises us and makes us feel stupid.

    But it really hits me when i think about the durability of actions, well think of looking back on actions and choices, justifying it to ourselves or family. We are constantly creating ourselves do we want it to be al about what was cool?

    It is a question of really, can an orthodox jew not “live” in the modern world, engrossed in it and at the same time knowing there are higher values in our lives.- its a challenge, easier said than done but how can we cut off, we will never be able to face it and challenge or change it!

  33. It’s a shame some thought this post called for judgment and reprimand related to a personal parenting decision.

    I have a feeling ‘Anxious Ima’ is going to think twice before sharing her experiences again.

  34. Abbi wrote

    “Instead of being obssessed about his spirituality, why don’t you show some concern for his psychological well being”

    Are they mutually exclusive?

    “make sure he’s getting his information about sex from the right sources”

    That’s probably why she threw away what she considered to be improper literature

    “This has nothing to do with what kind of media you have or don’t have in your house”

    That sounds contradictory to the previous comment about learning from the wrong sources. The media is filled with wrongfulness and not allowing it into one’s house is not just about shielding one’s children from the incorrect information but also striving to build a household based on Kedusha v’Tahara.

  35. Slight digression but this reminds me of some difficult Kibud Av tests I went through while living at home.

    In order to avoid clutter I would often attempt to dispose of obsolete computer books written about programs or operating systems that no longer existed only to meet my father’s strident oppostion.

    My father grew up in the 1930s and spent many a sunday at the movies where prior to the main attractions they showed newsreels including film clips of, among other frightening images, public book burnings when the Nazis first took power.

    This likely made a heavy impression on my father during his childhood.

    There is likely no parallel between the subject of those newsreels and this blog post with other events in our history such as when King Louis IX of France torched cartloads of Gemaras 700 years ago.

    However, abhorrence to book demolition is likely a part of our collective conscience and would require some justification, at least in our minds, before doing so.

    There is also no parallel between government-ordered destruction and one’s personal decision regarding their home.

    Personally, I vouch for Ron’s statement that removing unseemly material from one’s abode is not intended solely to avoiding exposure to the children but also to make one’s home a Mikdash Me’at.

  36. >Does anyone else think that the punishment given(suspension) is a bit rough? If this happened to us as parents, I’d find it hard to be supportive.

    It’s par for a yeshiva elementary school. While we can’t be completely hippy dippy and treat a boy writing or drawing about a sexual encounter between his rebbe and morah as if its not disrespectful and not address it, I can assure you, unfortunately, that the yeshiva will not in any way, shape or form even remotely address human sexuality.

    While this is truly a parent’s job, granted, since yeshivos are so afraid of exposing children to any hint of sexuality (as if our kids aren’t talking about it, asking about it and thinking about it), they will only respond to such an infraction with something like a suspension rather than something that will actually speak to the issue, namely that 10 year old boys are beginning to be aware of sex and interested in it.

    But that’s okay. By the time he’s in 9th grade he’ll be learning Kesubbos and he’ll find about diaphragms and rupturing of the hymen–also without any sort of preparation or context.

  37. Two things Iwanted to comment on:

    Tamara, used books are basically worthless. Libraries usually don’t want them; the science of what books go on their shelves, in what quantity, and how to get them is a big aspect of managing a library.
    Maybe they don’t want them for their shelves, but many libraries DO take donations, to resell. The issue isn’t making profit from them yourself, but doing someone else a favor while removing them from your own house.

    And, from yy: “Of course these are superficial readings but even leafing through these works has ultimate value.”

    The Hazon Ish, Bartanura and R’ Yona are “superficial”?? I don’t see how anyone can merely “leaf” through them

    With all due respect, maybe you need to re-read that post? The only understanding *I* took from it was that the author was acknowledging that her own reading of these texts was a superficial reading, satisfying a desire to read with her coffee, but with kosher reading material.

