Question & Answer With Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver - Non-Kosher Animal Toys

A Simple Jew asks: We've all heard that the Lubavitcher Rebbe said that children should not play with toy versions of non-kosher animals and yet we see different people doing different things. What did the Rebbe actually say? Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver answers: Let’s look at this in context. First of all, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, consistently speaks about the tremendous importance of providing Jewish children with a full and uncompromised chinuch (education). This is because their entire future, and thus the future of the entire Jewish people, depends upon the education of children being consistent with the Torah. We find that this is a consistent theme throughout the Rebbe’s letters. Here is an example: If the responsibility of every man and woman is far greater in the current period than before this period, then this applies all the more with respect to the youth. Every boy and girl is a seed—a fresh tree that will bear fruit in the course of time, which will in turn bear its own fruit, and generations will produce generations. Therefore [the parents] should educate their children and guard them in order that they go in the path of Torah and Mitzvos, and be permeated with the spirit of “our grandfather Yisroel.” The value of this is immeasurable, and the reward of anyone who assists is likewise infinite. (Igros Kodesh, Vol. 6, p. 3.) In relation to this, the Rebbe regularly emphasizes the need to protect a child from even the smallest detrimental influence, since it may adversely affect his entire future: In general, in cases where school textbooks contain material of doubtful suitability, one should err on the side of caution, for this is a matter of educating the youth, and one should avoid even

a minor deficiency in this area. The analogy for this is well-known: a small scratch in a seed can ruin the entire growth of the tree, G–d forbid. This is easy to understand. (Igros Kodesh, Vol. 18, p. 484.) Along these lines, the Rebbe emphasized in particular the need for maintaining the purity of very small children. In particular, the Rebbe initiated the suggestion that a Shir Lamaalos be hung in the room when a baby is first born, and asked that this be widely publicized. I have translated one of the Rebbe’s public talks on this below, as I believe it will greatly add understanding to the understanding of the Rebbe’s words concerning non-kosher animals: In general, education begins from childbirth, as the Shulchan Aruch rules: Still, one should not allow a child to nurse from a gentile woman ... for her milk clogs up the heart, and creates an evil nature in him. Likewise the nursing woman, even if she is a Jew, should not eat forbidden things, nor should the child, for all this will affect him in his old age. Yoreh De’ah, 81:7. This demonstrates that part of the parent’s responsibility in educating his child is to protect him from eating non-kosher food. Similarly, we find the Jewish custom to hang a Shir Lamaalos next to a woman who has given birth. One reason for this is as an amulet against undesirable things. However, there is another, educational reason—so that the first thing that the child sees will be something holy. Granted, the child has only just been born, and still cannot discern between light and darkness, sweet and bitter. Still, now that he has been born and has eyes with which to see the world, one must strive that opposite his eyes there be letters of the Alef Beis, from whose combinations the entire Seder Hishtalshelus [the order of the higher spiritual worlds] was created. As for the well-known argument that this is only a one-year-old child, who understands nothing, the “Torah of truth” (from the liturgy of the blessing on the Torah) says that as soon as a child comes forth into the world, he is affected by everything that occurs around him. This applies even when one might think that since the child knows nothing, it makes no difference. In other words, a child is not just influenced by the food he eats and the liquid that he drinks, which would obviously be the case, since they become part of his flesh and blood. Everything that occurs around the child affects his soul, and this effect will become manifest in later years.

