Is Winnie the Pooh Endangering your Children?

Is Winnie the Pooh Endangering your Children?

As Orthodox moms, all of us regularly choose where to draw the line in terms of allowing secular culture into our homes. Yes to Mickey Mouse but no to Ninja Turtles. Yes to Aesops’ Fables but no to Harry Potter, for example.

But I was a bit surprised by the extreme position presented by Rabbi Pincus, who says that even something as innocuous as Winnie the Pooh is a threat to our children’s Jewish neshamot.

What do you think, JewishMOM? Do you agree with Rav Pinkus? If not, where do YOU draw that line regarding what to allow or not allow into your home and into your children’s minds and hearts? Please share your opinions in the comment section below…

Rav Pinkus writes:
“What is the secret of a relationship between husband and wife? Only one thing. A husband and wife can fight and they can argue, it is not the end of the world. But they need privacy. They need a place where they can be alone together , where they know that they belong only to each other.

“Fleeing to the kedusha of Eretz Yisrael means building for ourselves a home that is hermetically sealed from outside influences. A home that has the quality of the 4 amos of halacha, full of kedushah and taharah…

I am speaking harsh words. Perhaps I am exaggerating. But “if only I would have a listener.”

“I ask you: What about all those children’s stories we bring into our homes, such as “Cinderella,” “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” or “Winnie the Pooh.” Is this something Jewish? Is this kedushas Eretz Yisrael? There are people who will claim, “What is wrong with Winnie the Pooh? There is no idolatry, licentious relationships or bloodshed in it.” True, but it is not a Jewish wife. It is not “the Holy Land.””

Nefesh Chaya by Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus p. 238

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35 comments

  1. I guess there are different opinions about this. There are plenty of chashuv rebbitzins here in Israel who read these kinds of books to their children because they are enjoyable and pretty parev. The value of enjoying reading with your kids is huge.
    I actually think that Cinderella and Snow White, and many old fashioned fairy tales, are too dark and negative for kids. But there are plenty of non-Jewish children’s books that my kids and I both love. e.g. Dr Suess, the Berenstein bears, etc.
    When there are Jewish books of equal quality, I’ll be the first to make the switch!

    • bikores.blogspot.com

      Re the Berenstain Bears: “The action usually starts when the kids face a problem. They turn to Papa, who offers a “solution” that only makes the problem–or the kids’ fears about it–even worse. Enter Mama, who eventually sets everyone straight.”

      Does that promote Jewish values?

      I enjoyed the books when I was younger but now it’s shocking for me to see how foolish the father is made out to be.

  2. My husband recently refused to put up “Toy Story” wall decals that my in-laws sent us from Chu’L. At first I though it was RIDICULOUS, not only do my kids have no idea what Toy Story is, (they have never seen the movie) I don’t even think it’s something I would stop them from watching! It’s cute and as far as I know, doesn’t have any themes that are immodest or inappropriate. These are just wall decals, how could they be harmful to my children? My husband explained, the point is not so much “what’s WRONG with Toy Story (or Winnie the Pooh)?” It’s “Is this something that connects us to secular culture?” And the answer is of course, YES! While I, in my deep rooted American attachment to the “culture” of the Disney movies of my childhood, and Christmas carols in the drugstore (my father recently started singing a Christmas carol to my kids on skype claiming it was “cultural”)find it difficult to see a problem with these “harmless” characters, my husband pointed out, that is the culture we actually made an effort to seperate oursleves from when we moved here…

  3. Amanda Elkohen

    I think it is a neutral thing. Dov Pooh is certainly not HELPING the neshamas of our children, but Harming? probably not. The real problem lies in that there isn’t a Jewish source that matches the quality of Disney or Dr Seuss. Seriously. watch an episode of Uncle moishe or Agent Emes. Then see the Wiggles, Sesame Street, or even (the dreaded) Barney. All many times better production value, acting, CGI, etc.

    • bikores.blogspot.com

      Is there anything neutral? Is there such a thing as not helping our neshamos but not harming them either?

