Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Guest Posting By My Wife - Do Kids Toys Really Need A Hecsher?

I completely see the need for shopping at Judaica stores for items that need to be purchased there and cannot be found elsewhere, like tzitzis, yarmulkes, Jewish educational toys, and seforim. However, let's smarten up and not let retailers convince us that regular toys need a manufactured Jewish stamp of approval. Especially, if this stamp comes at an extreme cost to the buyers.

On the other hand, you enter a name brand store like Toys R Us and you must sift through the millions of options for items that are deemed appropriate for your household. I would like to share two recent examples to explain my point:

Our 4 year old son has developed, like most boys his age, a liking for race cars. Often these cars are sold at local retailers for about one to two dollars a piece. Why, on the other hand, do the Mitzvah Match Cars need to be price almost 3 times higher at $15.00 for 5 cars? Does my son really need an ambulance from a Jewish set of cars, or can we just pretend that his regular old ambulance is a Hatzalah ambulance? Let's think about it.....

My next example involves finding clothing for our 6 year old daughter's Madame Alexander Just Like Me Doll. It is challenging to find dolls with tznius clothing at the store, so I checked online and found an expensive alternative labeled Gali Girls Dolls on this site, with doll clothing ranging up to $20.00 an outfit.

So, I decided to do some out of the box thinking. Do I have to buy doll clothing from a retailer obviously catering to the Jewish shopper with a site called Tznius Shopper? Or, can I try something different? So, I checked out Etsy.com a popular online site where crafts people sell their items. And, low and behold, I came upon many sites that sell doll clothing, some for as low as $5.00 an outfit.

These sites offered me exactly what I was looking for at less than half the price of the obviously Jewish retailer. So, I think we must be smart shoppers and not fall prey to over priced items that do not necessarily have to be Jewish stamp of approval (i.e. we need to compare Yossele’s Movingo [$24.95] with Zingo [$11.99]) in order to save our hard earned money for truly important things.


At March 17, 2009 at 5:46:00 AM EDT, Blogger micha berger said...

The cost of a product generally includes two things -- the development cost, and then the cost per unit. The one-off cost of making it possible to have toy ambulances that say "Hatzolah" on them is much higher than the cost of each ambulance. Mattel already has a system worked out for turning out each new model, so the development cost is less anyway.

Matchbox can take that cost and distribute it over 10s of thousands in sales. Mitzvah Match Cars will sell in the hundreds. So, you'll be paying more development cost a piece.

Your criticism of their pricing may simply not be fair.

The question of whether it is important that your son's toy ambulance say "Hatzolah" instead of "Volunteer EMS" and whether it should be, I leave up to you.


At March 17, 2009 at 5:54:00 AM EDT, Blogger micha berger said...

BTW, Gali Girls are actually much cheaper than the American Girls dolls they are imitating. And the whole topic is one where Jewishness could well matter more.

Not just because they have Shabbos licht etc to the same scale as the doll. The doll comes with a backstory and a book that matches it and those overpriced clothes. Why should she pretend about what it was like to be Molly McIntire during WWII when she could be Miriam coming to the US from the shtetl in 1914? Complete with authentic clothing, suitcase, etc...?

That said, there is no room in our toy budget for either.


At March 17, 2009 at 6:56:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Micha - ASJ's wife was talking about doll's clothing, not the cost of the dolls themselves....

I for one agree with her completely and can't figure out why slapping some Hebrew on the side of a toy causes its cost to go up exponentially.

At March 17, 2009 at 7:58:00 AM EDT, Blogger micha berger said...

I thought I explained: the one-off cost of the toy with Hebrew on it (design, finding a manufacturer, etc...) has to be covered by sales of 800 units intead of 100,000. So, you're paying for much more of it with each doll.

That said, I don't think it's a wise use of money, particularly in the current economy. Except maybe if the firm's owner needs the tzedakah. But if I were wealthier, and I wanted to enhance my daughter's attachments to her roots -- why not?

I just think it's unfair to assume these people are simply out to gouge you.


At March 17, 2009 at 9:41:00 AM EDT, Blogger chanie said...

Phones do not need hechsherim, either. You can just disallow text messaging, disallow internet, and get an old model with no camera. Simple as that.

Now, as to the cost, I've never looked into phones with a hechsher (nor have I wanted to eat one), so I can't say.

Good post.

At March 17, 2009 at 9:55:00 AM EDT, Blogger Unknown said...

Maybe what we need are (pardon the expression) conversion kits, including decals or whatever, to frumify commonly available toys.

At March 17, 2009 at 10:48:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1) First of all, the reason for the expense is that it is common knowledge that all Jews are rich - they can afford it. Go to any women's shoe store in boro park and you'll see that toy prices are in-line with all Jewish expenses.

2) The Chinuch! As Jews we must be vigilant that no external influences encroach! If we make non-Jewish things seem fun, our kids might actually think that there is a “better life” out there! For this reason we pay extra to buy products with Hebrew filled symbols that look like they won first place in the best of breed contest, as opposed to some goyishe package with those goyishe letters U surrounded by an O (G-d knows that the contents aren’t any different). How dare you undervalue Jewish chinuch! OY VEY
And everybody knows that Mitzva Kinder are worth the 15 bucks – even ask my 3.5 year old son.


At March 17, 2009 at 10:53:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...


That's a great idea! (And I'm sure we could make some money on it too -- or maybe we could get Hisachdus Harrabonim to sponser them and give them out)

At March 17, 2009 at 11:21:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When my kids were little, we often "customized" their toys--whether we bought them at yard sales or Toys R Us. You can probably find stickers to put on the cars, or make your own.

Also, the "mainstream" doll clothes were exorbitantly expensive, even 30 years ago. So we often made our own! My daughter enjoyed designing and learning to sew, and she really didn't care whether the stitches were perfectly even.

At March 17, 2009 at 11:21:00 AM EDT, Blogger Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

Etsy.com is a G-dsend for a lot of things, really. Their Judaica jewelry is also pretty oustanding, and some of the crafty folks on there are a lot more professional than they might seem!

This was a great guest posting. These are things that (G-d willing) I will have to think about someday!

@RAM Excellent idea!

At March 17, 2009 at 11:36:00 AM EDT, Blogger Orthonomics said...

My first kid was the type to enjoy playing boardand the like, fairly early. We picked up a Memory game and I mentioned to some friends that we had this game and it might be fun to have them over so my boy could play with someone besides me.

My friend looks at me and says, "did you buy the mitzvah memory game?" I don't know if she was asking with approval or disapproval, but I kept thinking, no I bought Memory, you know the Milton Bradley game that is sold at Target.

I have bought my kids Hebrew Blocks and Hebrew Bingo for their educational value. But where I don't see a difference in the skill being learn, I'll take the less expensive game, thank you.

At March 17, 2009 at 4:11:00 PM EDT, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Great post. BTW Target also has rather well priced clothing to fit the Gali Dolls/American Girl.

Stickers work well on some things like cars and making your own 'labels' for food in the play kitchen.

While the price for the Mitzvah Match cars is 3x higher, that really the same price index as most dairy/meat items.

Our son is 9, so he has passed the Hot Wheels phase along with the need of a Hatzalah ambulance.

My son is very into Lego and has made shuls w/ shtenders and even figured out how to put a Lego tire on the top of a Lego man to replicate a shriemel (although I wear a Black Hat). If only they made Bionicles w/ Tallisim...


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