by Kathy Bloomfield
Raising a Mensch
How to Bring Up Ethical Children in Today’s World
By Shelley Kapnek Rosenberg, Ed. D
178 pages. Jewish Publication Society. $19.95.
I owe Dr. Spock and Penelope Leach. They provided me with the information necessary to properly feed and clothe my babies, to know what I could expect at every age and stage with regard to walking and talking, and to praise and reprimand so as to insure my children would survive childhood with their senses of self-esteem intact. Even now, as I struggle through the daily drama that is life with two teens, I often joke with my friends that it is too bad that children do not come with instruction manuals.
In Raising a Mensch, Dr. Shelley Rosenberg does what Dr. Spock and Ms. Leach could not. She provides the information necessary to understand Jewish ethics, and then provides practical guidance for how to apply this wisdom to real life with kids. Whether your children are tots, tweens, or teens you will find this a remarkably helpful and informative book.
In five chapters, Rosenberg explores the Jewish values of Truth, Respect, Peace, Hesed (acts of kindness), and Education. She then delineates the specific commandments that support these ethics. For example, in the chapter about Peace, Rosenberg discusses Shalom Bayit (Peace in the Home), Hava’at Shalom ben Adam Lehavero (Making Peace Among People), Derekh Eretz (Courtesy), Erech Apayim (Being Slow to Anger), Shemirat haLeshon (Guarding Your Tongue), Lo Levayesh (Being Careful Not to Embarrass), Lo Tikom (Foregoing Revenge), and Teshuvah (Making Amends). Each chapter ends with a section titled “Talk About It,” where the mitzvahs are illuminated by stories and specific discussion questions, followed by “What Would You Do?” — real-life situations and questions for preschool, elementary school, and adolescent age children.
In the chapter on Peace, titled “But He Hit Me First: Keeping the Peace,” the first of several stories Rosenberg tells is “Spitting in the Rabbi’s Eye.” This short tale describes a jealous husband who, after his wife returns home late from Shabbat services, demands that she spit in their Rabbi’s eye before he will allow her back in the house. The Rabbi, upon hearing about the problem, comes up with a clever and ingenious solution, of course. Rosenberg uses this story and others like it to encourage her readers to discuss with their children the causes of problems in the family, how they can help resolve those issues, and how they feel when they help “create shalom bayit (peace in the house).” Rosenberg’s discussion prompts include asking preschoolers to discuss what a child should do when her little sister starts jumping and dancing in front of the TV; encouraging elementary school children to decide how one brother should handle the fact that his sibling has borrowed his soccer shirt without permission; and asking adolescents to solve the dilemma of a young girl who wants to go shopping for a prom dress with her girlfriends even though she knows her mother has been waiting for to shop with her for this special occasion. In each situation, the discussion questions lead kids to think about the problem and apply their knowledge of Jewish ethics toward solving it.
As a reviewer of Jewish children’s books, I am delighted to have the opportunity to recommend a parenting guide as interesting and helpful as Raising a Mensch, especially because it answers my own needs as a mother. I encourage you to buy a copy for yourself or to give it as a gift to some new parents — it is never too late (or too early) to learn how to raise those kids right.
Kathy Bloomfield has edited the BabagaNewz Magazine Book Club and was the president of For Words, Inc., a national Jewish book fair company. Kathy is currently the Director of Community Development at InterfaithFamily.com. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
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