Certainly the way the parents act affects the child’s soul greatly, even when he is very little. Moreover, even the behavior of the parents in the nine months before the child’s birth has a recognizable effect on the child. (Shaarei Halacha U’minhag, Vol. 2, pp. 221-222.) Likewise, on several occasions (e.g., Sefer HaSichos 5752, p. 357) the Rebbe mentioned that lullabies used to lull a child to fall asleep should also be of a holy nature, such as the old Yiddish tune, “Torah Is Der Besteh Sechoiroh (Torah is the best merchandise).” The Rebbe also suggests (Hisva’aduyos 5747, Vol. 2, pp. 648-649) that since the very presence of holy books in a room has a powerful impact, a Jewish child’s personal room should be a “house filled with holy books” (Midrash Tanchuma, Korach 2). This means that just as the main thing in a Jewish home should be the holy books, and all other things should be secondary, this should be felt in the child’s personal room. Thus, the child’s room should contain at least a Chumash, a Siddur, and a Haggadah Shel Pesach. It would be even better for it to contain a Tehillim and a Tzedakah pushkeh (charity box). Elsewhere the Rebbe added that each child should also own a personal Tanya (Sefer HaSichos 5752, p. 360). This brings us to the matter you raised—the caution to ensure that a child not view images of nonkosher animals. The Yiddish version of the Rebbe’s words on this topic, which the Rebbe edited, can be found in Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 25, pp. 309, 310, 311. The Hebrew version, which is a direct translation of the Yiddish, can be found in Hisva’aduyos 5744, Vol. 2, pp. 487, 488, 489, 490. An English adaptation can be read in English online here. I encourage everyone reading this with the required language skills to study the source in the original. Below I will partly paraphrase and partly translate the sicha. The Rebbe starts the sicha by pointing out that much Jewish literature, both for adults and children, contains illustrations of animals. The Rebbe points out that it would be proper for all such literature to make a point of only using illustrations of kosher animals, birds, and fish, for “A Jew, and especially a Jewish child, should be accustomed to pure things only ... we should strive that a Jew, and especially a Jewish child, should only come across and look at pure things.” In the footnotes there, the Rebbe cites sources concerning the importance of only seeing images of kosher things. I will quote from these sources briefly, and explain the novelty of each source as I understand it: The first source I present discusses the positive effect of gazing at holy images: When a person visualizes a holy image in his mind, the holy image that he imagines in his mind will make his mind complete. ... Rebbi Abba would visualize the image of Rebbi Shimon before

him, and through this he would attain great understanding. ... So did our teacher, the Arizal, write—that when one finds difficulty in grasping a Torah subject, he should imagine the form of his teacher, and this will aid him in grasping the concept. (Rabbi Chaim Yosef Dovid Azulai, the Chido, Midbar Kideimos, sec. tziur.) The idea that visualizing a Tzaddik mentally will have a powerful effect on the person introduces the idea that even a mere image of another thing can exert a powerful spiritual impact. The Rebbe then cites Rabbi Reuven Margoliyos, who in Toldos Adam, pp. 4, 5, 6, discusses at length the tremendous spiritual benefit of gazing at the face of one’s teacher. He quotes the above statement of the Chido, and based on it and many other sources, Rabbi Margoliyos asserts that one can also fulfill this dictum through gazing at the picture of one’s teacher. He then adds: From this the opposite develops with respect to the image of a wicked man, at which one should not gaze (Megillah 28a), since this produces wicked character traits [in the personality of the one who gazes]. See Sanhedrin 39b, and in Rashi on ibid. 96[b]: “His [Nevuchadnetzar’s] portrait was engraved on his [Nevuzaradan’s] chariot.” Rabbi Margoliyos cites two sources in the Gemara as proof. Let’s analyze them: Sanhedrin 39b describes how Queen Izevel made two pictures of harlots and put them on her husband King Achav’s chariot, in order to arouse him. The Toldos Adam is suggesting that just as Izevel fashioned lascivious images and so enticed her husband to forbidden thoughts despite the fact that these were not actual harlots, so does the image of a wicked person have an adverse effect, despite the fact that one is not gazing upon the person himself. Sanhedrin 96b describes how the image of Nevuchadnetzar was engraved on Nevuzaradan’s chariot as he travelled to destroy Yerushalayim: “A servant [honors] his master” (Malachi 1:6): [This is exemplified by Nuvazraden, as it is written:] “In the fifth month, in the tenth day of the month, which was the nineteenth year of King Nevuchadnetzar, king of Babylonia, Nevuzaradan, captain of the executioners, came. He stood before the king of Babylonia in Yerushalayim, and he burned the House of Hashem and the house of the king.” (Yirmiyahu 52:12-13). But had Nevuchadnetzar gone up to Yerushalayim? Is it not written [of the time of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash], “They carried him [Tzidkiyahu] up unto the King of Babylon to Rivlah,” (II Melochim 25:6) and R. Abahu said that this [Rivlah] was [the city of] Antioch [which is in what is today southern Turkey]? [Doesn’t this imply that Nevuchadnetzar was in the city of Antioch, not in Yerushalayim?]

