Rabbi: These are things that are not learned at home

Update: It seems that quite a discussion is going on with the rabbi in the comments section on Moreshet, for those who read Hebrew.

A commenter on my previous post drew my attention to a responsum from the Orthodox website Moreshet. Here is my translation:

Love and Warmth for a Child
Shalom to the honorable rabbi. I would like to ask until what age it is worthwhile and desirable for a baby/child to stay at home with his mother.

The answer to your question is so individual, keeping a child at home or sending him to daycare and into society depends on the child’s rate of development. There are children who will feel fine going to daycare at 3 months, and there are some who will need a whole year until it will be possible to send them.

A second issue concerns the quality of the daycare center and the caretakers, do they simply change diapers or engage in activities with the children. If the activities are designed to engage the child and get the most out of him (?????? ?? ????) as much as possible, he will be better able to get along in society. If he is just going for babysitting there is no point.

Most of my children and grandchildren went out at three months, and baruch Hashem, they all developed excellently and are very sociable. They know how to get along very well, and these are things that are not learned at home.

Now I only use Moreshet for questions about things like kashrut, and I wouldn’t dream of asking a rabbi a question about daycare. With all due respect, I don’t understand why the rabbi feels he has anything more to say about this issue than any other experienced father/grandfather. He doesn’t quote sources or relate to halacha at all. However, the mother did ask for his opinion.

To respond to the specific points:

  • Just because a child doesn’t cry in daycare, doesn’t mean that he is doing well. Studies have shown that even calm infants in daycare have higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, than babies who stay with their mothers.
  • Presumably he believes that three months is the minimum, but that seems arbitrary to me. Would he write the same thing if maternity leave in Israel were longer or shorter?
  • It’s interesting that he sees daycare as positive from the point of view of the baby’s social and cognitive development. In this he reflects the view of the prevailing culture, which rationalizes early daycare as an educational necessity instead of a default option for two-income families.
  • How sad that the rabbi believes that a Jewish mother has less to give to her own child than a good daycare center.
  • As I have posted many times, early socialization is overrated at best and harmful at worst.
  • Anecdotes about how great kids turn out because the parents did x, y, and z annoy me. Perhaps his children and grandchildren turned out wonderfully in spite of early daycare and not because of it. Nevertheless, I will share about my 5.5yo son who went to gan for the first time last fall (actually, he was in a cooperative preschool at age two for three hours two or three times a week, with three other children and their mothers). He adjusted to gan easily and everything is fresh for him. And he has many friends, but I would be fine if he were less popular. He is more than prepared enough for first grade, and I assure you that I did not do workbooks with him or follow any curriculum.

The commenter Ora wrote:

It really annoyed me–it’s hard enough raising kids without a rabbi telling you you’re not capable of it and need to send them away. As if I needed less confidence.

Ora, you raise an important point. We mothers, whatever choices we make, have a hard enough job. No matter what we do we feel we need to do more. I hope that you can find other mothers in your community who understand the importance of mothering. I am sure you are doing a great job.


  1. Jerusalem Joe says

    Well, we’re supposed to pick our rabbis aren’t we? So I guess this mother got what she wanted – someone foolish and arrogant enough to answer questions that should not be asked in the first place.
    Probably that is the basis for maybe half of the halacha.
    I cannot fathom how Rabbi’s have the gall to answer questions that are so completely and obviously out of their scope.Don’t they learn any kind of humility in their studies? Haven’t they heard of “Less is More?
    I’m ranting because I see this a lot.

  2. mominisrael says

    Tamiri, well my husband generally goes along with whatever ideas I have about parenting LOL.
    Sometimes the dad is pressuring mom to go out and leave the kids.

  3. mominisrael says

    JJ–I think it’s a patriarchal thing too. I wonder if the response would have been the same to a father.

  4. להוציא את הילד should probably be understood literally as “take the child out” of it’s house and into daycare because what they are offering at Day Care is so wonderful: he will better learn to adapt to society. I looked up the Moreshet responsa and have to say that the answer to that question is foolish. Sorry. One reason for the foolishness of this answer is, in my opinion: Cluelessness. Many parents, regardless of whether they are Rabbis or anything else, are totally out of it when it comes to child rearing and raising. Also, since women insist on their equality, and going out to work to “realize” their self worth, the men are left to support these strong women or else…. Whatever the mom says is fine with Dad, just keep mom happy and working. Maybe the responder is indoctrinated… maybe he doesn’t want to insult anyone???

  5. mama o' matrices says

    Jerusalem Joe, I’m with you – the mother who asks that question gets what she deserves.
    To be fair, rabbis play a range of roles, from spiritual adviser, halachik expert, to the local psychotherapist (with varying success). And the nature of Judaism as it is practiced in many communities is to be so pervasive that it permeates nearly every action. Ever say a bracha after using the bathroom? So, whether the rabbi should or should not have asked isn’t really the question – that depends on him and his community (geographical or internet).
    His answer, though, is what worries me. Yup, he’s definitely subscribing to the daycare as necessary educational resource, and by quoting in Hebrew he offers a slim sense of halachik approval, without accomanying analysis. In what way do day care centers serve to yotzei the child? While I appreciate his nod to the individual child’s needs, his position means he must be extremely careful, lest the poor mother consign all responsibility to him, and send her kid off to day care because the rabbi said so.
    Dangerous stuff. IMHO (okay, not so HO), rabbis should avoid answering questions about family life. They are too at risk for offering glib answers with too much weight in the listener’s ear (or eye).

