Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

13 Elul 5763 - September 10, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

by Kaila Kohn

Most normal human beings want property of their own and collect things up to a point. Rabbi Dessler spurned worldly possessions and it is reported that he didn't even possess a pen of his own! However, on the whole, human beings do not attempt to aspire to such lofty ideals, and begin collecting items from a very early age. A baby is born with his fingers in a fist, waiting to grasp. He does not relinquish this acquisitiveness till he dies, with his fingers outspread!

The variety of items which people collect is absolutely astounding and presumably the adults round the world with unique collections were small children once. They did not begin by collecting antiques or Old Masters or miniatures. Nevertheless, the interest, inclination and skill in collecting are developed in childhood.

The head of a prestigious cheder in Bnei Brak once declared that he was greatly opposed to all collections, and confiscated even gedolim collections (for the uninitiated, these are sets of photos of our sages and leaders) when children brought them to school. Although the teachers themselves awarded a picture as a small prize for good work or behavior, he felt that the children's whole minds were occupied by their collections, to the detriment of their schoolwork, incentive notwithstanding. Moreover, claims this principal, the temptation proves too great for some of the more avaricious boys, and they amass pictures for their collection by foul means.

Actually, opinions vary altogether about collecting gedolim and rabbonim. Although children benefit from seeing these holy personalities and learn where and when they lived and frequently, which works are attributed to them, they also use the cards as `swaps' and playing cards. Even worse, they have an inane game of laying them on the ground, slapping it, and making the cards flip over (with winners and losers). This is hardly respectful!

Be that as it may, many children start a collection from a very early age. Before the age of about six, children accumulate various items at random. Little boy's trousers are filled to overflowing with anything they can lay their hands on. Mothers are wise to add the reminder, `Please empty your pockets before putting clothes in the laundry hamper,' as part of the daily litany, till their children are grown up!

They satisfy their desire for new items by swapping, frequently without regard to the value of the two items exchanged. A new toy might be exchanged for half a biscuit or a broken flashlight, while mothers are often not even aware of this bartering till the mother of the recipient asks whether she realized that her son was giving away expensive toys. At this age, children might ask for a particular thing, not so much to play with, as to have it in his toy cupboard.

By the age of seven, children want quantity. Bottle tops, taxi cards, stones, used telephone cards, old bus tickets, stickers, and for girls -- colored serviettes and stationery, and so on, depending on sex, culture and the environment. They can occupy themselves for hours, sorting, rearranging and counting. At this age, for example, apricot pits are very valuable, even to older children, both in and out of season, in Israel, whereas in certain parts of England, horse chestnuts, or conkers, as they are called, hold the same attraction.

Children are not infants any more as they turn eight. Children this age begin to know the value of money and their collections begin to take shape. No longer do they collect just for the sake of having large amounts, but they start grading, sorting and making friends with other children who have similar collections. It has to be stressed that not all children are interested in collections. It is either the parents who discourage it, or they themselves just cannot be bothered to be consistent about it. It may have gotten out of hand and lost its appeal.

By the age of ten, children spend much of their free time on their collections, but do not yet seem to specialize. They do not mind having several collections going, all at the same time, and here their characters and natures influence the organization of their collections. They frequently pool their collections in spite of warnings from adults. When brothers or sisters pool a collection, contrary to parents' foreboding, it often unites them in the common interest. Of course, there may be friction, yet the children seem to sort it out amicably enough if there is no adult interference. However, if their `partner' is from another family, there can be major fights, either when they go to different schools or if one partner wants out.

At eleven, children do not only spend their free time on the collection, they devote time which should really be spent on study. The collection fills their mind most hours of the day. Parents who get monosyllabic replies from their offspring when they ask what sort of day they had at school, should try asking about the collection. In fact, when a parent shows genuine interest, the child will become almost garrulous. It can give a mother quite a new insight into her child's life when she participates in his hobby.

By the time a boy is bar mitzva and about that same age for a girl, the interest in the collection seems to wane. They will not want to part with it, but seem to have more important things to do with their time.

Collections can be immensely educational; on the other hand, they have their down side, as will be apparent from this short article. There are many adult collectors around with fancy names. If they collect matchboxes, they are philumenists; stamp colletors are philatelists; book collectors are bibliophiles and coin collectors are numismatists. Antiquaries collect antiques, and no doubt, the reader will add a dozen more high sounding words for mundane collectors.

Whatever they call themselves, they are single-minded in the search for new additions to their collection. A Ben Torah cannot afford, both literally and figuratively, to immerse himself in a collector's hobby. His wife presumably can afford to collect recipes! Thus, although collections are rife amongst our children, the adults in our community have usually outgrown them!


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