Snatched Away From Their Lives and Heritage, a Jewish Mother Fights for Her Children

Snatched Away From Their Lives and Heritage, a Jewish Mother Fights for Her Children

By Yomin Postelnik

The saga of Julie Goffstein and her children needs to make all of us demand better. A travesty was done to children who were ripped apart from a loving and by all accounts good mother, from their heritage and from their way of life. Moreover, the tragic injustice done in this case should send shivers down the spines of every homeschooling advocate in the nation.

Julie was a loving mother of 6 boys, ages 5-15. She raised them with great care for their physical needs, their spiritual wellbeing and their personal development. Eleven character witnesses testified as to this at length, going into great detail regarding the great care that she showed for each of her children’s needs. She raised her children with warmth and with great emphasis on building good character traits, setting them up for happiness and success in life. The children’s principal, Rabbi Yuval Kernerman (an experienced educator who now directs an entire campus in Toronto, but was then the principal of Cincinnati Hebrew Day School), went into great detail into the mother’s tremendous parenting skills. Two court-ordered evaluations also recommended that the children remain with the mother and expressed similar views of her parenting.

This did not prevent the most horrific situation from unfolding. As soon as she filed for divorce from what she describes as a vindictive and spiteful marriage, her ex-husband filed for sole custody of all children. And he lost. The court ordered psychologist (one of the evaluators) as well as witness after witness documented how the kids were happy and well taken care of by the mother.

The father, a senior executive in the real estate industry, had a deep animus toward religious observance in general and the observant values of his children in particular. He proceeded to launch a battle against the mother’s religious teachings and observance and demanded that the children be ripped from the religious school that they had attended their whole lives and from any aspect of observance. The children were forced by court order to break holiday observance, including the Biblical rules surrounding these holidays that they held dear. All aspects of their upbringing, value system, deep-seated beliefs and culture were ripped away from them.

Shockingly, the judge also ruled that any attempt to console her sons by saying that she was fighting to return them to Jewish schools, would be deemed contempt of court. The mother was further prohibited from encouraging religious observance, or from even discussing Torah with her younger children, the judge deeming this to be interference with the custodial parent’s wishes. (It should be noted that everything about this case runs in stark contrast to hundreds of cases in which the religious upbringing of the child is recognized as crucial to their development and any attempt to force them away from it is rightly considered traumatic. Likewise, it bears mention that the father is an executive in the real estate industry, well connected with local politicians and has multiple millions at his disposal, while the mother is a struggling single parent, trying to raise her two oldest sons, who remain in her custody, and grapples with day to day expenses.)

In short, a biased judge acquiesced to the father’s demands. No care was given to the deeply held beliefs of the children (beliefs that also made them model citizens in society). No care was given to how they’d been raised their whole lives or to their culture. No care was even given to the deep relationship that each had with their mother. The mother-child bond was sacrificed on the altar of religious bigotry. Even a text of the mother trying to console the anguish of her child who had been ripped away was used in a contempt motion against her and sustained by the judge.

This case must make one take notice and do something. Four young children (then ages 5, 7, 9 and 11) have suffered tremendously. They were ripped away from a fine mother who was readily given custody of the two older boys. In the end, the central problem the judge had with her was her religion. The First Amendment was torn asunder, as was basic decency. The four younger children, torn from their mother, their brothers, their values and their upbringing, have experienced gross and ongoing problems and need all of our help.

The Jewish community and the Jewish people have always done everything to keep their children as members of our heritage. The beginning of the Torah Portion of “Vayigash” (Genesis 44:18) demonstrates how the brothers who had learned from the lessons of the past did everything including risking their very beings to save a child who walked in the way of G-d. Far less is needed in this case, but people must join in in support. This is the challenge of our generation. There is no more important mitzvah that one can think of.

Please get involved. A blog with more information is available at www.cryofajewishmother.blogspot.com. Julie Goffstein can be reached at (513) 477-8640 or by email at juliegoffstein@gmail.com.