  6. Ari Kinsberg says

    going to rabbis for advice on issues unrelated to halakhah still sounds alien to me.
    maybe it is one thing if you have a special relationship with a particular rabbi and you want to discuss the matter with him the same way you might discuss it with an esteemed friend.
    but it is another thing the way people run to rabbis, meukabilm and rebbes (or an internet rav) with whom they have no relationship. you meet the person for 2 minutes and based on this they can decide if your child needs that operation, whether you should switch jobs, how to resolve marital difficulties, etc.?
    (and even if it is a rabbi with whom you have a relationship, advice in the non-halakhic realm should be understood as just that. it is advice, not a halakhically-binding pesak.)

  7. mominisrael says

    mo’m, thanks for your response. I’m not sure what you mean by “quoting in Hebrew” as this was on an Israeli website.
    Ari, I didn’t check, but some of the questions are directed toward a particular rabbi and it may be one she alreadyknows. I certainly agree with your comments.

  8. Hi Mom in Israel,
    I’m realized now it was a bit rude to ask you to answer that w/o introducing myself first. I’m Ora (my middle name actually, my first name is uncommon enough to ID me right away to anyone who’s met me). I live in Jerusalem with my husband and baby, I’ve been at home since she was born (I was actually expecting to put her in daycare a couple of hours a day, but couldn’t bring myself to do it) (also, I don’t really like the phrase “at home mom” b/c we’re really not always in the house, that would be boring, but I can’t think how else to say it).
    Anyway, I’m still not fully confident about my decision, even though I know it’s the right thing to do. There’s a lot of pressure sometimes. So when I saw the Moreshet Q+A it kind of threw me for a loop. Since I often read your blog, I thought after a couple of minutes “I bet Mom in Israel would have an intelligent take on this.” And you did. Thanks so much.

  9. mominisrael says

    Ora, I once began writing about how difficult it was for me to take on the identity of an at-home mom. ONe of the reasons I started the blog is to support other moms like me, not that I have more confidence. I saw yours and Tsipi’s comments on the site.

  10. mominisrael says

    I meant “now” that I have more confidence.

  11. I know what you mean, Ora – I taught full-time until my daughter was born, and tutored and taught part-time until my son was born. This is the second school year that I’ve been home full-time, and I still feel the need to get something in about my job within a short while of meeting someone new!

  12. Actually the good Rabbi should know that studies show day care kids are more agressive and are no more socially ept than children at home. But, those who have sold themselves on day care or who have been sold on day care seem unable to believe that a child at home can be perfectly fine, and even further ahead.
    Great blogging!

  13. mominisrael says

    RM, I struggled with that for many years and still do to some extent.
    SL, thank you! Great to have you back and commenting!

  14. I, too, wonder why a mother would ask this question of a rabbi instead of someone who specializes in child development. Had she done this, she would have learned that it’s much better for a child to be with one caregiver (namely his mother) for the first few YEARS, not months, of his life.
    There was an article a few weeks ago in one of the Hebrew newspapers about how more and more babies and children are in daycare in Israel than ever before- the article included the opinion of a child psychologist who said this is not a good thing, that a child is much better off with one consistent caregiver, etc.
    When my first child started gan at almost 3 years old, the other mothers there thought I was crazy for waiting so long. “My son has been in a mishpachton/gan since he was 3 months old!” she told me- proudly! I was really taken aback, to say the least.
    And I remember reading something a few years ago that said that it’s NOT important for little kids to have good social skills and lots of friends. Better to make sure that they’re happy, secure kids, and the friends will come later, at the right time.

  15. I was a sahm with my older kids, and they didn’t go to gan (nursery school) until 3 years, not months.
    The children need real individual attention until they’re speaking clearly. Small private arrangements are sometimes better than day care centers.
    And if a child seems passively accepting of day care, it may be a bad sign.

  16. Firstly, I like the term “full-time mom.” It implies the reality that the childcare is your primary occupation and is indeed an occupation.
    Secondly, the question is whether the rabbi was trying to say “daycare at 3 months is okay if you need to do it.” and maybe came off sounding gung-ho about it.
    There are families who cannot live without two salaries. I would be very hesitant to condemn a mother for putting her child in daycare so she could go back to work. Obviously, the one-on-one that babies get with their mother is much more important than interacting with other children in the early stages. I’ve seen with my 20+ nieces and nephews that they respond to other children very little until at least 8-9 months. At that point, you’d want to socialize your children, but that doesn’t automatically mean shipping them off to school.

  17. mominisrael says

    Thanks RR and Muse. Muse, how about doing that meme too?
    Trilcat, I think mothers who work outside the home sometimes also see themselves as “full-time moms”. And they are still responsible for their children even when they are at work.
    As for the rabbi, I don’t think he came off as gung-ho and that wasn’t my objection. If he had suggested sending to a babysitter at 3 months, I would have been a lot happier, but he suggested a group situation as the only option for childcare and extolled the benefits of group care for young children (one year old and younger) over being with their mother. If the mother isn’t available, I believe one-on-one care is preferable until age two. This used to be the standard in Israel not so long ago, by the way, except in the kibbutzim. And we knwo what happened there.