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Thursday, December 01, 2005

Words from the Agudah Convention

In my perusal of this article that serves as a round-up of last weekend's Agudah convention, I found something that was said during one of the sessions that I both agreed and disagreed with. From an address given by Dayan Aharon Dovid Dunner of London:
To deflect the spiritual dangers in our own culture, we must erect a solid barrier of kedushoh — an effort, the Dayan declared, that best begins at our own Shabbos tables, where opportunities for imparting important spiritual lessons and values to our children abound.
I couldn't agree more. How many times have I cringed when a guest brought up a topic that is completely inappropriate for the Shabbos table, like the latest movie he wanted to see, or the latest business deal she was making. I have always felt that Shabbos is the most special time of the week, the only time when all the outside concerns of business and pop culture and materialistic pursuits come to a screeching halt. When I wave my hands three times over the candles to usher Shabbos in, I know that I have hour upon delicious hour stretching ahead of me, to be spent with my children, with none of the phone calls, e-mails, or other distractions that plague us during our weeknight dinners. Dayan Dunner's advice resonates so deeply with me, as using our Shabbos meals as an opportunity to connect with our children's spiritual needs has always been a goal of mine and my husband's.

I didn't however, like the direction Rabbi Dunner's advice then took:
Dayan Dunner suggested that heads of household take control of the Shabbos meal in much the same way a CEO controls a company meeting — with careful planning.

"Schedule every moment of the Shabbos meal," the speaker recommended. "Don't be embarrassed to write it all down — a maasehele at 12 o'clock, a joke at a quarter past. Leave nothing to chance."

I can't agree. As much as I understand that Rabbi Dunner is trying to prevent the accidental introduction of inappropriate topics that can take away from the kedusha of the Shabbos table, scripting the meal is not the answer. Children are not an audience at a play. They are part of the play. Their participation is essential to a beautiful spiritual experience, and treating them as spectators only takes away from the spontanaeity that makes life with children so rewarding. So I will heed the first part of Rabbi Dunner's advice - and continue to try to abolish anything in our discussion at the Shabbos table that is not related to Shabbos. I will try to guide my children toward the type of discussions most befitting the holiness of the day. But please, excuse me if I ignore the second part of Rabbi Dunner's advice. I will not schedule those conversations like the minutes of a meeting, complete with scripted jokes written in. That would be more befitting a conference table than a Shabbos table.

And I certainly spend more than enough of my time time sitting at a conference table at work.

Update: How could I forget the hat tip? Thanks, Krum.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

beautiful.i totally agree with you. in addition, children are not dumb, just young. they have even better developed senses than we adults do, in some ways. certainly more innate emotional inteliigence taht hasnt been destroyed like adults. kids can totally detect rehearsed discussions, and it would probably impress on them very little in the way of message.

12:48 AM  
Anonymous Detective said...


With all due respect, are you a Baalas Teshuva? I am not trying to put you down; if you were indeed, then that is certainly admirable. The reason for asking is I sense some misplaced trust and naivete on your part, especially in regards to your complicit response to "Dayan" Dunner's insane suggestion. "Dayan" Dunner clearly is out of touch with reality and is from the camp that says "raise your children like sheltered robots who will grow up to be unproductive leeches on society and will not attend college." The mere fact that he suggested rehearsing the Shabbos meal should've been your clue right there. Again I certainly do not mean to offend you in anyway and I apologize if I have done so. I have been to one of his speeches around 13 years ago and I know his game...

1:16 AM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

Excellent post, Orthomom.

To be dan l'kaf z'chus, perhaps he stated his point poorly: Maybe he was trying to say parents should have an idea in their heads what issues they would like to discuss, and how they want to get those points across. Personally, I'm more of a fan of "whatever subject comes up let's talk about it", but I don't have children yet. I could see how having an idea of what you're going to discuss with your kids could be beneficial. Would you (or other parents) agree?

I could also see how Dayan Dunner could overstate this point the way he did.

3:27 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

The reason for asking is I sense some misplaced trust and naivete on your part, especially in regards to your complicit response to "Dayan" Dunner's insane suggestion.

Um...not sure what your issue is here. I don't know how any parent could disagree with the first part of his statement. That being said, my "misplaced trust and naivete" somehow was stifled enough to allow me to be as critical of the second part of his statement as you seem to be.

7:49 AM  
Anonymous Essie said...