R. Chisda and R. Yitzchak b. Avdimi [each offered a solution]. One answered: His [Nevuchadnetzar’s] portrait was engraved on his [Nevuzaradan's] chariot, and the other explained: He [Nevuzaradan] stood in such awe of him [Nevuchadnetzar] that it is as though he were in his presence. Rashi there explains the opinion that holds that Nevuchadnetzar’s portrait was engraved on Nevuzaradan's chariot: It seemed to him [Nuvazraden] as if he was standing before him [Nevuchadnetzar when he gazed at his portrait]. Therefore it is written, “Nevuchadnetzar came,” for this refers to his glory [that was manifest to everyone through the image of him on the chariot]. Moreover, the Maharsha explains that this also answers the first verse in that chapter: “Nevuchadnetzar the king of Babylonia came, he and all his army, against Jerusalem, and he encamped by it.” When did Nevuchadnetzar come to Yerushalayim? He did not; rather, his portrait was present, and it was as if he went to Yerushalayim. What a tremendous impact! Nevuzaradan was “inspired” to destroy the Beis Hamikdash by regularly gazing at the image of his evil master, Nevuchadnetzar. The image of Nevuchadnetzar influenced him so much that it is considered as if Nevuchadnetzar was actually there. This establishes very powerfully the concept that impure images have a very detrimental spiritual impact. It should be noted that gazing at the face of a wicked Jew also has an adverse spiritual effect. Thus, the Rebbe of Slonim (the Divrei Shmuel) wrote in a letter to parents that “It endangers one’s soul even to gaze at the face of a teacher in the ‘improved chadorim’ [of the Haskalah] for the fear of Heaven cannot be recognized on his face” (Kuntres Uma’ayan p. 16). In any case, we have established that holy images have a tremendous power to sensitize a Jew to holiness, while unholy, impure images, have the opposite impact, may Hashem save us. These sources also demonstrate that a detrimental spiritual effect extends to representations of the original thing. Now let us see how this extends to the non-kosher animals in particular: ... You should know that every sin has a cause that brings one to it indirectly. There is also an indirect cause that brings one to gaze upon forbidden women. The first cause is gazing at impure things, until one’s eye is satiated with his gazing.

It is true that one has permission to see unusual creatures brought from distant countries, and for this our sages established the blessing, “Blessed is the One Who makes unusual creatures.” Nevertheless, one should not satisfy his eyes in gazing at them, and should only look at them in a cursory manner [derech aray]. For one’s eyesight perceives via four colors that correspond to the divine Name of Havayeh [which contains four letters], and if the person sees impure creatures, he elicits a spirit of impurity, which hovers over him in this aspect. This then causes him to gaze at something even worse that brings the person to stumble [in sin]. ... Therefore our sages, of blessed memory, also said that it is forbidden to gaze upon the countenance of a wicked person (Megillah 28a). Rather, one should accustom one’s eyes to gaze at holy things, and in this way he draws holiness upon himself, and brings great illumination to the four colors within his eyes. ... (Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kaidanover, Kav HaYashar, ch. 2, 1-2.) Kav HaYashar states this idea unequivocally: Simply staring at a forbidden object contaminates the soul. Several other points deserve to be made in light of this quote. 1. We see that a dispensation is given for one who wishes to look at exotic non-kosher animals for the purpose of marveling at Hashem’s creation, along the lines of King David’s exclamations: “How numerous is Your handiwork, G–d!” (Tehillim 104:24) and “How great is Your handiwork, G– d!” (ibid., 92:6). In the sicha, the Rebbe quotes Kav HaYashar and says that therefore it is acceptable to go to a zoo. Later in the sicha the Rebbe refers to the section entitled “The Gate of Analysis” (Shaar Habechina) in the mussar classic “Duties of the Heart” (Chovos Halevavos). This section discusses at great length the importance of recognizing Hashem’s greatness through the wonders of nature. Likewise, the Rebbe considers it acceptable to allow children to look at books that contain images of exotic animals and the like, if one’s stated purpose is to bring them to recognize Hashem’s greatness more profoundly. Thus, “Talks and Tales,” a publication that the Rebbe organized for children, included a section called “In Nature’s Wonderland,” which displayed images of exotic non-kosher animals. 2. It appears clear from the way the Kav HaYashar explains his statement that the exceptions to the rule, i.e., the situations in which it is legitimate for one to see impure images, or to allow one’s children to see them (more of which will be discussed below), come with two stipulations. These are: a. One should only look at such images from time to time, not regularly; b. even when one looks at the impure image, one should not gaze upon it, but just look at it quickly and move on.

