Part 1. The List
Madonna arrived in Israel just before Shavuot while I was busy putting together my presentation for Kehillat Yediyah’s Tikun leil Shavuot (all-night learning session) – naturally I drew the 2:30 AM slot. Of course, I didn’t expect her to show, what with rehearsals and all. Besides, as far as I know she may have become shomeret Shabbat since she changed her name to Esther and wouldn’t drive to Jerusalem anyway. Of course, if I really had wanted Madonna/Esther to attend, I would have added the word “kabbalah ‘ to the title.
Instead, I called it “Obligations of a Father to His Son (after Tractate Kiddushin 29a) – Reframing the List for Today,” and was looking forward to having my friends attend. That was until so many of them came up to me to say ”If only you were teaching earlier…” OK, at least I knew who wasn’t coming. But as for who would be coming, let’s just say that when my wife, Michele, told me to give everyone there her regards I answered “OK, I’ll be sure to tell him.”
As it turned out, 25 people did join me – and we had a great time.
So for Esther – and a number of my friends – who didn’t show up, here’s what she missed.
Tractate Kiddushin discusses mitzvot required of men only (the time-related positive ones). In that discussion is a list of mitzvot required of fathers– not mothers — to do for their sons –not daughters. The list that is mentioned is:
- Redeeming him (if he’s a first-born)
- Teaching him Torah
- Teaching him a trade
- Marrying him off to a wife
- Another opinion adds teaching him to swim to the list.
For years I’ve stared at this list wondering if that’s all there is. Sure, these are basic practical requirements mandated by the Torah, but could the list be tweaked? (Quick answer: yes) Then what could be added? Martial arts? Throwing a Frisbee? I also wondered how might others tweak the list? So I decided to survey my friends and congregation members to see what they actually did think. It was nothing formal, just for fun. I received about 50 responses (out of 150 sent) and shared them at the session
Here’s what I learned:
53% of the respondents felt that circumcision was the most important mitzvah. No difficulty there. Circumcision is what seals our collective identity. No matter how observan twe may or may not be, it is a tangible symbol of our peoplehood– the very first Jewish mitzvah. Moreover, it resonates the basic Jewish belief that the world was intentionally created to give us an opportunity for tikun — repairing –ourselves and our environment.
For the second question, 47% felt that teaching a son to swim was the least mportant mitzvah on the list. Of course, on the list itself it appears as an afterthought. The RaMBaM makes this manadatory , which is understandble given his family history. It does show, however, that the list is not canon and can change over time.
Finally, when I asked which mitzvah would you drop from the list altogether I was surprised that almost 80% of the respondents said to marry him off. Having been brought up on the story of how much effort Avraham made to find a wife for Yitzhak I always considered this one of the more important parental responsibilities. (What do you think?)
As I said, this was what first interested me about the list. But as I looked at it again, I realized something was missing. What about mothers? What about daughters? Where are they on the list? How would they change it? Was there elephant in the room that Talmud ignored? So I decided that this Shavuot we were going to take it to the next level.
This Shavuot, we were going on an elephant hunt.
Next Post: Part 2 – Hunting Elephants with Tag Clouds