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Jonathan Muskat

Let’s Nurture Moral and Religious Values in our Children Before Delving into Nuance

Over the past few years, I’ve had the privilege of giving a class to ninth-grade students at Shulamith High School, where I annually explore the fascinating intersection of Torah and evolution. Last year, I had the opportunity to give this class at another school, and I’m planning to do so again this year. In this class, I delve into how one can maintain a strong adherence to Torah observance while also embracing the principles of scientific evolution. Achieving this balance requires two crucial elements: first, a willingness to interpret the creation narrative in the Torah beyond its literal interpretation, and second, a readiness to challenge the perspectives of our sages (Chazal) when it comes to scientific matters.

During these classes, I emphasize the importance of recognizing that while Chazal may have held views that align with the scientific understanding of their time, it doesn’t diminish the significance of their halachic and hashkafic contributions. We can acknowledge that their scientific interpretations might have been limited by the knowledge available to them at the time, without undermining the enduring value of their halachic rulings and broader religious worldview. Even as we explore the compatibility between scientific facts and Torah values, it’s essential to maintain respect for the wisdom and authority of Chazal.

Recently, I was discussing with some students the circumstances under which lying might be permissible according to Jewish law. For instance, we find in the Talmud instances where lying is justified for the sake of peace, humility, or protecting someone’s property. However, it’s crucial to note that this leniency doesn’t extend to children. Rabbi Zera’s ruling in the Talmud (Sukkah 46b) highlights the importance of not habituating children to dishonesty, emphasizing the need to instill in them a deep appreciation for truthfulness from a young age.

As Rabbi Aaron Levine aptly noted in the Tradition Journal (36:1), children’s moral development may not yet grasp the nuances of permissible lying, potentially leading to confusion or misuse of this concept. Therefore, before introducing children to the complexities of ethical dilemmas, it’s essential to first ground them in fundamental Torah values, including the importance of honesty and integrity.

In our efforts to educate our children, we must embrace the shades of grey that exist in ethical decision-making. Just as we teach them the nuanced understanding of when lying may be permissible, we must also impart to them the understanding that embracing both scientific knowledge and Torah wisdom is not contradictory but complementary. However, before delving into such complexities, we must ensure that our children are firmly rooted in the bedrock of Torah values and principles. Values and principles like God is great. God loves us. God cares for us. God listens to our prayers. The Torah is a gift and a treasure. We should feel so fortunate to have been given this gift. Chazal faithfully interpret the Torah and instituted religious practices that are relevant and meaningful and have kept us united as a nation for 2.000 years in exile. Once our children rooted in these values and principles, then can we guide them through the nuances of ethical decision-making and the challenges of faith, allowing them to navigate the complexities of the world with wisdom and integrity.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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