      Kabbalistically speaking, things are either in the realm of holiness or in the realm of kelipa. Within kelipa there are things that are completely off-limits and can never be elevated to holiness, and those things which are kelipa but have some redeeming qualities, a good part to it, and if the thing is used properly, in the service of G-d, it can and does become elevated to holiness

  4. I think that there are two conflicting ideas about non-Jewish materials, particularly art (which includes stories, movies, music, plays etc.). Particularly in the case of art where the message is meant to bypass your logical brain and speak to your emotions, it is very important to be careful about what you let in there. “Cinderella” and “Snow White” and many other fairy tales I could totally take issue with in terms of the message our children are receiving through them. But Winnie the Pooh? Seems innocent enough.

    So one idea is that just like how we burn a sefer Torah if it was written by an apikores or an otherwise evil person, like, oh, a pedophile for instance…. there is this idea that even the holiest of objects, used in the purest and holiest of ways, can be tainted by its maker or commissioner. If it is coming from a place of tum’ah, that impurity infects the object regardless of its use or status. To burn a sefer Torah is a very grave and extreme act and cannot be taken lightly!

    On the other hand, there is this idea of ma’alin b’kedusha. Like how the Lubavitchers take “niggunim” from the goyim and turn them into holy niggunim. Of course, there is still a distinction between pieces like La Marseilles, and pieces like Wagner’s marches… not just because of who composed them (who composed La Marseilles anyway?), but also because of the connotations, the people who connected to them and what they were used for.

    So where do you draw the line? I tend to hold a middle ground and use my own intuition when logic is not enough. I make sure to keep a critical eye open whenever I watch or listen to anything and point out to myself where the messages I am seeing are in conflict with my beliefs. I hope to be able to teach my children to use a critical eye like that in the future as well.

  5. Well, I do try to avoid the Disney version of Winnie the Pooh, in order to enable my kids to properly appreciate the real A.A. Milne version (or maybe because it is such a corruption of the original that I can’t stand it myself).

  6. IMHO, there is a fine line that should be drawn between the secular world and ours. But let’s look at what WTP shows us that is a positive:
    – Differences are ok; we should love our neighbor as ourselves
    Aside from Kanga and her son, Roo, everyone in the Hundred Acre
    Wood is different. And they are all friends. And while they
    have their differences and quarrels, they basically love each
    other.
    – Take care of each other; If you save one person, it’s as if you save the world
    Pooh gets stuck in the entrance to Rabbit’s home. Piglet gets
    washed away in a rain storm. Pooh, Piglet and Rabbit get lost
    in the woods. In each of these scenarios, their friends come
    to their rescue. They stand by and never give up until
    everyone is safe.

    I know there are other examples of things in our world that are represented in WTP or other Disney stories, but these are the two I thought of off the top of my head.

    There are Disney/Pixar movies I won’t let my daughter watch, because they show violence or ideals I don’t want her to be exposed to. But for the most part, Disney is fairly innocuous, and indeed have good morals in them, presented in a way children can understand.

    It’s our responsibility, as parents, to guard our children from those aspects of the secular world that can harm them, physically and spiritually. It’s also our responsibility to ensure that our children are not so insulated from the secular world that they cannot function in it, should the need or occasion arise. Those of us who keep an observant home in an area that is not mostly observant are subject to the pressures and influences of the secular world every waking moment we are outside our homes. Unless we can live in an area where the greater majority is observant, we have to deal with that, as do our children. And allowing them the “softer side” of secular life, like Disney, is one tool we can give them to survive in this dual world they have to live in.

    I respect the decisions of each and every parent on here…..I hope y’all will respect mine, too. 🙂

  7. This was discussed thoroughly in this blog post if you want to read further about it…http://asimplejew.blogspot.com/2009/02/question-answer-with-rabbi-yehoishophot.html

  8. The Lubavitcher Rebbe said that children should not read books that have non kosher animals or have toys that are non kosher animals. Reason being that in the Torah they are quoted as impure and we don’t want our children to be looking at impure things. Having said that, books of those nature are secular, and we should strive to only have Jewish books in the house as it is a huge part of chinuch. We want to give our kids the best education we can, and that includes giving them a strictly frum one, with no Winnie the pooh.