Raising the Next Generation Through Individualized Torah Education

Raising the Next Generation Through Individualized Torah Education

By Yomin Postelnik

In recent years, more attention is being given to both special needs and to individualized education. The first method fulfills the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s vision that every Jewish child has a right to learn Torah and that parents, and we as a community, have a responsibility to make sure that this vital need is provided. The second method, individualized education, is crucial to ensuring that each student is motivated and develops a person incentive to succeed. These efforts are more than commendable, they’re lifesaving.

Special needs educational focuses on the age old Jewish principle of maximizing every individual’s potential. The Lubavitcher Rebbe would famously point out how children with certain challenges are called “special” because of the holiness of their souls. This is also readily perceivable to those who interact with children who have these challenges.

Individualized education fills a very different and much more common void. It is based on the well known principle that while many students may flourish in a general classroom setting, some will struggle to keep up while others, who are not challenged by the general level of learning, will lose interest out of boredom. The Torah (Mishlei 22:6) tells us “chanoch lenaar al pi darko – teach a youth according to his way,” that every student is a unique individual and needs to be taught on his or her level. Another meaning of the verse is that each child needs to be inspired, captivated and motivated in the specific way that reaches his or her heart.

Individualized education is more crucial today than ever. Many gifted and talented children have, may G-d Almighty protect all, fallen off of the Torah true path because of lack of interest. Their classes were not meaningful to them and neither was the method of instruction. There is no greater suffering for a parent and there is no greater loss to Klal Yisroel, the Jewish community as a whole, than the spiritual loss of a child. This is easily preventable and as New York yeshivos and chedarim (Torah schools) catch on and focus on this new lifesaving method of education, we as shluchim and leaders in our communities need to as well. We are not just responsible for our own kids, but also for the children of the community and for those whose parents seek our guidance.

Mainstream cheders are now realizing that there are gifted kids who become easily bored in the regular class setting. Others are very talented in some ways (above the class average), yet struggle in other areas of learning. Other children just need more one-on-one instruction and need a mentor who will motivate them both spiritually and academically. One such mainstream cheder which recognizes this and implements a personalized curriculum that has turned around many students, setting them on the path toward a lifetime of learning, is Yeshivas Chok LYisroel in Crown Heights (www.choklyisroel.org). Its founder, Rabbi Hershel Moss, filled a void that was seeing smart boys fall behind in classes that did not talk to them and the great success of many is attributable to him.

The Talmud in Eruvin (54b) relays a fascinating story of Rabi Preida. This Amora (from Eretz Yisroel, hence the term “Rabi”) would teach one student 400 times before the latter would comprehend the lesson. One day, Rabi Preida was called to engage in a mitzvah, but continued to teach his student, who this time didn’t grasp the lesson, even after 400 times. When Rabi Preida asked, out of concern, what was different that prevented the student from understanding the lesson, the student answered “from the moment (that Rabi Preida) had been asked to engage in a mitzvah, I could not concentrate, (all the while thinking) now my teacher will get up.” Rabi Preida asked the student to give his attention and taught him again another 400 times. At that point a Heavenly voice went out asking Rabi Preida if he’d prefer for 400 years to be added to his life or if he’d rather be guaranteed to enter Gan Eden (heaven) along with his entire generation. When he chose heaven for his generation, Hashem decreed that he should be given both blessings. Certainly Hashem appreciated the primary importance of teaching every child.

There is no greater task and no endeavor that is more worthy than that of transmitting our Holy Torah to the next generation. It is what makes us Jews and it is our eternal covenant with Hashem. There is also no greater obligation. The story of Rabbi Preida is recorded in the Talmud after pointing out the obligation to teach each student until he not only understands it well, but can also to repeat the lesson properly to others. These obligations are learned directly from how Moshe Rabbeinu taught the People of Israel.