OrthoMom, I could not agree with you more. It's sometimes hard to steer the conversation away from non-Shabbat-appropriate topics when you have guests, but maybe now we can be more conscious of it. I completely agree with your opinion of his second part of advice, as well. If your kids see that you are making an effort to steer the Shabbat conversations to appropriate topics, it will all come naturally. Scripts are for the boardroom, not kids. Most of my best discussions with my parents have been on these long winter Friday nights. During the week there are just too many distractions.
Shabbat Shalom & Chodesh Tov.

8:46 AM  
Blogger Elie said...

OrthoMom: Interesting post. I halfway agree with you (just as you halfway agree with Dunner). I try to avoid talking on Shabbos about work (or school for the kids), errands that we need to run on Sunday, or anything other stressful, obligation-related area. But I don't see a reason to avoid discussions of entertaining topics, whether of the Jewish or "pop culture" ilk. If those conversations are fun and relaxing, they feel Shabbosdik enough to me.

9:29 AM  
Blogger Ayelet said...

Perhaps Dayan Dunner was trying to preempt the possible question as to how to bring more spirituality to the Shabbat table. For someone (a beginner or someone whose Shabbat table has not been too spiritual up to this point) who doesn't have an innate sense of what to do, planning ahead of time might give him a better handle on the sitch. Whadya think?

9:31 AM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

I am suprised to find myself agreeing with Dayyan Dunner's advice. So often, the reason for the inappropriateness at Shabbos meals is the fact that we don't know what to say. With a (loose) script, we can have particular broad topics of discussion for particular parts of the meal, and children can fit what they have to say into those broad topics (rather than fitting what they have to say into the inappropriate topics of random guests).

9:39 AM  
Blogger Rabbi Seinfeld said...

Experience is the best teacher. I once was a Shabbos guest by a certain Rosh Yeshiva in J'lem who ran the meal this way. He had kayinhara a lot of kids of all ages... but he did not treat them like an audience, rather like a classroom, he had everything planned, all the questions he wanted to ask of each child, age appropriate, as well as open questions for anyone - they all were enthusiastically participating.

BTW he didn't stick to the parasha, he also asked random but relevant q's like, "in how many brachas in the Shmonehesray to we find the word "Yisroel"....

10:26 AM  
Anonymous Dayan Dayeinu said...

How repressive! Let people live! And anyway who the heck calls themsleves "Dayan" even if they are indeed a Dayan? Don't take your cues from the Agudah Convention

11:52 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Don't take your cues from the Agudah Convention
What a silly thing to say. Parenting is a hard job. I will take good advice from wherever it comes.

12:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok, let's get out the checklist: OM is a ba'al teshuva, who lives in the Five Towns, and works at a job that requires her to sit at a conference table.

12:49 PM  
Anonymous Dayan Dayeinu said...

OK, so take advice from not to take advice from them :)

1:16 PM  
Blogger Still Wonderin' said...

""Schedule every moment of the Shabbos meal," the speaker recommended. "Don't be embarrassed to write it all down — a maasehele at 12 o'clock, a joke at a quarter past. Leave nothing to chance.""

Bizzare!!!! Maybe instead of benching, we'll start showing a PowerPoint presentation of how much we appreciate the food.

(scripting the shabbos meal down to the jokes sounds like another way RW OJ are trying to turn this generation into robots. no wonder so many kids are 'at risk'. no wonder so many couples are getting divorced. There's no life and nothing real in this mentality. no one wants to admit that people are people. not caricatures contained in an Artscroll biography.)

1:50 PM  
Anonymous Fox said...

It sounds like Rav Dunner was either trying to use hyperbole to make a point or was trying to be ironic. Without actually hearing the speech, those qualities are hard to decipher.

I *have* heard this point made very effectively, however. I recently attended a gathering (I'm not sure I'd characterize it as a shiur) with a well-respected Rav in the Midwest.

He made the point that someone in family -- most often the wife/mother -- spends a considerable amount of time over the course of the week shopping, cooking, and preparing the Shabbos seudas.

It is inappropriate, he said, for men to come to the table as if they are guests with no responsibilities. He urged the men (or whoever conducts the tisch) to actively prepare, including selecting *appropriate* divrei Torah that will engage the children and/or the specific guests, have in mind several topics that everyone can discuss that are conducive to Shabbos kedush, and in general *lead* the seuda rather than simply let it happen and hope for the best.

Now, I agree that scripting one's Shabbos tisch seems a bit overboard, but I've been a guest in plenty of homes where a lot more "scripting" would not be inappropriate! There are plenty of folks whose children wander in and out, where both the husband and wife leave the table for extended periods, and where the entire atmosphere is more akin to a pizza shop than Shabbos. I suspect these were the people Rav Dunner was really addressing, not people who naturally take the lead in conducting their seudas.