3. It seems clear from the way that this practice is explained that it is derived from the more general concept of “Sanctify yourself in that which is permitted to you” (kadesh atzmecha b’mutar lach) (Yevamos 30a; Sifri, Re’ei, sec. 104). This is the idea that indulgence in permitted pleasures leads one to indulge in forbidden pleasures. In the Rebbe Rashab’s Kuntres Uma’ayan (p. 66), he explains how the evil inclination brings a Jew to sin, based on the rabbinic statement: “Such is the craft of the evil inclination. Today he tells a person ‘Do this.’ Tomorrow he tells him, ‘Do that.’ Until he tells him, ‘Go and worship idols,’ and the person goes and worships them (Shabbos 105b).” Kuntres Uma’ayan explains: First the evil inclination makes the person coarse and desensitized to holiness by enticing him to indulge in permitted pleasures repeatedly. This makes the person’s desires so coarse and brazen that he craves forbidden pleasures, and then the temptation is so great that he gives in to it. That statement was written in a general way. However, Kav HaYashar applies this principle to the faculty of sight in general, and gazing at forbidden objects in particular. The more we do it, the coarser our faculty of sight becomes, until one’s desire for inappropriate sights can become so strong that one is tempted to gaze at forbidden things. It is noteworthy that that this idea of sanctifying one’s sight extends to gazing at anything that is disgusting): One’s eyes should not gaze at anything disgusting at all. (Rabbi Avraham Azulai, Chessed L’Avraham, Breichas Avraham, sec. 18.) In this vein, I was once told that one should not look at one’s feces and urine. 4. It should be noted that when one studies the sources provided in the sicha, one sees that this practice applies to any image that is impure, and it seems clear to me that that is the Rebbe’s message. The Rebbe apparently chooses to focus on images of impure animals since they are more prevalent (“dibru chachomim be’hoveh”). 5. This brings us to another point that should be abundantly clear already, but since some people may need to hear it, it deserves to be stated unequivocally. The purpose of ensuring that children avoid looking at non-kosher animals is to keep them pure so that they will be sensitive to holiness. Once they are sensitive to this, they will certainly stay far away from any forbidden gazing. However, this custom can’t exist in a vacuum. It makes no sense to forbid one’s children from having teddy bears while allowing them to watch television. Almost every show on television contains immodest imagery whose negative impact is infinitely worse than that of teddy bears, even for little children who are yet to learn about “the birds and the bees” and thus do not understand what they are viewing. Even the news regularly contains images of the faces of wicked people, which would also seem to be far more detrimental than seeing a teddy bear. The same goes for the harmful effect of images in newspapers.