    And I agree with her; reading such texts, even on such a thoroughly superficial level, even if merely flipping pages over coffee, while perhaps a disservice to the content, is much better than engrossing oneself in reading current secular novels (NYT bestsellers or ‘trashy’) over said coffee.

  38. The reference to the section in Niddah hit home for me. There are passages in Yevamot and Ketubot that we have been learing in Daf Yomi that I found upsetting; the pace in Daf Yomi seems to make it impossible to address them in a way that is consistent with our values.

    Regarding television, no rabbi told me to get rid of my television. I just watched it less and less until by the fall of 2003 I wasn’t watching at all. It seemed natural as I developed spiritually; learning torah just felt much more interesting than anything on television. In the spring of 2004 I tried to turn on my set for the first time in six months and it didn’t work; I haven’t replaced the set. I gave my VCR and DVD player to a shul so they could view torah videos.

  39. David Linn,

    No wonder they lost to the woeful Jets (yes, I am a fan) you jinxed them!

    Seriously though, I had a local Rabbi and his sons for the superbowl last year (they like sports but don’t have a TV) The commercials for that game fit the event, they were super- inappropriate. I had my hand on the remote at all times. It did give me a good excuse not to get up to help my much better half though.

    We have a 19″ set that is over 25 years old. My wife and I agreed not to replace it when it goes. A good friend of mine (husband of a recent blogger here) said that the Satan comes every night when we are asleep and does any necessary repairs :)

  40. Nicely put, Ron Coleman! IMO, we must all strive to provide a home of kedusha, without the distractions and treif media that dominates the society which surrounds us. The effect of our efforts with our children will last for the rest of their lives. For example, it amazes me to see my children growing up without TV, a device that I spent half my own childhood sitting in front of. What I originally felt might be a rather strict policy, has turned out to be quite wonderful. It’s beautiful to see them busy with other activities and having a ball.

    No, we cannot prevent them from being exposed, eventually, to the negative influences out there. However, when they do grow up and go out on their own, they will have a sense of what is kosher for them to be around and what is not…they’ll have a built-in sense of discomfort to be around those things (be it TV, the web, questionable reading materials),
    and our efforts to instill Torah values will kick in…

  41. So you threw out the books, but you didn’t address how you are dealing with your son’s curiosity about sex, which is perfectly normal at this age.

    Yes, he needs to learn how to control how and when to speak about this curiosity, but you didn’t mention how you reassured him how it’s perfectly normal to wonder about these things, and whether he has other questions.

    Instead of being obssessed about his spirituality, why don’t you show some concern for his psychological well being and make sure he’s getting his information about sex from the right sources (ie: you and your husband) rather than the wrong ones (his friends, porn magazines- don’t think they don’t exist in Yeshiva, especially if he’s going away soon)

    You are inviting a lifetime of sexual dysfunction if you make this a completely forbidden topic of discussion. This has nothing to do with what kind of media you have or don’t have in your house- your child will get information (rather misinformation) about sex from his friends, school, no matter how frum his friends, school is. This is the nature of the topic- his friends will just make up stuff if need be!

  42. David Linn-I hear you. I used to listen to talk radio in the car, but the commercials have become too much. My kids insist on the classical music station, so I have just learned to drive and not fall asleep while listening to their choice. Ultimately, there is less liability and I love classical too.

  43. I’m surprised the school came down so hard. A trip to the principal culminating in a suspension? When the boys in my example above got sidetracked by their own dictionary assignment, the teacher re-directed them. A punishment would probably have made them even more interested.

    I truely don’t understand why the entire incident could not be ignored. But, wow, if I was called into a meeting with the principal, I’d be in tears no doubt.

  44. Determining how much and what type of culture we expose our children to, and when, is a very personal and difficult decision. That decision becomes more and more difficult as greater society’s nonchalance in regard to discussions about s*x (need to step around the filters here) increases.

