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My daughter was reading a parsha book and came across a certain medrash which seemed unbelievable prompting her to ask me 'daddy, is this story real?' Being that she is only nine I took the cheap way out and said 'it's a Medrash'. I pretended that was an answer, and she accepted it as if it was. What is the right age for a better response?

We had a guy in yeshiva who was into philosophy and rationality, but he was old enough to hold his own, so when people would tease him and called him a Kopher, he would respond that he's a modeh bimiktzas.

But when is the right age to introduce ideas that are not necessarily mainstream, such as the possibility that medrashim and agadata are not real? See for instance Belief in midrashim

Of course you have to know your own kid and CYLOR, so ignore this particular story, are there basic guidelines?

  • youtube.com/watch?v=jobWnQ__OPA :56 – rosends Feb 6 '15 at 1:50
  • @Danno lol! That's good. – user6591 Feb 6 '15 at 1:56
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    see judaism.stackexchange.com/q/4037/4682 Look at some of the individuals who did not believe in literal midrashim. I'd call that mainstream. – Baby Seal Feb 6 '15 at 2:51
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    @Baby I think any kid in a particular school/society mentioning ideas consistent with a different one is in for trouble. Just think how the modern orthodox use yeshivish as a slur and the yeshivish use modern orthodox as one. It sad, but a reality we have to deal with. This is about chinuch and not setting a child up to be ostracized, which can lead to religious unrest. Or hiding what one thinks is the truth, which also can lead to religious unrest. – user6591 Feb 6 '15 at 2:56
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    There are close votes here for "primarily opinion based." I disagree; it's a specific enough how-to question. – Shokhet Feb 6 '15 at 19:03
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Personally I think that besides for the objective of most accurately conveying the facts there are two considerations. A) Inculcating and maintaining a healthy respect for Jewish works, including rabbinic ones. B) Inculcating and maintaining a willingness to think and question.

The former may scare us from telling an impressionable youth that something in print as a Jewish source isn't to be taken literally. However, this risks the latter; the scenario described in the question in which an honest youth without malevolent intent is made to feel inferior for thinking.

The two considerations seem mutually exclusive to a degree. That being the case I would be tempted to just tell them the truth. Besides for avoiding the all to common case of honest youth feeling prohibited from thinking, you salvage a bit of the first concern as well, for although their respect for a particular source may diminish, their respect for the the system of rabbinic Judaism as whole will in all likelihood increase.

Furthermore, it is only by raising the stakes and putting every rabbinic word of pedestal of literal infallible truth, that such conflicts and "kofer calls" result. If one tells a child that we are meant to learn something deeper from the midrash, etc. and praises him for noting the difficulties with the straightforward interpretation (a balance between adherence to literal truth and rejection entirely) then he wont have reason to lose respect for even that individual source, let alone all of rabbinic Judaism.

The only problem with this; the last consideration, is that while one controls what he teaches his child, he doesn't control what his child will be exposed to. Thus teaching a child that its okay to consider that a seemingly fantastic midrash may have a different intent may be the best from an objective perspective, but it wont lessen the "kofer calls" that he will be exposed to. Thus perhaps it is wise to wait until a child is capable of differentiating between his views and others views, that is maintaining a more "rational" for lack of a better term mindset while being mature enough not to squabble with others over it. Ultimately the balance of these concerns is a "shiqul hadaas" that can only be made individually.


I have cited no sources, but as the question seemed to seek personal advice for dealing with a problem that isn't black and white, I think that presenting possible concern and a suggested course of action is appropriate.

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    "that something in print as a Jewish source isnt to be taken seriously" Chas veShalom! Why would you tell anyone that? Just because Chazal were making up the story they used to drive home a point doesn't mean we shouldn't take it seriously. – Double AA Feb 6 '15 at 6:08
  • 'That being the case I would be tempted to just tell them the truth' truth is always the best default policy:) +1 btw I would suggest you edit and change seriously to say literally, in line with the point made by @Double – user6591 Feb 6 '15 at 19:13
  • @DoubleAA the term "seriously" includes the various degrees of dissent that G'onim / Rishonim treat midrashim. From disagreeing with them, to saying that these weren't received traditions that ought to be reckoned with (see R. Shmuel Hanagid who pretty much says not to take it too seriously). Nevertheless I will edit it. – mevaqesh Feb 8 '15 at 1:14

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