"Although These Concepts Are Foreign In Secular Society..."
Chabakuk Elisha commenting on Non-Kosher Animal Toys:
Babysitter: One should definitely use their brains and apply the very important rule of “chanoch lenaar al pi darko” – so, it goes without saying that individual cases should be judged based on the specific circumstances. However, I assure you that nobody has ever left the derech because they were deprived of a teddy bear as a child, and were tragically forced to live with a stuffed giraffe or sheep. I would go so far as to say that nobody ever “left the derech” for any other similar deprivations either.
Chazal are busy with statements along these lines that some people in today’s society may feel uncomfortable with, such as the statement that a certain Tanna became the great tzaddik that he was, primarily because his mother who would take him as an infant to the beis medresh (as the Gemara applies the term “ashrei yeladato”), but even if some feel this is “hocus pocus” it remains a theme that exists in Yiddishkeit – especially among Chassidim, who are not so uncomfortable relating to the idea of the effects of ruchnius.
So, just to clarify the point: The Lubavitcher Rebbe was merely reinforcing the concept of purity vs impurity. Although these concepts are foreign in secular society, Judaism takes them seriously, and Rebbe’s message was that we should be sensitive to these issues. Therefore, a mouse, dog, cat, bear, etc, is something that we should replace with a kosher – pure – species. The idea being that our children should relate to those animals, rather than “impure” ones. This can easily be over-applied (and sometimes it is), for example I seriously don’t think that the Rebbe meant that children should never go to the zoo.
I’m sorry, but it really drives me nuts when people point to anything and imply that it causes kids to leave the derech. Arrrrgh! People leave the derech for much more complex reasons than such things, and the #1 reason is bechira.
Like all such things, the problem is in how we go about it, not the matter itself. For example, if we go about these things in a positive way, we are more likely to see success; but if I yell at my kids and basically create a negative atmosphere around minhagim, mitzvos, halachos, etc – then I blew it.
Micha: You’re overcomplicating the matter – which, for some reason, I find that so many people do. The idea here is a simple one (and if I may be so bold as to say that it was directly referring to Disney), which was triggered by “Mendel the Mouse” -- the choice of which, the Rebbe didn’t like. Obviously the (rhetorical) question of names and simanei hashvatim is not the issue, and do to my personal limitations I find it annoying every time people throw it out there.
Nobody is making you do anything; you can do whatever you like – but this concept is a simple one: It is preferable to use a kosher animal instead of a non-kosher one whenever possible, especially with younger children. This promotes the idea of purity which should be important. That’s all there is to it.
Now, I’ll attempt to provide a theory that might help people that like things black & white (bekitzur nimratz):
#1) We are told that King Chizkia was lauded for hiding the sifrei refuah so that people should trust in Hashem instead of the book of medicines, while at the same time we have a mitzvah of ushmartem es nafshoseichem (taking care of our health), which would seem to be violated if we throw out the doctors guide. So, which is it? Pray or go to the doctor?
#2) Yehoshua is told to run a full military campaign on the city of Ai, while Gideon is told that he should take only a small group in his battle plan to show that victory is from G-d. Isn’t Yehoshua’s victory also from G-d? Which is it – do we wage battle as a normal general, or do we wage war and pray to G-d to deliver us? Again, why the 2 contradictory approaches?
The answer is a little obvious, but Rav Kook explains it nicely: It depends on time and place. When klal Yisroel’s emuna was strong, and they recognized the hand of G-d, they were told to encounter the physical on its terms, but when the emuna was low, we were told to strengthen the emuna and be less dependent on the ways of the world. Balance.
Similarly, I think we can understand the reinforcement for this sensitivity towards purity in our time and place, more than perhaps it was in the past, because society was different.