  9. as a follower of the lubavitcher rebbe, i listened to his instruction to surround my children with only kosher animals and themes. (we will not discuss the angry reactions from relatives and friends–and to this day i don’t know why….if i had not given a religious reason, but merely said “i am doing a Duck or Sheep theme” they would have accepted it happily…) i tried not to make a big deal of it at home. it was just one of those facts of our lives, like having chicken soup and cholent for shabbos.
    anyway, my older kids are in their early twenties and “out in the Real World”. they have to deal with Disney and Winnie the Poo as adults and i am amazed at their reactions. out of the purity of their view they ask: “how could parents invite such tumah into their children’s minds? how could parents who love their children expose them to ideas that are so antithetical to Torah?”
    having been raised with these characters in my childhood, i didn’t even see how impure they are. i still cannot really see their impurity as my children do. alas, my soul is no longer sensitive to these things.

    I stress here that this was my choice–to follow my rebbe’s instruction–and not to impose this on others. i do not think of myself as holier than someone who has winnie the pooh and the Little Mermaid in their home. however, it happened that two other mothers complained to me about their children’s midos and asked for advice. i suggested that they try to surround their children with only kosher animals, stories, and themes. both mothers tried it, and found that their children’s midos improved. i know the story was not so simple; there was much more involved, but this was the catalyst for both mothers.

  10. on another note, i cannot understand why we jews insist on fighting against anything that smacks separation and Being Different.
    when i first bought those heimishe coloring books for my kids–the ones written and illustrated for and about chassidim and chassidic life–my non-religious family threw such fits it was frightening. when i bought my kids those little Mitzva Kinder mentchies, they were equally incensed. why? they thought it was “not normal”. why couldn’t i just give my kids Barbies and PlayMobile like everyone else?!!!

    silly me, i innocently wanted to give my children books, pictures, and dolls that reflect them and their lives. just as my black girlfriends in public school had dollies and Cabbage Patch Kids that looked like them. why was multi-culturalism only one way???

  11. Thank you tamar, I totally agree and empathize with the mixed family reactions to kosherstyle toys books and clothing…this is such an important issue that gets overlooked many a time… my neices have EVERYTHING princess and bratz and whatever else is out there and thank Gd we made aliyah 3years ago when my girls were still young (under 4) because it was a nightmare…the cereal bowls the stickers on the wall notebooks pencils slippers nightgown lunchbox even snacks! It is avoda zara mamash…it was too much for me especially since these characters are immodest and the stories are dark and negative even scary and completely misleading forget the fact that they are irreligious (is that a word) and so the only way to get by without hearing the peanut gallery commenting on how deprived my girls were …i had a few winnie the poo books and some toys but I totally agree with not having it around…today I dont..and for the sake of those looking for good books that have good morals a.d middos..here in israel theres really a bunch and they may come in english too…there are also bios on tzadikkim and stories from the tora. I dont think it insulates kids to bring them up in a disney filtered strictly holy home…it actually sets standards and rules that children need to become menches later on…especially in this day and age…its hard for american raised moms to let go or see things they remember as home or parts of their childhood gone, but we want our kids to be a product of who we are now or strive to be and not give them mixed messages…their curiosity may lead them later to look for more secular info..things we surely wouldnt want in our home.

  12. This is a great issue to post, one that I am struggling with at the moment, thanks Chana Jenny: though funnily enough I was very impressed with Rav Pincus’ gentle but firm way of putting it. He has a certain wonderful way of remaining emphatically himself, while at the same time not conveying judgement of his reader. I had the good fortune to hear him speak in person years before I did teshuva at an Arachim seminar, and the only thing that stayed with me from the entire shabbat, that came back to inspire me 10 years later, were his simple words: “You have to let Hashem in”.

    For some people, this may mean that all else needs to be out. For others, in means: I have my life, and I’m letting Hashem into it, and His influence will organically affect my life as it increases (or sometimes decreases) in my heart.

