Reader: I have an 8-month old daughter and I know that I am thinking too far ahead on this one, but here goes. Is it permitted to use children stories with adventures of talking animals, "magic" objects, or perhaps even dinosaurs? What about talking puppets? My logic is that since the Torah discusses a couple of talking animals, and plenty of miraculous objects, that this might be an acceptable avenue for children's fantasy stories. I figure it is not proper to teach children stories about fantastic creatures that have absolutely no basis in reality and quite likely come from pagan stories, but children have great imaginations, which I think should be encouraged and channeled into morally appropriate stories. I have actually seen some Jewish children's books that seem to draw from Eastern-European legends from the shtetl, such as Hasidic children stories about goblins and kabbalistic inspired stories, golems, etc. Thank you in advance for your response.
Mesora: Let’s clarify your statements: the Torah contains only one talking animal, the Snake of Eve’s era, and no objects were “miraculous”. G-d caused all miracles. (Bilam’s talking donkey took place in a vision, according to Maimonides.) The Torah does not have a “style” in the sense that it gives license to create similar stories. This is dangerous. Only G-d’s stories form truths. When we create “similar” stories, we are creating fallacy, which will lead others astray. Teaching children fantasy only trains them to expect reality to conform. It starts them off on the wrong path, and stories at such young ages, create indelible imprints. Adults who are believe in horoscopes, ghosts, evil eyes, golems and the like, are proof of just how alluring and permanent fantasies are.
I digress for one moment to note that the source of such imaginary stories, and idolatry for that matter, are not to be viewed as if having their own existence. G-d does not create fallacy, so there is but one other possible source: man. Over the years, men and women concocted many fables. For the same reason they created them, others attached themselves to them. The reason for both errors is the combination of man’s imagined personification of inanimate or mindless objects, with the emotion of insecurity. Combine the two, and you have an individual with wild dreams and fantasies, who is unsure of their truth. Therefore people strive to find support for these beliefs. They create stories as a solution, and even believe to see things not really in existence. This we already explained is the Talmud’s depiction of demons, or shadim. The Talmud notes that demons occur in but four instances: mountaintops, deserts, pits, and at night. We explained that the common feature to all is “isolation”. It is in this state of mind that man seeks others, and imagines there to be others, when they are not there. Man has many emotions, and his disposition, without education, is to believe his fantasies. Teaching stories to children is easy, as they are so attentive, and well behaved. It is no wonder many parents encourage this practice - they finally have their children in a calm state. But the children are attentive as they too partake of our same emotional makeup, the makeup, which led the story’s creators to write them. When we teach these stories, or worse, create them, we are simply giving in to unchecked emotions, while arousing false beliefs in children. These beliefs are difficult to battle in adulthood, and move a person away from viewing G-d as the only force in the world. Since this is the primary concept man must have clear, fairy tales must be avoided. At first, these tales seem harmless, but upon a closer examination of their source and effects, we see they are quite dangerous.
Let us return to the topic. We must recognize where the need to tell fantasy to children comes from. It is from the parent. It is a form of manipulation of the child, and gratification for the parent. The parent knows the story is false, but wishes to launch the child into a wonderland. Perhaps this offers the parent some satisfaction that he/she is providing enjoyment or entertainment to his child. But the parent should take this good emotion of desiring to please his child, and do so in a manner, which is truly beneficial. Good parents are those who recognize what is best for a child, and provide accordingly. However, many parents respond to their children in a manner, which in fact, satisfies some wish of the parent, not a goal for their child. We need not look far. Parents who push their child into a career that the parent likes, is a most common example. Also, parents will reprimand their child if the child acts in a way embarrassing to the parent. Why is the parent embarrassed? This is because the parent seeks approval from others, (a poor consideration) and views his child as an extension if himself. He uses the child as a means of displaying his personal success of raising a “good kid”. When the child acts out, the parent senses failure, and wishes to avoid disapproval from his peers. Again, the parent in this case acts to please himself, not benefit the child. If we are sensitive to this major emotion possessed by many parents, we can avoid further harming a child’s healthy development.
Parents feel empowered to retain their role as “parent” at all costs. They yell at their children, raising their voices in an attempt to justify their cause, thereby teaching the child that power is more important than reason. Very few parents have the humility to step down from the role as master, and allow the child to develop in his or her own time and curiosity. We should provide children with the fun time they need, depending on their age, and continually increase instruction as they develop, but never compromising truth, for entertainment.
Regarding puppets, cartoons and the like, children eventually learn that your hand animated the puppet, or the drawing, which animate into cartoons. There is no fallacy there.
Do not be impressed by what is in print. Do not be impressed what comes from European times, shtetls, kabbala, hassidic sources, etc. People tend to give credence to that which is old, or comes from a recognized source, as the ones I just mentioned. But this too is an emotion, and not guided by reason. Man believes, that which is old, is part of “history”, and is true. But there are no grounds for this thinking. Examine all areas of life, especially when they effect unknowing children, and use reason to guide your decisions.