In truth, we do not need to go as far back as the Talmud to see the true importance of giving each and every Jewish child the Torah education that works for them. Only a generation ago, the greatest of scholarly chassidim risked their lives under the nose of the dreaded KGB, may their memory be obliterated, just in order to teach a child Aleph Bais. Indeed, many were killed for having performed this holy task. In this generation, we are blessed with the ability for Torah and Torah teaching to add length of days. All we have to do is dedicate ourselves to training each child.

The Anatomy of a Soul

THE ANATOMY OF A SOUL

BY

Artwork by Shmueli Bell - xnihilocreative.netArtwork by Shmueli Bell - xnihilocreative.net

What is a Soul?

When you hear the word “soul” or “spirit,” what comes to mind? How could discovering the meaning of the soul help bring fulfillment and purpose to your life? Is there a clearly articulated view of the soul in Jewish literature?

Great sages, philosophers, thinkers, and religionists[1] have probed the human condition since time immemorial, emerging often with novel postulations to explain the mysteries of the often-dichotomous human experience.

Like so many other subjects, Jewish scholars have held decidedly distinct views of the soul, dividing the map of Jewish scholarship between the philosophers and the Kabbalists. In this article, we will study the view of Maimonides and compare his conception of the soul to those espoused by the Masters of Kabbalah.

The Zohar teaches that it is imperative to study about the soul, inasmuch as one of the questions put to the soul after death is whether it directed sufficient effort to understanding the nature of the soul and its purpose.[2]

 

Portrait of Intellect

To Maimonides (and other philosophers including Aristotle[3]), the human soul is a single,[4] indivisible unit, gifted with a host of unique powers, each of which is tasked with a distinct human function.[5] However, at its core, the soul is defined as a potential for a perfect form of intellect andknowledge:[6]

The soul of all flesh is the form which it was given by G-d. The extra dimension which is found in the soul of man is the form of man … which knows and comprehends ideas that are not material, like the angels, who are form without body.

As such:

It … knows the Creator of all things, and exists forever.[7]

The soul is thus defined as the cognitive ability to grasp concepts that transcend our tangible senses, and through which one can receive a flow of prophetic insight communicated by the angels.[8] Being of this sublime quality and transcending all matter, the soul is immortal and endures even after one’s physical demise.

This potential for knowledge distinguishes human from animal.[9] For animals, too, are animated by a spiritual life-force (a “soul”), but the human is endowed with the ability to impress the truths of wisdom upon the powers of the body, its functions and talents.[10] Maimonides thus refers to the animating power of the body as “matter,” and the soul, “form.”

The Evolving Soul

Upon birth, the coarseness of the body (the “matter”) prevents the development of this potential for knowledge (the “form”[11]), and as one grows, the intellect matures and the souls’ potential for divine consciousness is further realized. As one’s physical strength wanes, the soul becomes progressively unshackled by the limitations of the body and has the potential to sharpen and purify its perceptions, culminating in the ultimate apprehension of truth upon the demise of its physical sanctuary, the body.[12] The reason this happens only upon one’s death, is that by definition the human is incapable of grasping the true oneness of reality with G-d,[13] as the verse states, “For no man can see Me and still live”[14]. Only once the soul is no longer burdened by the mortal coil can it truly attain a full understanding of the divine, and this is only possible in the World to Come.[15]

End of Days

Furthermore, in Maimonidean thought, the ultimate purpose of all of mortal life, including the utopian era of the Moshiach in the end of days, is for the soul to understand the Creator in the World to Come, when (according to Maimonides) all souls will be divested of their physical abode and only exist in a spiritual reality.[16]

In sum, the philosophical approach of Maimonides and others casts the soul as an intellectual entity whose potential must be actualized, without which the individual lacks the advantage of humanity, and has forfeited his portion in the Afterlife, which is an experience of knowledge.