My anecdotal experience is that successfully "putting on" a seuda is less a function of family background or Jewish knowledge than simply personality. In fact, I think ba'alei tshuva have a slight advantage, since their own Shabbos experiences never happened naturally.

One of my husband's rebbeim in Yeshiva gave advice that I've never forgotten: He told the yungerleit that movies and TV are wonderful, gevaldik! Our job, he said, is to create a Shabbos experience that may not compare in special effects, but will leave our children with a wonderful feeling that lasts all week. He emphasized that this is what will sustain our children when they are attracted by the outside world.

So I think Rav Dunner's comments shouldn't be taken quite so literally. I think he's simply saying that Shabbos is one of the few times when we can interact with our kids and guests in a constructive way, and we should make sure it counts!

BTW, the Rav I heard speak recently said that he does not review "parsha sheets" at the table, but tries to find time to talk with each child individually sometime over Shabbos. He disliked the competition that sometimes develops and the pressure it puts on less academically gifted kids. We haven't given up the parsha sheets in our house, but we're considering it.

11:13 AM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

Maybe instead of benching, we'll start showing a PowerPoint presentation of how much we appreciate the food.

Um, you might actually be yotzei the biblical obligation of ברכת המזון by doing that.

8:27 PM  
Blogger tuesdaywishes said...

My family does plan topics for the Shabbos table, or at least save certain questions for discussion during Shabbos meals. I also have a list of 'banned topics'.(Harry Potter, or whatever else I've had to listen to too much of lately.) I think "Parsha sheets" are good, especially for making sure my high-school age kids give their younger siblings a chance to talk. My only problem is when they get to be too long, or when the kid hasn't even read the sheet before they come to the table. If not every kid is into giving a dvar Torah, I don't think it should be a big deal. They can be the one to lead zmiros, or show some other involvement in the family Shabbos experience.

When the kids were all little, hubby and I used to eat without them on Shabbos, and we learned topics in Halacha together by reading them from Iggros Moshe. Hubby would look for a good topic during the week and teach it to me on Shabbos. (I miss that!)

11:16 PM  
Blogger AMSHINOVER said...

dunners a yeeka what did you expect

11:56 AM  
Blogger gabe said...

I don't believe he meant to script the meal with no flexibility. The way I understood it, he meant to have a script so that the leader of the table would have available to him/herself the topics, etc. so as to be able to draw upon that if neccessary. If you are going to accept that Dayan Dunner is competent to advise you, then at least give him the credit that he did not mean to be inflexible

12:10 PM  
Blogger Conservative Apikoris said...

I used to read the parsha aloud in Enlish at my Shabbos table. But after a while, I started getting too emotional about the stories in Bereishis, especially one that dealt with fathers and their sons. (calling Dr. Freud, calling Dr. Freud!!) After reading for the third time about how that sleazeball Jacob tricked his brother and broke his Dad's heart, I decided to give up that little minhag. (I don't know why I identified so much with Esau, but it just didn't seem fair to me.)

Noe, the kids leave the table as soon as they're done feeding their faces, and that's fine with me. I find that what I need for Shabbos is a little quiet time.

My parents made a big deal about having family meals, and I must say I found them one of the more unpleasant parts of my childhood. It wasn't that my parents and siblings were evil ogres or anyhting, it's just that I prefer peace and quiet.

3:41 PM  
Blogger gabe said...

I sort of follow The prescription laid out by R' Dunner, (with flexibility), but I give my children the option of asking to be excused if they're not interested. The trick is to make the subject matter interesting enough that they want to stay and participate. Occaisonally the younger ones want to go play, but when I see that I'm starting to lose them, I'll start talking about something they themselves did that week, there is nothing a child likes to hear about more than his/herself. Once the subject matter is them, they invariably forget about whatever it was they wanted to do, and rejoin the conversation. As the Rabbi stated, it's all in the preperation. Who would want to listen to someone reading the parsha in english?

4:44 PM  
Anonymous LC said...

Although my husband generally runs the Shabbos table (and reads the parsha question sheets), I have found myself playing police officer - directing traffic: the older children are not allowed to preempt and answer questions from their younger siblings' sheets - and stopping offenders: we will NOT discuss the ball game or stock market (or anything else not kid-appropriate).

But scripting? With kids? hahaha.

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