Chapter Three

How the Jews raise their Young Children to fear God.

When a woman is nursing, she should eat good, healthy, digestible foods, so that the child may suck good milk from her, which will not clog his chest and stomach, but rather he will be properly maintained and nourished, have good manners, and gain wisdom and understanding. The Chachamim and wise scholars held it of great importance, and commanded that a woman should give her young children enough to eat and drink, so that they grow up fast and strong to serve God, and in this way she will walk in the path of God, as it is written Deut. 28.9: You shall walk in his path. How are God's ways? God gives with a full hand to all creatures what they need. This is also true of a woman. If she gives her children enough, so that they do not suffer any shortage, she walks in God's ways, and thus she may reach eternal life. For this purpose he gave her two breasts, not just one, so that the child will have enough to nurse. The wise scholars of scripture dispute in the Gemara why King David, when he praised God, did not forget the young nursing children. Rabbi Abha says: God gave women breasts positioned next to their heart, so that the child should nurse and receive understanding. Rabbi Jehúda said: it is so that the child should not see the shameful parts of women. Rabbi Mattána said: the breasts have been put in a clean place. As the good God has provided for the young children, the mother, too, should provide well for them. What is more, it even happened that God changed nature itself, so that young children would not suffer. You can read in the Gemara that a poor, pious man had lost his wife and she had left him with a small nursing baby. The man was too poor to employ a wet nurse, so God changed his nature. His breasts became full of milk, which provided enough for the baby. Many pious people can testify to that. We can also find in a Medrasch or sermon-book, that, at the time that King Pharaoh in Egypt gave orders to drown all the sons of Jewish women, with the result that Moses was put out in the water, the Jewish women ran out into the fields to bear their children. If they brought forth a son, the earth opened up, took the babies, and covered them up. God made a stone on which they could nurse and get their milk, and another one filled with honey. The baby was provided for by the earth until he was grown, and each one could return to his mother. Likewise, you can read in the Medrasch that good Mordechai nursed Esther. In return, she made him a great lord later when she became queen. What woman would let her child suffer need? The Chachme hammusar, or ethicists, who write about discipline and virtue, say that a woman is similar to a bailiff who is appointed over land and people. If he is faithful to his sovereign Lord, keeps his subjects well, improves the land, and multiplies the income, then he receives a reward from his lord, and will be made a lord himself. If he acts to the contrary, he receives no reward, but may be hung on the nearest tree. Similar to that is a mother, who is like God's bailiff over her children. If she gives them good food, and all they need at the right time, then the child's heart will grow broad with good deeds and fine virtue, and the mother receives her reward in this world and after, and she will sit with the Tzaddikim and the just in Paradise. But if she gives the child coarse food, which will obstruct the child's heart, then God takes her from this world and sends her to hell.

Also, a woman should not uncover her breasts too much, so that the milk will not chill, and thereby bring pain to the child, or hinder his growth. She should not fast in the morning, but eat something warm, so that the baby will be supplied.

She should not let the children walk bare or naked either by day or night, because great harm might come to them, as it is written Ps. 121.6: The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. You should also not take the children to bed naked, or let them get up naked, but have them put on a gown, so that they will get used to be ashamed before God, and that the whole world be filled with the glory of God, and the darkness should be like the light. They should also get used to covering their heads, because the Schechinah or the glory of God is hovering over them, as the Chachamim say: If one walks bareheaded, he will strike against the Schechinah; he will therefore lose the sense of shame, and forget the fear of God and his commandments. Therefore you read in the Gemara of a time the elders and counselmen were sitting under the gate in Jerusalem, when they saw two young men walking past, one with bare head the other with his head covered. Rabbi Eliezer said: The boy with the bare head is a mamzer or a rascal, a disobedient child. Rabbi Jehosua said: He was born from an unclean women. Rabbi Akibha said: He is both. Later, R. Akibha asked the boy's mother how she conceived the boy. She said: When I got married to my husband I was unclean, and in accordance with the law of Moses my husband separated from me on my unclean days. But in the meantime one of his good fellows came, slept with me, and made me pregnant, and I bore this boy. Therefore it is a bad sign if a child walks with bare head. From his seventh to his thirteenth year he should be always reminded not to leave his head uncovered, and from the thirteenth year on, it is prohibited to walk with bare head. You should also get the child used to wearing a belt around his body, and pious women bind or sew the belt on the child's shirt so that he is warned about it, for the belt is the dividing line between the heart and the parts of shame. The heart during prayer should not see the parts of shame, or think unseemly thoughts. Therefore as soon as they learn their morning-prayers they pray in them: Praise to you, Lord, that you gird Israel with power. This refers especially to the belt. If he has no belt on, then his prayers will be for nothing, or counted as a sin.

You should not let a child walk barefoot, because of all kinds of danger, and especially not in December or January when the cats are mating; he might step on something poisonous which comes from the cats, and his feet might swell up and this would take a long time to heal.