Torah’s Esoteric Teachings about the Soul

The teachings of Kabbalah introduce an entirely new dimension to the discussion about the nature of the soul. While the philosophical approach defined the soul as an intellectual organism whose cognitive potential must be fostered in order to gain immortality, mystical works inform us that the soul is an entity that, at its core, transcends, and is not bound by, the parameters of intellect altogether.[17]

In describing the soul, the Zohar states:

“The soul has no definitive name or place [where it resides], but its dominion extends to the entire body.”[18]

Rabbi Aharon Shmuel of Kremnitz (-1615) in his Nishmas Adam thus states:

Regarding the essence of the soul, its foundation and secret, [both] the early and later sages have elaborated upon this each in their own way. However, they have all failed to find an eye-opening and intuitively understood explanation of the source of the soul and its essence. We, however, trust the [teachings] of those qualified [in these matters] and “plant our stake in a dependable place” from which we will not deviate nor depart. These are the words of the sages [who taught] the true wisdom, which was imparted from one sage to the next, all the way from Moshe our teacher o.b.m. They state that the soul of man is essentially transcendent, holy and pure. It stands in its essence before its Father, the King, King of Kings, may He be blessed, from before the existence of man in his original state on earth, just like all other sublime legions of heaven, but at even loftier heights than they. For the soul is a spirit and spark of the great and honored [transcendent] Name of G-d, may He be blessed.[19]

In the view of the Kabbalists, defining the soul purely as an intellectual being is incorrect and underestimates its value and influence. Instead of the soul being a cognitive potential upon whose development hinges one’s ability to experience the Afterlife, the essence of the soul is a (living[20]) entity whose core is pristine and eternal, which also encompasses within it all of the cognitive, emotive and practical powers of the human encounter with life.[21]

Furthermore, the soul is referred to by Scripture as being a “part of G-d,” as it were.[22] Jewish mysticism explains that insofar as the soul is carved from the sublime levels of divinity, it, too, is vested with all the attributes that characterize the divine framework through which G-d interfaces with reality,[23] and in this respect, it is literally a part of G-d.[24] Thus writes R. Moshe Chaim Luzzato[25]:

“Know that the Jewish soul is literally (“mamash”) a part of G‑d, for the whole and the part are equal.”

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi further explains that, ultimately, the soul is rooted in the most sublime essence of the divine,[26] and from this vantage point the soul is totally identified with divinity and is not an entity unto itself,[27] and does not process its experience in cognitive terms. This spark of the divine is then formalized through a process of creation,[28] through which it assumes the intellectual and emotional attributes in potentia,[29] always retaining its core, primal identity as being a part of G-d.

The knowledge that we possess a soul that is rooted in the essence of the Almighty can be very empowering. By experiencing the soul’s bond with the Almighty, one can harness this strength to surmount all of one’s inner challenges, synthesizing all of life’s details so that they reflect the purpose for which one has been given life. Moreover, all of reality ultimately can be determined by the actions of the individual, effecting a true transformation within a world that is not aligned with the divine imperative. No obstacle can stymie the influence of the divine soul.[30]


 

[1] An excellent compendium on the subject citing the various views on the soul can be found in R. Saadya Gaon, Emunot Ve-de’ot with the commentary of R. David Ha-Kohen, Derech Emunah, article six.

[2] Zohar Chadash, Shir Ha-Shirim, 70b

[3] See Zichron Yitzchak on Nachmonides Bereishis 2:7.

[4] In this regard, Maimonides differs from the view of some scholars who understood the human experience to be oriented by multiple souls. See R. Avraham bar Chiya Ha-Nasi (1070-1145), Higayon Ha-Nefesh, Leipzig 1859, p. 11. This view is also cited by Nachmanides (ibid.). It should be noted that R. Avraham bar Chiya appears to vacillate between these two views in his work Megilas Ha-Megilah, Berlin 1924, p. 85.

[5] Maimonides, Introduction to tractate Avos, 1

[6] Maimonides, Yesodei HaTorah, 4:8

[7] Maimonides, ibid., 9

[8] See Pirush, Yesodei HaTorah, ibid., based on Yesodei Ha-Torah 2:7

[9] See Pirush, ibid.

