A student of the Talmud will often attempt to avoid the frustration of an apparently academic Talmudic dispute by identifying practical legal ramifications. One of the more common areas of Jewish law in which such consequences can be found is in the laws of vows (nedarim). For example, Talmudic disagreement regarding the translation of a term can find ramifications in determining the effect of a vow using such disputed language. I once even suggested that the central High Holiday role of Kol Nidre (the annulment of vows) was introduced to highlight the High Holiday challenge of bringing relevance to the obscure.
A student of global, political events also faces the challenge of identifying personal, practical consequences of world events. International developments, whether in Iran, North Korea, the Philipines or elsewhere, surely have significance. But what is the practical consequence to me? Until elected to national office, or appointed to a position of influence, I experience little practical impact by world events, other than in triggering a spectator’s curiosity, and perhaps a paragraph or two of prayer.
For the parent or teacher, however, every world event is laden with practical consequences. The teacher and parent must confront the obvious challenges. How should the event be explained to the children? Or should the event dare be ignored? Regardless, each event must be considered.
Occasionally, international developments transcend the challenge to the parent/teacher of mere proper explanation. Certain world developments demand a revaluation of the very character of the environment in which the child is being reared. For example, the creation of the State of Israel demanded for some Jews such a realignment of Jewish child rearing attitudes. In the weltanschauung of Rav Kook, z’tl, the emergence of contemporary Religious Zionism altered the very nature of the ideal Jewish personality, necessarily impacting the educational molding of children. For many Americans, the 1950’s ominous USSR threat dominated the American family, triggering significant characterological consequences. The personality of a child reared in a world of fear differs greatly from one raised in a carefree world of peace and trust.
The parent and teacher must consider whether world events compel an alteration in their educational focus, or impact the dimensions of child character development being emphasized. Which personality and character traits need particular nurturing?
For decades, American Jewish children have been raised in an environment of carefree security. Particularly within the Orthodox community, anti-Semitism has played little role in the development of Jewish identity, with even the Holocaust fading into a study of history, rather than a contemporary Jewish experience. The Executive Vice President of the Orthodox Union, Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hirsch Weinreb, reports a conversation with the late Bobover Rebbe, z’tl, himself a Holocaust survivor, in which the Rebbe explained the absence in his community of Holocaust remembrance activities. The Rebbe indicated that the post-World War II era demanded an exclusive focus on Jewish community rebuilding. Any educational emphasis on the Holocaust might damper the enthusiasm and joy necessary for successful Jewish vibrancy, and might compromise the primary memorial to the victims of Hitler, namely, the rebuilding of a flourishing Jewish community. The Rebbe and his contemporaries were successful in their mission, and the personality of the American Orthodox child reflects a secure, and almost brazen, attitude in confronting life in secular America.
On a personal level, for most people world events typically surely have no far reaching significance. Even to the parent and teacher, the only practical ramification of most political trends, or dictatorial declarations, is the challenge of their transmission to the young in a cogent and meaningful way. But when a world leader declares an intent to acquire nuclear capabilities, combined with an express eagerness to destroy Israel, every Jewish parent and teacher must consider whether today’s children will be entering a world that they have been ill prepared to encounter. What is the nature of the era that our children are about to face, and what educational devices need be introduced to prepare our children for this possible new (albeit ancient) world?