A Jewish Education Begins at Birth

A Jewish Education Begins at Birth

Because what one sees leaves lasting impressions, especially on young children, the toys that a child plays with, and the pictures that he looks at, should not be of impure animals. 

Visual images have great impact on man's mind: What one sees can leave lasting impressions for good or bad.[1] Viewing sacred objects or images has positive benefits;[2] pictures of impure animals harm[3] the mind and soul.[4]

Children are particularly susceptible, for that which registers upon the mind when young forms an indelible impression. In the words of King Shlomo:[5] "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it." Impressions etched in a child's tender mind[6] have potent effects even when older.

There are Halachic sources for this. The Jewish Code of Law states:[7] "Upon leaving immersion in a mikveh women should be careful ... that the first thing they encounter should not be an impure thing [such as a dog or donkey[8]] ... If she encountered such things, a G-d-fearing women will return and reimmerse herself".[9] The reason for this is as above: looking at impure animals can have a harmful effect on an embryo. Conversely, viewing something sacred after immersion has a beneficial effect on the embryo.[10]

It follows, then, that one should be particularly careful of objects and pictures that a child sees. It is a Jewish custom, for example, to hang verses from the Torah or other sacred objects on the walls of a newborn's room, or around his crib. Conversely, a parent should ensure that no pictures of impure animals should meet the baby's gaze. Children also enjoy playing with toys, such as stuffed animals. Again, only pure animals, birds, and fish, should be chosen.

As the child becomes older, it is time for him or her to learn the aleph-bais. So that the child can move easily grasp the shape of the letters, it is usual to illustrate them with pictures. Only pictures of pure animals should be used.[11] Similarly, the pictures of animals used to make many text books and note books more attractive should only be Pure animals.

A popular character in this country, it is true, is a ... mouse. Other impure creatures have also become well-known symbols. So wide-spread has this become that Jewish publications, which otherwise are completely kosher, have unfortunately also become infected. But it is not at all a difficult task to see to it that from now on all illustrations in Jewish text books should be only of pure things.

The importance of the above is even more emphasized in our times, the era immediately preceding Mashiach's coming. It is our responsibility to prepare for the Messianic era, to "taste" of[12] those things which will then be present.[13] And one of those things will be the fulfillment of the promise "I will remove the spirit of impurity from the land."[14] A fitting preparation for the Messianic era is to ensure, where possible, that only pictures depicting pure and sacred things be used.

May it be G-d's will that we thereby merit an overflowing increase of the "pure waters of knowledge", until the fulfillment of the promise "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the water covers the sea"[15] -- in the true and complete redemption through our righteous Mashiach.


[1]See Kav HaYosher, ch. 2; Kuntreis HaAvodah, ch. 2.

[2See Midbar Kadomos, section "picture;" Sefer Toldos Adam.

[3This does not apply to looking at animals for the purpose of reciting the blessing over strange animals. The Kav HaYosher notes that even in such a case, "he should only look at them temporarily." The same reasoning would apply to looking for the purpose of pondering on G-d's manifold works. Similarly, visiting a zoo would also be permitted.

[4]In many synagogues, a lion's or eagle's head is depicted on the curtain in front of the ark, and on the Torah's mantle and crown. But this is to serve as a reminder that prayer to G-d shall be in the manner of "strong as a lion" and "light as an eagle," as the beginning of the Shulchan Aruch instructs (based on Avos 5:20 . Another reason may be that it parallels the Supernal Chariot on which was the face of a lion and the face of an eagle.
In similar fashion, the reason some of the tribes had unclean animals depicted on their banners is because each picture was associated with the quintessence of that tribe (Bamidbar Rabbah 2:7).

[5Mishlei 22:6.

[6See Rokeiach, Hilchos Shavuos 296: "On the day that a child is educated about the sacred letters, we cover him up so that he should not see a dog."

[7Ramah, Yoreh Deah ch. 198; Sha'arei Orah, Hilchos Niddah, ch. 26; Rokeiach and Kol Bo, Hilchos Niddah; See also Shach on Yoreh Deah, ch. 198.

[8]Shach, ibid.

[9Midrash Eleh Ezkerah (and Sha'arei Orah ibid) cites an actual case of the mother of R. Yishmael ben Elisha the kohen gadol, who repeated her immersion eighty times.

[10]See Berachos 20a, that through women looking at R. Yochanan after immersion they had beautiful children like him.

[11]This does not apply when learning in Torah of the different types of unclean animals; it is obviously permissible for the teacher to draw pictures of them to facilitate understanding. As Rashi, the most famed teacher of all, comments on the verse (Vayikra 11:2) "This is the living thing" -- that Moshe "showed" the Jews the animals they were prohibited from eating.

[12As stated, "Those who taste of it merit life" -- see Magen Avraham, Orach Chayim ch. 250, subsection 1; Aruch Admur HaZakein, Orach Chayim ch. 250, para. 8.

[13]See Likkutei Sichos, vol. 15, p. 282.

[14Zechariah 13:2.

[15Yeshayahu 11:9.


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