[10] Pirush, ibid.

[11] The colloquial “form” describes the physical contours of an entity. Here, the term refers to a qualitative characteristic that differentiates one category of being from another (See Pirush, ibid.).

[12] Guide to the Perplexed, ch. LI.

[13] See Maimonides, Hilchos Yesodei Ha-Torah, 1:10

[14] Shemos, 33:20

[15] See Maimonides, Hilchos Teshuvah, 8:6

[16] See Maimonides, Hilchos Melachim 12:4. Hilchos Teshuvah 8:7. See Likutei Sichot, vol. 33 p. 89. Vol. 34, p. 135, fn. 39. Cf. Sefer Ha-Sichot 5752, vol. 1, p. 186.

[17] See R. Aharon Shmuel of Kremnitz (-1615) in Nishmat Adam, ch. VIII (Reprinted in Jerusalem 2006, p. 157). This work was originally printed with the approbation of leading Kabbalist, R. Yeshaya Horowitz.

[18] Zohar, vol. II, p. 257b

[19] Nishmat Adam, ch. I (p. 12). R. Yehuda Loew (1520-1609) in Gevurot Hashem, Hakdamah Sh’niah(London 1954, p. 10). Reishit Chochmah, Sha’ar Ha-Ahavah, ch. I. She’elot Uteshuvot Yachin Uboaz, (Vol. I, ch. 134).

[20] Cf. R. Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, Sefer Ha-Ma’amarim 5708, p. 13. There he explains that the definition of “living” can only apply to an entity, as it exists within a human frame of reference. The soul, however, at its core cannot be defined as “living” either.

[21]

[22] Iyov 31:2.

[23] See R. Yeshaya Horowitz, Shenei Luchot Ha-Brit, Toldot Adam, Beit Chochmah, sec. 209.

[24] See R. Shabsi Sheftel Horowitz (1565–1619), Nishmas Shabsi Halevi (Podgorze, 1898), p. 10. See also this author in his introduction to Shefa Tal (Reprinted in Jerusalem 2007, p. 5).

[25] Choker Umekubal (Shklov, 1784), p. 14.

[26] See also R. Yitzchak Adarbi (1510-1584), Divrei Sholom (Venice, 1585): “The Jewish people endure forever because their souls are eternal, and [they] persist as they are not subject to the restraints of time, and they transcend time, inasmuch as they are a part of His essence, may He be blessed.” See sources cited in Toras Chaim (by R. Dovber Shneuri, the Miteler Rebbe), Va’eira, p. 102 fn. 7.

[27] See Tanya, Likutei Amarim, ch. II. Igeret Ha-Teshuvah, ch. III-IV. Sefer Ha-Ma’amarim Melukat, vol. II, p. 102.

[28] As the liturgy of the morning blessings state, “You created it, You formed it, You have breathed it into me, and You preserve it within me.”

[29] The Kabbalists respond to the question put forth by the philosophers as to why a child lacks intelligence upon birth, if the soul is fully outfitted with cognitive powers (See R. Meir ibn Gabai (cir. 1480—) Avodas Hakodesh, vol. II ch. 23 (p.85); Nishmas Adam ch. III, p. 61).

The Tanya (ch. 51) explains that the soul is a pristine, uncompounded essence, which includes in potential form all the powers of the various organs, and it is these faculties, which each individual organ receives. The mind receives, from the life-force of the soul, the power to think; the eye receives, from the life-force of the soul, the power to see, and the ear receives from it the power to hear. These powers were originally included in potentia within the soul, and each becomes revealed as the life-force becomes enclothed within the respective organ. Thus the power to see or hear does not originate only when the life-force becomes enclothed within the eye or ear; it already exists in potentia within the comprehensive life-force emanating from the soul, although it is not yet revealed. See Lessons in Tanya (Kehot, 1997), vol. II, pp. 767-769.

[30] See the Rebbe – Likutei Sichos, vol. IV, pp. 1207.