Interview with Rabbi Cohen

Why did you decide to write KOSHER PARENTING?

When I turned 60, time became more focused for me, more condensed. The rabbis in the Talmud refer to this time of life as zikna, old age, but the word is also an acronym for Hebrew phrase meaning "one who has acquired wisdom." Having acquired a measure of life's wisdom, I wanted to share it with others.

On what do you base your parenting approach?

My approach is based upon (1) the conviction that there is a God who rules the world, and (2) that He revealed Himself at Sinai through the Torah, and (3) that the Torah is essentially an instructional manual for living.

In sum, the Torah and the collective wisdom of the rabbis, who have studied Torah and interpreted the Talmud over the ages, provide role models to emulate and concepts and laws that tell us about how to lead a moral and sensible life.

Give me an example of what you mean.

Consider this. The Torah tells us that every human being is created in the image of God.  This means that everyone is unique and possesses infinite value.  Therefore, I cannot trample upon the feelings of others. Rather, I must be sensitive to others and respect everyone's uniqueness, especially that of my parents, who, by Torah law, I am bound to both honor and serve.

Is KOSHER PARENTING a book only for Jews?

While the Torah is the guidebook for Jews, the principles of spiritual living, morality, sensitivity, and respect are fundamentally the same in most religions. While the basic tenets of each religion may be different, the fundamental lessons of spiritual parenting are applicable to all, regardless of faith.  Hence, KOSHER PARENTING can be viewed either literally if one is Jewish, or figuratively, as in doing the right thing, if one holds another faith.

What, according to Jewish tradition, are the main things a parent has to teach a child?

A section from the Talmud explicitly states the obligations of a parent. A parent must teach his child Torah, i.e. give him moral education: teach him a trade or give him the tools to earn a living; and, according to many sages, teach him how to swim. In the view of some, teaching a child how to swim refers not to actual swimming but to swimming through life.

Why do you feel KOSHER PARENTING is so important now?

Let me share with you an anecdote. As principal of a Jewish day school, one of my many tasks was to discuss the Jewish view of sex with our seventh graders. To facilitate the dialogue with a minimum of embarrassment, I asked the boys (a rabbi's wife had a similar talk with the girls) to submit questions for discussion beforehand. One question I received reminded me just how dramatically times have changed since I was a Jr. High school student many years ago: "Are you allowed to have oral sex according to Jewish law?"

The fact that this is even on the minds of seventh graders today is revealing. That it would be a topic of discussion is nothing less than surprising. Clearly, parenting today involves a whole new array of skills and knowledge far beyond what our own parents needed. It seemed, therefore, that a knowledge of classical Jewish sources, combined with a deep and wide-ranging host of life experiences, can help provide a subtext for a consistent and coherent approach to the challenge of rearing children in the 21st century. One of my goals in writing this book was to share such an approach with all parents.

What is one important message parents can derive from KOSHER PARENTING?

Patience, patience, patience. Kids can get us angry, they can disappoint us. But parents need to take the long-term perspective and never give up on their kids. Let me tell you a story. About 5 years ago, I received a call from Daniel. He was a student at Yeshiva High School of Atlanta in the late 70s. Although a very bright boy, he was arrogant, disruptive, and disrespectful, a "wise guy" in the classic sense of the term.

He was one of the few students who could really irritate me, and, at the end of his high school career, I was truly relieved when he graduated. Which is why the phone call from Daniel was so unexpected. He was now married with children, and he called me to ask for forgiveness for his atrocious behavior in high school, and he wanted to make amends. He also thanked me for my patience in dealing with him. I told Daniel how pleased I was to hear from him and how much I appreciated his thoughts so many years later. He then offered to send the school a donation, which I happily accepted. What this incident taught me was that parents need to be patient with children as they journey through life. If we expose our kids to the Bible/Torah, the eternal verities of life, over a consistent period of time, our children can become wise men, not wise guys.