All faiths have some type of guidelines about children. We have special days to celebrate their existence. We call them our pride and joy. Our heart. We view them as gifts from G-d. They are, after all, our future.
Judaism obligates us to ensure that all children enjoy physical and spiritual health, a sense of worth and identity, educational development and opportunity, and there are even more demanding ethical requirements when dealing with children who have been traumatized.
Rabbi Maimonides, was one of the great Jewish medieval thinkers and leaders wrote extensively about children and what types of treatment children should receive on a variety of issues. He is especially clear that great care must be given to any child who has suffered a trauma of any kind. Further, he claims it is a serious transgression to cause children (especially children who have been threatened, traumatized or victimized) further distress, pain, physical harm, humiliation, or continue to tyrannize them in any way. His commentary is not a suggestion, but a requirement of our faith.
Psalm 145 states G-d cares for all children and demands that we are specifically attentive to vulnerable children. It states that this care and attention is especially important for the orphan and the child of misfortune who is often coming from a place of conflict and violence. Specifically, it does not separate out children by color or faith, by wealth or power or country of origin or any other classification. It very specifically states all children.
There is no doubt that biblical perspective makes it clear that how we treat the child victim of violence and misfortune is the ultimate litmus test of our own religious and human values.
And yet, despite all of our declarations about how righteous we are, and how deep is our faith, children go to bed hungry at night and wake up not knowing where their next meal will come from. Children are sexually exploited and physically harmed in the most heinous of ways.
We know there are children caught in the struggle for land and power between an oppressor and the oppressed. We have seen the haunting eyes of children behind barbed wire and other barriers and the emaciated bodies of children dying for lack of food.
In our country, children are leading the charge to remind us they are going to school with a legitimate fear of not returning. Education, medical care, safe housing and more is openly denied many poor children. We are confused by cries to protect the unborn that are not followed with demands to protect those already here.
We separate children from their parents as we try to make a point and then care so little for them that we do not even keep track of where we shuffle them to. Do we think for a moment that subjecting children to inhumane conditions, or attend a religious service or proclaim we know G-d’s will is OK with G-d? Apparently some do. But most of us simply look away so we do not see and ignore because we can. But we cannot excuse our duplicity or escape the consequences of our inaction.
As Jews, we are reminded of our obligations by the following prayer:
“Disturb us Adonai, ruffle us from our complacency. Make us dissatisfied. Dissatisfied with the peace of ignorance, the quietude that arises from a shunning of the horror, the defeat, the bitterness, the poverty, physical and spiritual of humans.
Shock us Adonai, deny us the false Shabbat which gives us delusions of satisfaction amid a world of war and hatred.
Make us know the border of the sanctuary is not the border of living and the walls of Your temple are not shelters from the winds of truth, justice and reality.
Disturb us O G-d, and vex us; let not your Shabbat be a day of torpor and slumber, let it be a time to be stirred and spurred to action.”
That prayer reminds us that attending religious services or saying one has a relationship with G-d does not absolve me or anyone of our responsibilities to act and to acknowledge reality. Claiming to be faithful does not make it so. Restoring human dignity and acknowledging all peoples humanity rests with each of us doing our own small part.
Our children will one day lead. When that day comes, we can only hope and pray that they will do so with a better heart than what they have been shown.
• Chava Lee is the president of the Congregation Sukkat Shalom Board. “Living Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders.