So, obviously, I wouldn’t ever (intentionally) expose my children to actual kefirah, but I mean to say at what point can I begin to explain to my children the nuanced views I hold about Torah, History, Science, Hashqafa and the interaction between them (which some people may think is kefirah)?
For example, my four and half year old daughter, who is in nursery (a program that is defined by the IRS as child care, not education, and therefore reimburseable from a Dependent Care FSA), was talking to me this past Friday night about what she learned in school this week. Ya know, one of those “good parenting” things you’re supposed to do (ask about what they learned) and one of the things she mentioned was from the Parsha. Specifically, she told me that Eisav tried to bite Ya’akov’s neck, but Hashem turned it into stone and he couldn’t.
At that moment, I was faced with a decision. Ultimately, I said nothing, but I was considering whether I should try to explain to my daughter that is but one interpretation of the story, and it’s a metaphor at that; it didn’t really happen that way. The reason I didn’t, was that I think 4 is a little young to understand metaphor and other literary devices, so I held back.
But this is a fundamental problem in our religious instruction, imho. As children, we are taught the simplest, most child friendly stories. We learn parsha through “The Midrash Says” and other books like it. Except we don’t learn (or teach) that the Midrash is a book of metaphors not to be taken literally, not do we learn that the stories in the Midrash are therefore not accurate history.
With regard, for instance, to the above-related story: Rashi has several explanations for the story. Mind you, Rashi only feels the need to comment at all because of the dots that exist above the word “kissed” in the Torah. Otherwise, there is no gap in the story that needs explaining to begin with. Rashi wonders what the dots mean, and concludes, that there was something strange about the kiss. Among the explanations given, is that while Eisav truly hated Ya’akov (with good reason, imho), at that moment, he kissed him with sincerity and brotherhood.
But all that nuance and exegesis is lost on my four year old daughter. So I let it go. But at what point do I start? At what point, when she comes home with similar fanciful stories and Midrashim that she’s been instructed to accept as fact, with complete disregard for the actual text and history, do I tell her different? Do I risk undermining her confidence in or respect of her teachers? Obviously, I would do it in a respectful way, but when? First grade? Second? Later? I don’t want to wait until it’s too late, lest she be like me, and come to these discoveries in adulthood, after already being disillusioned with high school torah education (see, here, for instance).
To the parents of older kids out there: when your son or daughter comes home from school and tells you what they learned in parsha, do you ever set them straight? How do you do it?