Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Nick Crews and Jewish parenting 101

December 4, 2012 4:10 pm 0 comments

Young children at school. Photo: wiki commons.

“Anyone who has the capability to protest the sinful conduct of his household and does not protest, he is himself liable for the sins of the members of his household.”

—Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 54a

By now many of you have read the explosive missive of retired Royal Navy officer Nick Crews to his children, which one daughter publicized to get attention for her book. Good luck to her. Crews complained bitterly of his disappointment with his children and how their failures are a source of deep embarrassment for him and his wife.

“I wonder if you realize how we feel—we have nothing to say which reflects any credit on you or us,” Crews said. His adult children, in his mind, cannot support their families, finance their homes or provide pensions for themselves. “Each of you has contrived to avoid even moderate achievement,” he said.

None of the children has consulted the parents for advice. The Crews parents do not want to hear from their children again until they have good news to report, news of which parents can be proud.

David Brooks in the New York Times contended that with adult children Crews’ approach is essentially hopeless. “Lure people toward success with the promise of admiration instead of trying to punish failure with criticism. Positive rewards are more powerful.” He noted the pointlessness of the tirade to achieve the ends this parent wants from his kids: “Don’t try to bludgeon bad behavior. Change the underlying context. Change the behavior triggers. Displace bad behavior with different good behavior. Be oblique. Redirect.”

I’d like to offer a different view, one that comes from a page in this week’s daily Talmud study, the quote above. If you have the ability to protest and influence the behavior in your house, you must. If you don’t, count yourself as part of the problem. The Talmud actually takes this one step farther: “If he could have protested the sins of the people of his town but did not, he is held liable for the sins of the people of his town. If he is in a position to protest the sins of the whole world and does not do so, he is liable for the sins of the whole world.” On some level, the entire world is our moral jurisdiction, starting at home.

In the first chapter of Job, when our main character’s children made feasts, Job would offer a sacrifice on their behalf lest they committed any wrongdoing: “Perhaps my children have sinned…” The text sees this as a hallmark of his wisdom: “This is what Job always used to do.” Contrast this to Eli, a high priest in the days of Samuel, who had two sons who abused their position and exploited the masses. Eli did not learn of this until his old age. He protested long into their crimes: “Why do you do such things? I get evil reports about you from the people…” But it is too late. God tells Eli that his household will fall. You cannot turn a blind eye to your children for a lifetime and suddenly chastise them when they are adults.

Child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim in his book Informed Heart says: “Blaming others or outside conditions for one’s own misbehavior may be the child’s privilege; if an adult denies responsibility for his actions, it is another step towards personal disintegration.” We cannot take the blame for every mistake that our children make, but we can be reflective about the parenting lapses that may have contributed to who they are and understand that failure to take responsibility for our own actions or lack of them contributes to the collapse of the moral and spiritual self.

In the words of my friend Paul Taskier, this letter is about the “complete abdication of responsibility as a parent, not teaching responsibility, morality, honesty, hard work, duty—and then exploding in anger when the children don’t show the attributes you never taught them. Our religion/culture maintains itself through the endless emphasis on teaching values, modeling values, explaining values, to our children. And living those values ourselves.”

And there is another lesson here. Highly dysfunctional families should stay off e-mail.

Dr. Erica Brown (pictured, click to download) is a writer and educator who works as the scholar-in-residence for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and consults for the Jewish Agency and other Jewish non-profits. She is the author of In the Narrow Places (OU Press/Maggid); Inspired Jewish Leadership, a National Jewish Book Award finalist; Spiritual Boredom; and Confronting Scandal.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture First English-Language Trailer Debuts for Natalie Portman’s Hebrew Film ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness,’ Based on Amos Oz’s Memoir (VIDEO)

    First English-Language Trailer Debuts for Natalie Portman’s Hebrew Film ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness,’ Based on Amos Oz’s Memoir (VIDEO)

    The first English-language trailer for Natalie Portman’s directorial debut — A Tale of Love and Darkness — based on Israeli author Amos Oz’s memoir, was released on Thursday. The movie, originally filmed in Hebrew, tells the story of Oz’s childhood in Jerusalem at the end of the British Mandate and the early years of Israel’s independence. Portman, who was born in Israel and speaks fluent Hebrew, plays the lead role of Fania, the author’s mother. She struggles to raise her son as she deals with inner demons, a […]

    Read more →
  • Features As Berlin Prices Rise, Israelis Turn East for German Real-Estate Bargains

    As Berlin Prices Rise, Israelis Turn East for German Real-Estate Bargains

    JNS.org – Sonnenallee, a street in Berlin’s Neukölln district, looks like it comes straight out of an Arab city — so much so that it goes by the nickname “Gaza Strip.” Kebab and bakery shops are advertised in Arabic; men sit in men-only coffee shops; and bridal shop windows showcase glittery, not-so-stylish gowns. But take a random turn, and you’ll find a swath of bars, burger joints, and Indian restaurants where hip Berliners announce that they have arrived to urban coolness. […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Slays in ‘Wonder Woman’ Trailer (VIDEO)

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Slays in ‘Wonder Woman’ Trailer (VIDEO)

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot engages in fierce action sequences in the new Wonder Woman trailer, which Warner Bros. premiered during the San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday. The nearly 3-minute trailer, the first to debut for the superhero film, shows scenes of Diana, princess of the Amazons, fighting alongside men in the battle against the world’s toughest enemies. The first shot of the video shows Wonder Woman discovering a man, Steve Trevor (played by actor Chris Pine), washed ashore. The clip then takes viewers to the all-female island where Wonder Woman was born. […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    Is diplomacy worthwhile, even if the end result isn’t what we hoped for? That is the question, among many others, posed by the new play Oslo, by J.T. Rogers. Making its New York debut at Lincoln Center, the play examines the secret diplomatic process that led to the historic 1993 peace accords. The character of Shimon Peres makes an appearance onstage — and he, along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, tower over the proceedings. But they mainly do so in absentia. Instead, […]

    Read more →
  • Spirituality/Tradition Sports Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    JNS.org – Other than being part of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, Sandy Koufax and Dean Kremer have something else in common: a respect for Jewish tradition. Koufax — who was recently ranked by ESPN as the best left-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball (MLB) history — decided not to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because the game fell on Yom Kippur. “I would do the same,” Kremer said in an interview. Last month, the 20-year-old Kremer became […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    The famed lead guitarist of British rock band Queen, Brian May, encouraged Jewish singer-songwriter Adam Lambert to perform in Hebrew during their upcoming joint concert in Israel, an entertainment industry advocacy organization reported on Tuesday. During a recent interview with Israeli television personality Assi Azar, May was played a 2005 video of Lambert singing the popular song Shir L’Shalom, (Song for Peace). May was so impressed by Lambert’s singing of the Hebrew track that he told the American singer, “We have to do that. Let’s […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    JNS.org – Kenyan-born marathoner Lonah Chemtai is expected to compete for Israel at the Olympics Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil next month after gaining a last minute approval. “I am very proud [to represent Israel] and I hope to achieve a new personal best time,” Chemtai told Reuters. Chemtai, who grew up a rural village in western Kenya, first came to Israel in 2009 to care of the children of her country’s ambassador to Israel. The 27-year-old runner recently gained […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    To date or not to date? That is not the question for most Modern Orthodox singles in New York. The question is when will they find their future spouses, and when will their families stop nagging them about having babies? Inspired by the success of the Israeli show “Srugim,” Leah Gottfried, 25, decided she would create and star in her own show, “Soon By You.” “Dating is so serious already,” Gottfried said. “We wanted to take a lighter approach and laugh at the […]

    Read more →