    A quick, really akward story. I don’t own a television, that’s a personal choice. Yesterday, I was at my mother’s apartment with one of my daughters. My mother wasn’t there, we were taking care of a few things in the apartment for her. After we finished, we each got cracking on some work we had brought; my daugher on her homework and me on the grading of examinations. When we both finished, we had aprox a half-hour before my wife would be picking us up. I happen to be a bit of a sports fan and when it comes to football, I’m a Pittsburgh Steelers fan (don’t ask!). I never get to see them play. First of all, they are not a local team. Second of all, as I mentioned, I don’t own a television! Since the Steelers were playing the Jets, I figured I would turn on the game and enjoy for a few minutes while TRYING to explain football to my daughter. After a few minutes, a commercial comes on for a particular medication prescribed to older men. That’s as explicit as I will get. But let me tell you that the commercial started so innocously and then so abruptly shifted gears and used words that I can only hope my daughter somehow missed as I tried to distract her and fumbled for the remote. That to me was an indicator of how freely the media disusses topics of the utmost intimacy. – mean, this was Sunday afternoon, at 4:30 during a game that, I would presume, tens of thousands of male adolescents (and younger) are watching. I can only assume that, in addition to all of the other issues discussed above, such exposure (and, to tell you the truth, this commercial is far from the worst of it) trivializes the subject and desensitizes the viewers.

  45. I hope I am not alone in thinking that a 10 year old boy’s interest in sexuality is normal. In fact, I remember in being in 3rd grade (public school), hearing the boys laugh while looking up sex. No one seemed to know what it was and the dictionary was of no help either.

    Right now we are reading Bereshit. We’ve got all the trials and tribulations of society in only a handful of parshiyot: murder, sodomy, rape, incest, infertility, flirtateousness, trickery, dishonesty, prostitution, and more.

    We can limit exposure to media and bad influences, as we should. But the introduction to the ills and trials of humankind is (hopefully) dinner discussion.

  46. >I can’t understand why it’s necessary to explain that the mere fact that something is “just human sexuality” or that something appears in the the Talmud does not make that subject matter, when treated by authors who are not religious and who are in many cases anti-religious to say the least, and in books published for entirely secular purposes, equally acceptable.

    It’s not a matter of acceptable, but what might be influencing our ten year olds, whether the Philip Roth books away in Mom’s room or the Gemara in the book bag.

  47. Menachem, I think you are proving my point, not disproving it. Our obligation is not to have materials around the house that deal with psychologically and emotionally sensitive topics, during a period of developmental vulnerability, in ways that lack tzenius and kedusha.

    LNM, who says children have unsupervised or unfiltered Internet access at home, or even outside of home? It’s a parent’s responsibility, as long as they live at home, to know where one’s children are.

    In any case, I think there is a profound moral lesson in what you give your approval to, tacitly or otherwise, and what is obtained outside the home.

    I am also in favor of wide exposure to “kosher” secular reading and even multimedia material. I believe this takes the edge off the “forbidden fruit” problem and helps children understand line-drawing. Many people find this a complex area to navigate, but the approach of, “You can’t stop it all, so don’t stop anything,” has given us a modern culture of moral debasement that, for a lot of people in this discussion, is what brought them here!

  48. Anyone have suggestions for recent “clean” books which are also good?
    I just read such a book, which was published recently, called THE LOST MEMOIRS OF JANE AUSTEN by Syrie James.

  49. If you want your son’s mind to be clean you need to educate him about what you think is appropriate and what isn’t. In the information age you are unable to control everything he sees. You can throw out some books in your house but you can’t throw out the entire internet or restrict his access to the net outside of the home. Perhaps you want to leave a couple books about sexuality and modesty on your shelf. That way when he does find them you know that he is getting sex ed from a source you approve of, and not from

  50. Ron,

    What you seem to be missing is that to an adolescent boy who’s curious about sexuality, the parts skipped in the Gemorah or the relevant passages in the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch appeal to him in the same way as do passages in those novels.

