Thursday, February 26, 2009

Guest Posting By Chabakuk Elisha - Non-Kosher Animals In Chabad Homes

It is well known that the Lubavitcher Rebbe said that children should not be given toy versions of non-kosher animals in order to imbue them with a certain sensitivity. I was asked why this directive seems to be observed in countless different ways within in Chabad today: Some adhere to it strictly, some argue that there was a grandfather clause and they came before this directive so they don't abide by it, and others will let their children play with a horse or bear, but not a pig, and I’m sure there are others as well.

And although I don’t really know the answer, and I could be completely wrong here, all I can do is tell you how I understand it. I think that the fundamental problem is that it’s a little too ambiguous, and it’s really hard to avoid over-applying or under-applying the directive.

Let’s start with the fact that the Rebbe endorsed education about animals and nature (The Chabad publication “Talks and Tales” had the “Natures Wonderland” segment with non-kosher animals in countless issues). The Rebbe was well also aware of the fact that Chazal speak of non-kosher animals, and Chabad even has a virtual-zoo website that includes non-kosher animals. Furthermore, when the Rebbe was asked about cutting out pictures from textbooks, he rejected the idea. Also, the Rebbe approved of customary useage of things of a religious nature, such lions on a paroches or the like. It is pretty clear that a Zoo, a book on animals, as well as a paroches or even a mural in a shul were all fine, and not what he was addressing.

So, then, what WAS he addressing?

A little history first. The matter arose back when Olomeinu ran a comic strip called “Mendel the Mouse” – something that the Rebbe found troubling – and the Rebbe felt that the very fact that they chose a mouse displayed a lack of sensitivity. It would seem that the Rebbe’s primary objection was to the influence of Disney characters and the like, their encroachment into frum homes, and the general humanization of animal characters for children using non-kosher animals.

The Rebbe wanted, as he did in many instances, to promote sensitivities towards pure and impure. Through the prevalence of monkeys, bears, mice and similarly non-kosher animals in the life of a child, and his/her close and personal association with them, this all desensitizes him/her, and humanizes animals that Chazal describes as having negative middos. This is what troubled the Rebbe, and that’s what he was addressing.

So, a Lubavitcher who has books or dolls like Curious George, The Bernstein Bears, Disney characters (mice, dogs, cats) or stuffed animals like teddy bears, is simply doing so out of weakness. And honestly, we all have our weakness, and as weaknesses go, believe me when I say that this one is better than many. But, on the other hand, and it might seem radical, but I think that some other people take this too literally - the reason being that taken to its (il)logical conclusion, one might conclude that since a bear is non-kosher, it is the impure, therefore evil, therefore forbidden, therefore not viewable, therefore should be eradicated from any book, zoo, or any other place that I may be exposed to. And this is a classic example of misunderstanding and ignoring common sense. That is certainly not what the Rebbe had in mind. Seriously, while I could be mistaken, I understand it to mean that any exposure to non-kosher animals that is useful and not gratuitous should be fine.


At February 26, 2009 at 10:08:00 AM EST, Blogger Yehoishophot Oliver said...

Anyone who bothers to learn the sicha inside seriously will see that there is no ambiguity. The ambiguity stems from the fact that the person heard about it 3rd- or 4th-hand. Which is not ambiguity at all, just laziness.

At February 26, 2009 at 11:51:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rabbi Oliver,
By ambiguity I mean that, as specifically stated in the sichos, that there are proper and improper uses of non-kosher animals. This, by definition, creates ambiguity.

At February 26, 2009 at 1:47:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

CE -- I agree with you, and also admire your repeated remark "I could be wrong, but..." This shows that you have a conscience and yiras rabbo, not wanting to fahrkrum your Rebbe's words. That's the way a chassid should be!

At March 24, 2009 at 1:41:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I came across this post purely by Hashgacha Pratit...
What is the sicha where the Rebbe speaks about toy animals? I would love to read it for myself.
I must say that it still seems to be not so clear...

At March 24, 2009 at 1:45:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

See here.

At February 9, 2010 at 4:38:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Because what one sees leaves lasting impressions, especially on young children, the toys that a child plays with, and the pictures that he looks at, should not be of impure animals.
Visual images have great impact on man’s mind: What one sees can leave lasting impressions for good or bad.[1] Viewing sacred objects or images has positive benefits;[2] pictures of impure animals harm[3] the mind and soul.[4]
Children are particularly susceptible, for that which registers upon the mind when young forms an indelible impression. In the words of King Shlomo:[5] "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it." Impressions etched in a child’s tender mind[6] have potent effects even when older.