As soon as they can talk you should teach them sayings from the Holy Scripture. They should greet their parents mornings and evenings, sabbaths and holy days and say: Good morning, good schabbas. When they are seven years and older they should add the name of God and say: God give you a good day. Then Ruth 2.4 Boaz said to the reapers: Hael immachem, [sic] God be with you; Jebharecha hael, God bless you or as we say: God spare you. They can only mention God's name in a clean place; this will be mentioned later. They should be taught to name some articles in the house in Hebrew, so that they will get used to the language. Therefore it happens that they are mixing many Hebrew words into German, or whatever their language might be, so not everybody can understand them. They do not speak pure Hebrew anywhere in the world, but their Rabbis can read and write good Hebrew if there is need.

You should also accustom them not to associate with Christians, nor play with their children, nor eat or drink with them, nor otherwise have relationships with them; but the parents should tell them that all the doings of the Christians are detestable, so that they might hate the Christians from their youth on.

When a child is five years old he should start to learn to read and write. In general, those who can afford it will get their own rabbi or schoolmaster for their children; as soon as he can read he has to learn to translate the five books of Moses into German, or the native language where they happen to live. In a book called Schebhile emúnah, it is written: When you take your child for the first time to school to the Rabbi, the mother should give him sweet cookies made from sugar and honey, and you should tell him: As sweet as this cookie the law should become in your heart, and as sweet as sugar on your tongue, and as honey on your lips. Beware that you do not waste your time with idle talk in school, but you should engage in dibhre thorah, learn the thorah, only the words of the law shall be heard from your mouth, then the honor and glory of God will be over your head and always with you, because God loves all those who speak well of God's word. Therefore the Chachamim and the learned write: When the enemy destroyed Jerusalem they drove away all the priests and Levites, but the glory of God did not go with them; after that they drove away the Sanhédrin, that is the high court at Jerusalem, and the Schechina did not go with them: at last they drove away the young children from the Bes hammedrasch. Only then did God's glory go with them to Galus or exile, and therefore the Prophet Jeremiah said Lam. 15: Their children moved ahead of the enemy as prisoners, and the jewel of Zion is gone, all the preciousness, the presence of God's glory which was the glory of Zion is gone. If the children are sitting in front of the Rabbi and they are learning dibhre thorah and nothing but God's words comes from their mouth, then the glory of God lives with them, and finds joy in the breath that comes from the children's mouths, because they have not yet sinned, and are still pure and holy. Only when a child is thirteen is he called a Bar Mitzva, [one on whom the commandments are incumbent] then he has to keep God's commandments, and sins if he does not do so. Rabbi Schimeon bar Nachmáni, in the name of Rabbi Jochanan says: Whoever teaches his son the Thorah and God's word is worthy to sit in the academy in heaven before the Lord, as the Prophet Jeremiah says Jer. 15.19: When you return, then I shall seat you and you shall stand before me, that is, if your son learns the Thorah I will seat him in the heavenly academy, and make him part of the eternal life. For the one who teaches his child incorrectly, or does not teach him the Thorah, for him it would be better to become blind, so as not to see his child's shame, as you can read about the Patriarch Isaac Gen.27.1: And his eyes became dark so that he could not see. Here Rabbi Eliezer, the son of Azaria said: Isaac's eyes became dark, so that he should not see the unseemly and mischievous behavior of his son Esau. You can also read in the Medrasch, Genesis rabba, 65 that Abraham died five years ahead of his time, so he would not see the shameful behavior of his grandson Esau.

When the child is ten years old and has learned much of the Thorah and five books of Moses, then he has to start with Mischna and the Talmud, but he stays only in the text which includes the Jewish tradition and procedures and all spiritual and worldly laws. When he is thirteen he will become Bar mitzvah, a son of the commandments, that is to say, he has to obey all laws, six hundred and thirteen, it includes the sum of all the laws of Moses and the Jewish religion. If he sins, he is subject to spiritual and worldly punishment. If he sins before he is thirteen, the punishment will be transferred to his father. For this reason the father invites a Minjan, ten Jews, to witness that his son is thirteen years old and that he has learned the laws, that he learned the customs of Zizis and Tephillin (more about that later), that he can say his daily prayers and that the father wants to be free of his sins and punishment, and from now on he should be a Bar mitzva and bear his own sins. After the other Jewish men witness that, the father says a prayer in which he thanks God that he has freed him from his son's sins and he prays that he should grow up to a long life and good deeds.

In their fifteenth year they have to study and understand the Gemara, the Completion [of the Oral Law.] They should comprehend the sharp and subtle Disputationes and Decisiones about the doubtful things in the text of the Talmud, and in these studies they sometimes spend their whole life. They seldom or never read books of the Prophets later on. I have found many old Jews who have never in their life read the Prophets, and therefore they know little about the Messiah, the promises about whom are not only dark, but often unknown.

In their eighteenth year the boys get married. This is the general rule of the Talmud. Sometimes they get married sooner to avoid promiscuity. The girls may marry when they are twelve years and one day old. In their twentieth year it is allowed to have a free hand in business, to haggle, to buy and sell, and to defraud. The Christians sometimes find this out, and I will talk about it somewhere else. On becoming a Bar mitzvah the young Jew is accepted into the Jewish fold. We shall see how, young and old, they conduct themselves therein.


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Alan D. Corré
corre@uwm.edu