In other words, in the above sicha, the Rebbe assumes that the frum home is thoroughly protected from any “foreign winds,” and the only thing left is to go “beyond the letter of the law” and remove images of non-kosher items from the house. Sadly, many supposedly frum homes are yet to reach this point; I will not elaborate further on this painful matter. In any case, gazing at forbidden animals is spiritually harmful, and we have also seen that gazing at representations of negative images is detrimental. It follows, therefore, that gazing at representations of forbidden animals will also have a negative effect. The Rebbe then carries this a step further by explaining that the need to ensure a totally pure environment is all the more strong in childhood, according to the verse, “Teach the boy according to his way, and even when he becomes old, he will not depart from it” (Mishlei 22:6). In this context, this verse is telling us that the key to growing into an adult with pure, holy desires and goals is for the parents to accustom him as a child to pure influences. In other words, the Rebbe is saying that caution in this regard is especially necessary for little children. The message in the sicha is not meant only for little children, as some people imagine. Therefore, the Rebbe began by mentioning: “A Jew, and especially a Jewish child, should be accustomed to pure things only.” Indeed, there is an extra emphasis on children, for they are far more susceptible to influence. However, everyone is affected by what they see. Older children and adults should also avoid viewing images of non-kosher animals unnecessarily, because everything that one sees affects the person. It does not become “okay” to unnecessarily view a non-kosher image when one becomes older. The Rebbe also expresses surprise that otherwise excellent Torah publications have chosen to use a mouse to illustrate children’s literature, apparently in imitation of Mickey Mouse, and laments the fact that this sort of illustration has become standard. In addition the Rebbe advises that although people have become used to using non-kosher images for such a purpose, this habit can in fact be changed easily. Then the Rebbe cautions against aggressive zeal in promoting this practice, warning that if one seizes upon another person’s neglect in this area with the peremptory demand that he change his behavior, this approach is likely to be met with resistance, with the listener exclaiming, “Who do you think you are to tell me what to do?” Instead, one should explain to him that one is not telling him a new concept. Rather, this concept is written in holy books, and he can study the texts where this concept is discussed himself, enabling this concept to become something he can relate to personally. Here, the Rebbe explains: According to Jewish custom, when a Jewish child is born, we hang holy things on the wall in his room, or surround him with holy things, such as a Shir Lamaalos. Likewise, we should ensure that he not see any images of impure things. When one has to give him an animal toy, for whatever reason, since he is a child, one should choose a toy shaped in the form of a kosher animal, bird, fish, or the like. So, too, when the child becomes older and needs to be taught the form of the letters. He is at the age when he needs to be shown an aleph through being shown the image of a person carrying two buckets—one above, and one below, as used to be typically depicted in children’s literature. The illustration includes a river with fish swimming in it, or a cat, or the like. The image of the cat should be removed, and a kosher animal, bird, or fish should be inserted instead. The same holds for other images, and especially those specifically used for educational purposes,

for “even when he becomes old, he will not depart from it” depends upon “teach the boy according to his way.” What becomes engraved in the mind of a child at a very early age is of the utmost importance. When he sees holy things before his eyes, then “even when he becomes old, he will not depart from it.” One of my teachers explained this to me as follows. The Rebbe is not saying that children’s literature should never contain images of non-kosher animals. If such an image fits naturally in the context of the story, there is nothing wrong with the animal being there. For example, if a story that depicts a journey made in past times would acceptably include an image of a horse and a wagon, for since this was the standard mode of transport in past times, the image is necessary. In other words, the non-kosher image serves a clearly definable educational purpose. But if a kosher image could have been used just the same, and the non-kosher image was used instead simply in order to fill up space on the page, such a book should not be used. Likewise, the Rebbe says that this caution does not apply to images of non-kosher animals discussed in Tanach and in Medrash, which are illustrated for children in order to facilitate their studies, “for then this image is a study and commentary on the Torah, as is obvious.” An example would be an illustration of the story of Rivka giving Eliezer’s camels water, where it is necessary to include an image of a camel so that the child will understand the story. Thus, the Rebbe points out, we find that Rashi, one of the most famous children’s teachers, wrote in his explanation of the verse, “This is the animal that you will eat ... that you will not eat” (Shemini 11:2), that Moshe Rabeinu would visibly show the Jewish people the animals that may not be eaten. This proves that it was necessary to teach about the non-kosher animal visually, for were it not, Moshe Rabeinu could have sufficed with showing all the kosher animals and simply explaining that all the others were not kosher. As for the images of an lion or an eagle found on many an paroches, or on the covering of a Sefer Torah, the Rebbe explains that this display is necessary in order for these animals remind one of the need to pray to Hashem and serve him in a way “strong like a lion,” and so on, as discussed in the beginning of Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim. Another possible answer is that these animals remind one of Yechezkel’s vision of a heavenly chariot. Likewise, the Rebbe explains that the reason that some of the tribes had images of non-kosher animals emblazoned on their flags (Bamidbar Rabba 2:7) was that each image was connected with the qualities of the tribe; thus, each tribe needed to be represented by the image of a particular animal (e.g., a snake). Likewise, when there is a clear need for a non-kosher animal, it is acceptable. Obviously in the old country, when the most practical means of transport was by horse, it was completely acceptable to own a horse. Likewise, people would use cats to keep away mice. A source in Halacha for the caution not to gaze at non-kosher animals (in addition to the abovequoted sources) is from Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah, end sec. 198), which rules: “Women should be careful when they leave immersion ... that they not encounter something impure. If they do encounter such things (such as a dog or a donkey—commentary of the Shach), if she is a G–dfearing woman, she should immerse herself again.” Many people who lack a solid background in Torah will no doubt regard this practice as odd, and some may even react with ridicule. However, it must be stressed that this practice has solid traditional Torah sources. Thus, just as in all Torah matters one must act with confidence and fulfill the dictum “Do not be embarrassed by the scoffers” (beg. of Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 1:1) so, too, in this case. Some people may dismiss it as ridiculous and fanatic, but one who fears Hashem will not be deterred by their words.