    As adults we can differentiate between sexual discussions that are based in Tznious and Kedusha and those that are not. To a curious young boy the difference is negligible.

  51. Just wanted to share a thought or to on the challenges of being a parent, of any ilk….

    Years ago we used to have a playgroup when our kids were toddlers. One day an older sibling (perhaps about 5-6) of one the kids came home from his very frum yeshiva with, shall we say, a bad 4 letter word. His mother very calmy told him he can say (several words that rhymed with said word), but he couldn’t say #*&(. Then she asked him where he heard such a word. He told her he’d heard the handyman at his school say it.

    And imagine how shocked I was when my kids brought up, albeit in a kosher way, the subject of homosexuals. I don’t think I even knew what that was till I was way older then they were at the time, and I went to public school, not yeshiva.

    My point is that they’ll unfortunately pick things up no matter how diligently we try to protect them. Our job isn’t to put blindfolds on either them or us, but rather, to try to show them how such things do not fit into the life of a Ben or Bat Torah. That the ills of society are unfortunately all over the place, but we will endeavor to avoid tarnishing our souls.

  52. I can’t understand why it’s necessary to explain that the mere fact that something is “just human sexuality” or that something appears in the the Talmud does not make that subject matter, when treated by authors who are not religious and who are in many cases anti-religious to say the least, and in books published for entirely secular purposes, equally acceptable.

    This is something I expect someone to get past in their first week at Ohr Someach.

    Even at the junior high school level, certain parts of gemorahs are not taught even though a class is planning to make a siyum on an entire tractate. There are two principles at work here. I guess I have to explain them.

    One is TZENIUS. It is a concept in Jewish sensibility that is often translated as “modesty,” but also as “dignity.”

    The other is KEDUSHA. This means holiness, separateness — a status wherein that which possesses it, is considered fit to approach God.

    Popular novels acknowledge neither of these values and typically mock them. They work with the raw material of human existence, as does the Torah, but the similarity ends there.

    How much more has to be explained on this level? Please forgive my impatience, but I do feel as if something is indeed degrading around here!

  53. Besides, a post so gut-wrenching, revealing, honest and open is bound to evoke spirited (I was thinking of another word but self-censored) debate.

  54. My understanding of many of the posts here, is that people are looking for assistance with the myriad issues that affect us all in varying ways. Parenting and family dealings are probably the ones where we can get the most “lost” because no matter what your Rebbe, mentor, etc. did, they weren’t dealing with YOUR kids, ,YOUR extended family, your shul, your community, your kid’s yeshiva(s) etc. Each household is unique, and henceforth, civil discussions are appropriate (in my opinion).

  55. As a lurker on another J-Blog I rate this one as one of the most civil and serious blogs in the J-Blogosphere.

    The Moderators have the unenviable task of treading a Torah speech vs. “free” speech tightrope and avoiding the twin perils of an echo-chamber on the one hand and a dung-heap on the other.

    IMO they do a remarkably skilled and sensitive job.

  56. I agree with
    Katrin’s comment of November 19th, 2007 15:33

    I note that rhe blog of has recently announced a policy to keep the discussion there civil.

    It’s not that BTs’ sensibilities are too fragile (we’ve had to deal with worse); it’s that this space is supposed to be used for a positive purpose. This is our electronic clubhouse.

  57. Katrin

    We agree with you and we will be more vigilantly monitoring comments to keep Beyond BT a supportive place while at the same time enabling and allowing constructive dialog.

  58. Anxious Ima- I suspect you’ll find things you find objectionable in Edith Wharton and Jane Austen as well. While I commend your willingness to sacrifice one of your pleasures because you believe by so doing you will help your son, please do not throw away books you find objectionable. Others, including many frum folks, do not share that view and would love to have those books.