There are Halachic sources for this. The Jewish Code of Law states:[7] "Upon leaving immersion in a mikveh women should be careful ... that the first thing they encounter should not be an impure thing [such as a dog or donkey[8]] ... If she encountered such things, a G-d-fearing women will return and reimmerse herself".[9] The reason for this is as above: looking at impure animals can have a harmful effect on an embryo. Conversely, viewing something sacred after immersion has a beneficial effect on the embryo.[10]

It follows, then, that one should be particularly careful of objects and pictures that a child sees. It is a Jewish custom, for example, to hang verses from the Torah or other sacred objects on the walls of a newborn’s room, or around his crib. Conversely, a parent should ensure that no pictures of impure animals should meet the baby’s gaze. Children also enjoy playing with toys, such as stuffed animals. Again, only pure animals, birds, and fish, should be chosen.

As the child becomes older, it is time for him or her to learn the aleph-bais. So that the child can move easily grasp the shape of the letters, it is usual to illustrate them with pictures. Only pictures of pure animals should be used.[11] Similarly, the pictures of animals used to make many text books and note books more attractive should only be Pure animals.

A popular character in this country, it is true, is a ... mouse. Other impure creatures have also become well-known symbols. So wide-spread has this become that Jewish publications, which otherwise are completely kosher, have unfortunately also become infected. But it is not at all a difficult task to see to it that from now on all illustrations in Jewish text books should be only of pure things.

The importance of the above is even more emphasized in our times, the era immediately preceding Mashiach’s coming. It is our responsibility to prepare for the Messianic era, to "taste" of[12] those things which will then be present.[13] And one of those things will be the fulfillment of the promise "I will remove the spirit of impurity from the land."[14] A fitting preparation for the Messianic era is to ensure, where possible, that only pictures depicting pure and sacred things be used.

May it be G-d’s will that we thereby merit an overflowing increase of the "pure waters of knowledge," until the fulfillment of the promise "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the water covers the sea"[15] -- in the true and complete redemption through our righteous

At February 9, 2010 at 4:39:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And here's the continuation from previous comment..


[1](Back to text) See Kav HaYosher, ch. 2; Kuntreis HaAvodah, ch. 2.

[2](Back to text) See Midbar Kadomos, section "picture;" Sefer Toldos Adam.

[3](Back to text) This does not apply to looking at animals for the purpose of reciting the blessing over strange animals. The Kav HaYosher notes that even in such a case, "he should only look at them temporarily." The same reasoning would apply to looking for the purpose of pondering on G-d’s manifold works. Similarly, visiting a zoo would also be permitted.

[4](Back to text) In many synagogues, a lion’s or eagle’s head is depicted on the curtain in front of the ark, and on the Torah’s mantle and crown. But this is to serve as a reminder that prayer to G-d shall be in the manner of "strong as a lion" and "light as an eagle," as the beginning of the Shulchan Aruch instructs (based on Avos 5:20 . Another reason may be that it parallels the Supernal Chariot on which was the face of a lion and the face of an eagle.
In similar fashion, the reason some of the tribes had unclean animals depicted on their banners is because each picture was associated with the quintessence of that tribe (Bamidbar Rabbah 2:7).

[5](Back to text) Mishlei 22:6.

[6](Back to text) See Rokeiach, Hilchos Shavuos 296: "On the day that a child is educated about the sacred letters, we cover him up so that he should not see a dog."

[7](Back to text) Ramah, Yoreh Deah ch. 198; Sha’arei Orah, Hilchos Niddah, ch. 26; Rokeiach and Kol Bo, Hilchos Niddah; See also Shach on Yoreh Deah, ch. 198.

[8](Back to text) Shach, ibid.

[9](Back to text) Midrash Eleh Ezkerah (and Sha’arei Orah ibid) cites an actual case of the mother of R. Yishmael ben Elisha the kohen gadol, who repeated her immersion eighty times.

[10](Back to text) See Berachos 20a, that through women looking at R. Yochanan after immersion they had beautiful children like him.

[11](Back to text) This does not apply when learning in Torah of the different types of unclean animals; it is obviously permissible for the teacher to draw pictures of them to facilitate understanding. As Rashi, the most famed teacher of all, comments on the verse (Vayikra 11:2) "This is the living thing" -- that Moshe "showed" the Jews the animals they were prohibited from eating.

[12](Back to text) As stated, "Those who taste of it merit life" -- see Magen Avraham, Orach Chayim ch. 250, subsection 1; Aruch Admur HaZakein, Orach Chayim ch. 250, para. 8.

[13](Back to text) See Likkutei Sichos, vol. 15, p. 282.

[14](Back to text) Zechariah 13:2.

[15](Back to text) Yeshayahu 11:9.


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