Extra appreciation of the need to refrain from viewing impure images unnecessarily can be gleaned from the Rebbe Rashab’s Kuntres HoAvodah pp. 11-12-13). There the Rebbe Rashab explains at length that true fear of sin does consists not only of refraining from looking at forbidden sights, but of not allowing one’s senses to be indiscriminately open: His faculty of sight is not open to see everything before him, never mind to see something that it is forbidden to gaze at. For in fact seeing, and certainly gazing, is the cause of every wicked thing. It brings one to total evil, may G–d save us ... and lowers one into the depth of hell. Everyone who is concerned for his soul, not to bring it to contamination, G–d forbid, should confine himself in his faculty of sight. If he finds this difficult, he should know that his soul depends upon it, and that if he does not confine himself, all his divine service is as nothing, for he will not accomplish anything through his toil and service. On the contrary, he will fall, may G– d save us, to the lowest depth. Thus one should toughen oneself like a lion to confine himself with all his vigor and might. ... With this one will save his soul from evil, and his divine service will be acceptable [before Hashem], and he will accomplish salvation for his soul, and rise ever higher. Many practical questions arise in connection with this issue. For example, what should one do with children’s gifts one has received of non-kosher animals? This is especially an issue when one has not-yet-frum relatives. Obviously one should try to “warn” them first. The problem is that they often “forget” or don’t take you seriously. However, this is just one of many issues that can arise in such family situations, and friction in this area needs to be dealt with in the same way as all other matters—respectfully and diplomatically, but without compromising one’s principles. Although one should try to explain it, if they don’t “get it,” they need to be told assertively: “As parents, these are the rules and values that we have chosen for our home, and we ask others to respect that and not do things that undermine these rules.” Moreover, they can be told that they should not take the refusal of their gift personally, because you would refuse anyone who would offer such a gift to you. It should be clarified that like most of the Rebbe’s campaigns, this idea is not the Rebbe’s chiddush (novelty) at all. The Rebbe methodically cites a list of classical sources for this practice. Moreover, this campaign is different from the Rebbe’s other campaigns in that most of the campaigns were directed to not-yet-frum Jews, with the goal of slowly but surely bringing them to adopt Mitzvah observance. In contrast, this campaign appears to be relevant only to those in a frum home, for if one is not yet frum, a teddy bear is the least of his concerns. However, one should remember that as important as it is, this custom is a chumra (stringency); and not a strict obligation. As with any chumra, one needs to keep in mind that one should fulfill it in a positive, joyful manner, and that there may be some legitimate exceptions to the rule (in addition to the exceptions listed above), or cases in which it is appropriate to be lenient. If joy or discernment are lacking, “the loss outweighs the benefit.” The Rebbe concludes the sicha by explaining that in the current period, which is immediately before the arrival of Moshiach it is all the more necessary to be particular to only see kosher and holy images, for we are now preparing ourselves for the future redemption, of which it is written, “I [Hashem] will remove the spirit of impurity form the world” (Zechariah) 13:2). The Rebbe realizes that this practice may entail inconvenience, but he is telling us that the benefit of making this change vastly outweighs the loss. Like a doctor telling us that for our own health, we need to refrain from certain foods, the Rebbe is telling us that for our spiritual health, we need to avoid impure sights. Moreover, he is merely echoing the timeless words of doctors of old. Let’s heed his call.

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