    Ron- WADR, you are incorrect about the value of used books. Not only do libraries often request donations in order to host sales to raise funds for various community groups, all kinds of community groups and centers will very happily accept donated books.

    I admit I’m puzzled by the idea that, if a book deals with adult themes, it’s “trash.”

  59. Actually, I don’t think Masmid is being facetious. It makes no difference if Tanakh or Talmud approve or disapprove of sexuality. The point is that they discuss it. I’m sure the author of the post would be surprised at how many kids read the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch for the parts that talk about sex, for example?

    How about this mishnah in Niddah?

    It can be a serious topic, but it’s still human sexuality.

  60. I could really relate to this posting. For years, I only ready frum books. Then a friend of mine introduced me to Faye Kellerman’s book the Ritual Bath. Jewish author about Jewish people, what could be wrong with that? Well, I got so hooked on Faye Kellerman, and that led to Sandra Brown and other, well, shmutz. My husband was upset, and didn’t like it when I was reading this stuff on shabbos. I told him that their writing was so much better than the frum authors, and i just skip the really bad stuff. But wait! One day my ten year old daughter picked up one of my books. So that was when I said “that’s it!” and I stopped and went back to my frum books. I keep on buying everything that comes out, hoping for a good book that is well written (I am still waiting) but some stuff is passible. I certainly didn’t want my kids to ready this stuff, we never had goyish magazines and secular newspapers in the house, so why have Daniella Steel lurking about? I am still happy that till this day I do not get these books, although I look longingly when I take my girls to the library, but I don’t. What is sad that even though I gave up my novels my ten year old is now what they call a kid at risk, she is not frum right now. So just because you give up your books doesn’t mean your kid will be instant tzaddick. As far as your son writing this word I see by the principals reaction that it wasn’t such a big deal and he didn’t blow it out of proportion. I doubt your son even knew what he was writing! Anyways, hatzlocha rabba, and by the way my library gladly took all of the books I did not want anymore, I was raised not to throw out books (except the old phone book I know place in the recycling bin.)

  61. dear moderators

    i know that beyond bt is meant to be a forum for ‘discussion’, but i’m becoming increasingly disheartened by the tone and tenor of so many of the comment threads on the site.

    basic derech eretz, consideration for others, and minimal sensitivity appear to have gone out of the window for far too many posters.

    i logged on because i wanted to congratulate the ‘ima’ on making such a hard step, and having the courage to understand that our younger kids reflect ourselves.

    i’m only number 12 – and yet a few people have already managed to denigrate the poster, to psychoanalyse her (without knowing the first thing about her, other than her post), equate secular books with torah, and (yet again in a comment thread on this site…) treat the torah, and our sages commentary on it in a completely disdainful way.

    dear moderators, you have poured so much time, effort and consideration into this site – along with so many of your contributors.

    but i’m coming very close to putting beyond bt on the ‘stop visiting’ list, purely because of the negative, cynical comments some of these excellent posts are attracting.

    i’ve been feeling this way for a time now – i really hope there is some way of saving the site from commentators and comments that are destroying it for everyone else.

  62. Masmid, your comments are clearly facetious. If your hasmada included any of the Talmud you like to cite you’d recognize both the logical flaws in your argument and the utter inconsistency of it with the mores of Judaism.

  63. Used books may have little value, but they are not worthless. Companies like Half Price Books actually have a business model based on this idea.

  64. Tamara, used books are basically worthless. Libraries usually don’t want them; the science of what books go on their shelves, in what quantity, and how to get them is a big aspect of managing a library.

    It’s a big mistake to compare throwing away trashy (even if it is “celebrated”) 20th century fiction to desecrating Torah works. We are not, as many people think, “the people of the book.” We are the people of the Book.

  65. Somehow, I don’t see a 10 year old boy having much (if any) interest in the novels you mentioned. I do my secular reading as a bedtime wind down, and since I usually fall asleep with a book (and it ends up on the floor), I don’t think it’s the right time for Jewish books – that it wouldn’t be kovod to read them just for the purpose of easing myself to sleep.

