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Orthodox Judaism/Children's questions


QUESTION: I believe that the tradition and encouragement of questions by children of Jewish faith has been a great contribution to learning. Traditional school teaching has tended to stifle children's question-asking skill, in place of the all knowing-teacher's questions; consequently children stop asking and the skill atrophies!
May I ask, what sort of questions do Jewish children ask their rabbis about their faith, the Law and the Prophets?
Are there any question subjects that you would disallow?
There is an unusual incident in Gospel of Luke 2v46 where Jesus as a twelve year old, is discovered in the Temple asking questions of the rabbis. Could you speculate what questions that he might have asked during that period of Roman occupation of Israel?

ANSWER: Hi Laurence

I completely agree with your opening statement and sentiment. The mind grows from curiosity, which is propelled by questions. No question should be off-limits, even when there is no answer on offer.

In Judaism, everything can be questioned and every respectful question is responded to. The only kind of question that is disallowed is one where the questioner is clearly not interested in receiving an answer :)

During the time of the Roman occupation, as during just about any period of Jewish history, the questions would have ranged from queries around practical observance to history to philosophy ("How did G-d make Himself?", "Why do bad things happen to good people?" and so on).

Kind regards,

Rabbi Shishler

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you for attending to my queries. I was hoping you might have speculated more specifically to the times of Roman occupation. For example: What did it mean to be a chosen people, returned to the land with restored temple and priesthood, and yet again be under a foreign power?

Please will you consider a further question?
I was brought up as a Christian but am no longer a believer, but I have always thought Jesus, the Jew's parable of the Good Samaritan very critical of strict religious practices. How do orthodox Jews today feel about keeping a strict adherence to the Law over charity as illustrated in Jesus' story?
Keeping closely to any written prescription of life is bound to lead to self-righteousness, I've seen it particularly among fundamental Christians and other groups.
What is the antidote?

Hi Laurence

Thanks for your question. It would be difficult to speculate specifically about the kind of questions that a child would have asked during the period of the Roman occupation, but you would find some anecdotes in the Talmud where children are quoted, and these would give some insight.

With regard to the criticism of strict adherence to the law overriding kindness, nothing could be further from the truth.

Judaism is predicated on the idea that there are laws between humans and G-d and laws between humans and fellow humans. Even the Ten Commandments are divided half and half between these two types of law. The Ten Commandments were presented on two separate tablets, one covering the laws between us and G-d and the other covering the laws between us and other people. The message of the tablets is that each element of religious observance is equally important.

In other words, it is impossible to have strict adherence to the law if you do not have strict adherence to charity, kindness and so on.

I hope that helps.

Kind regards,

Rabbi Shishler

Orthodox Judaism

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Rabbi Ari Shishler


I am a rabbi who loves teaching, through writing and speaking. In 1999, my wife and I started our own Chabad House and it's grown exponentially. I'm also the learning director at Chabad House of Johannesburg, a high school teacher and the father of young children. As you can imagine, I get to answer lots of questions every day. I'd be glad to answer your questions on Judaism, Jewish spirituality and practice.


I have been a practicing Orthodox rabbi since 1997 and have headed my own community since 1999. I teach Talmud at a religious high school in Johannesburg and give daily lectures to adults on Jewish practice, spiritualty, Chassidic philosophy and Kabbalah. I'm the campus rabbi at our two major universities in Johannesburg.

Chabad-Lubavitch South African Rabbinical Association.

Monthly column in Jewish Life magazine, South Africa. Jewish Tradition, South Africa. Jewish Report, South Africa. South African Union of Jewish Students annual Holiday guide. Jewish Observer, South Africa. Nshei Chabad Newsletter, NY. Jewish Online Magazine.

After completing high scool, I spent six years studying in Rabbinical seminaries in South Africa, Israel and New York.

Past/Present Clients ChaiFM ( Jewish Life magazine

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