    Tamara makes a very good point – those books could bring a lot of pleasure to someone else.

    The other day I was thinking it would be fun to revisit some of the classics. Is Jane Austin kosher? How about Virginia Wolf (Mrs. Dalloway is gathering dust on a shelf in my house).

  66. If you’re going to throw “dirty” books in the dumpster, you better throw Tanach and the Gemara in too. Tanach has incest, rape, murder, genocide, masturbation, war, and more. The Gemara has explicit disccusion of sex, fetishes, bodily functions, and the basest behaviors of humanity. LIFE is like that, and our holy books reflect it every bit as much as secular ones do. If you want to keep your son “clean,” castrate him.

  67. P.s. You wrote at the end:

    “Of course these are superficial readings but even leafing through these works has ultimate value.”

    The Hazon Ish, Bartanura and R’ Yona are “superficial”?? I don’t see how anyone can merely “leaf” through them, let alone read them casually and retain anything close to the the gut pleasure you gained from those other works. There really seems a need here for a Rabbinical guidance on not only what to read but how!

  68. Dear Anxious — While you did a good job of condensing your story into a fairly inocuous smooth read, it resonates with TONS of underlying anxiety. All your concern about your son’s spirituality and social standing and whether you’re properly modelling, these are GIANT topics. May I be so bold as to suggest you and your husband immediately seek out some solid educational conslutant / therapist. Truly this is a transition period for your son and your family that can either make or break his future.

    With that said, I commend your first clearing out problematic non-Torah input into your own mind before helping him with his. (I can relate to how hard that is to do, after we already made so many big changes in our lives.)
    But there undoubtedly WILL be a vacuum to be filled that must be proactively sought out.

    Ome more thought: The fact that you so readily share that all those far from kosher works were in your “bedroom” and you made a considerable emphasis on the pleasure you took in the prizes they won should give us all reason to pause. The passuk says “U’Chai b’hem,” which tsaddikim explain means that we should find vitality withIN the Mitzvos. “Ki hem chayeinu v’orech yameinu” should be our battle cry and respectively I would imagine what such a precious yiddle needs most is not a reprimand nor a frum newspaper but a new wave of chiyus in his relationship to Mitzvos. Perhaps joining some Torah choir, or at least working together in picking up the excitement around the Shabbos table.

    Please forgive my pretensiousness. I don’t know the Ima nor her husband nor the community in which they live. But this story bespeaks more than just a good kasha on where he picked up that word. Why is he WRITING it and why does he want to put down his Rebbe???

    My heart is with you and klal Yisroel to put
    your best into passing this nisayon.

  69. As an observant, but non frum Jew, who teaches in public school, keeps kosher, maintains a conservative level of Shabbos….How can you THROW AWAY these books? You say you see the value in them; although perhaps not for your family. Why not donate them to a local library? Why not give them to a needy school? I don’t understand. My guess is your thought is if they aren’t good enough for your family then nobody should read them? But…sigh….that’s wrong. I know you know how many times in history our books have been desecrated and trashed. The next time you find one of these books around your home, please donate it. Even the grown up level books can be donated to a woman’s shelter or something.

  70. We have secular books, but for the most part, my reading is mostly Frum. I have an ever-expanding library of Jewish texts. Rashi interpretation of the Torah is an almost daily companion, and I find myself looking at any secular books less and less, be they fiction or non-fiction.


  71. Wow, that whole experience must have been hard. I’d love to aspire to the goal of only reading the Emunah and Bitachon books and real Mussar, but I find its really hard to ONLY read that, as its sooo heavy. I need a break sometimes of non-reality. Maybe its the BT background. You might find you need to subscribe to Hamodia or Mishpacha or something OK for your son to find but still has a little non-mussar in it. Or some other novels. All of them have drawbacks, its true. Good luck!

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