    As a Ba’al Teshuva, I have, and am still, fluctuating between the two responses. The important and wonderful thing here is that all the posters and commenters are letting Hashem into their lives and responding and developing in their own way, according to their own set of circumstances. That’s what I believe He wants from us, at the very least, to consider Him in our decisions.

  13. There are true evils in this world. We have such a deep sense of right and wrong within in and a need to feel close to right and far from wrong. My opinion is that if we lack anything worth investing these feelings into we find *something* to invest them in: ie arguments over is pooh is kosher or not. In all religions there is a common thread among those who consider themselves to be extraordinarily pious–that they must look for and find evil in all secular things in order to feel justified that they are doing better than the world by giving their children/families/self a better experience. Likewise the opinion then follows that those who do not heap the same convictions upon themselves are idolaters or even just lesser parents, Jews, etc.

    In my humbled opinion to give too much thought to this can be a gigantic distraction from what the real issues are. If you’re uncomfortable with it, so be it; don’t watch/read/play with the non Jewish characters. If you find no fault, then go with that.

    But if you want to do something truly holy and pure, try bringing some light into the world instead of trashing talking it. Trust me, it could use a little TLC for a change, instead of a turned-up nose.

    • Amanda Elkohen

      I can’t agree more with this! I would love, love, love to see Jewish values-based programming, toys, books, etc. made so well that the rest of the world is beating down our doors to get at them. (Veggie Tales is a great example of this. Not our values, but a high-quality production that has a particular religious bent, but so well done, even people of other religious persuasions want their kids watching it).
      Unfortunately it’s a downward cycle in the Orthodox world, many peole don’t get trained in visual arts, composition, etc because the best examples of the work are “tumah” and the quality of what is available goes down and down. We are happy with giving our children second-best dressed in the guise of heimesh. The books are poorly written (with many typos), the coloring papers just plain sad, the movies/songs/cds poor imitations, either worldly songs with Jewish words instead, or carbon-copy songs without any musically redeeming qualities. The worst part is that the really innovative stuff (I believe) never even gets to the market, becuase it looks so wildly different from what is already available, nobody will buy it, becuase it’s not tznius to stick out from the crowd so much.

  14. I would like to comment on all of the statements that Jewish books are not up to par in quality, graphics, etc. and people therefore have no choice but to read the non-Jewish ones to their children. All those who claim this, please go visit your local Jewish book store, or go to Eichlers.com! There is a wealth of beautifully illustrated, well-written, educational and inspirational books for children out there! I personally love Hachai Publishers, and anything by Ruth Beifus. Feldheim has a beautiful selection of children’s books too.

    My problem is financial – your average Jewish kids’ book starts at $10 in the US, 25 shekel in Israel, and can go up to $30 in the US or 120 shekel in Israel, when you can buy the Bernstein Bears in a used book store or outlet for 99 cents!

  15. I agree – there are numerous high quality Jewish books that look good and are enjoyable to read. What’s with the need to extol anything that is not Jewish and denigrate Jewish stuff?

  16. Lara Gedzelman

    I must say, I SO agree with Tzip — we are so busy assuring things, and surely we need to be vigilant, each to her own level of sensitivity, but in the end, do we always gain? If we believe the Chazal that “chochmas ba’goyim tamin” then there is a yesod that there are valuable things we can glean from the larger world. I think we just need to use our yiddishe kups to evaluate them on a case by case basis.

    Although I hesitate to “disagree” with Rav Pincus, z”tzl, I sadly have seen that all too frequently there are serious lacks in “torahdik” middos and values in homes where no secular book is to be found. But I also understand that in some ways the “silliness” of WTP and certainly the bizayon of the father in Berenstein Bears are also not middos I want to inculcate. Sometimes I say to kids who want a certain book/media item, “I love you too much to turn your mind to mush with that stuff” when the product is not BAD, just useless.

    But in honesty, I feel that way about plenty of frum books/media also — H’ should help us all find the products that will help and not harm our kids!

  17. I heard a story about a man that complained that his kids were too serious and withdrawn. The rabbi asked, “Do you sit with your kids and tell them stories?” The father said, “I tell them stories about Gedolim.” The Rav said, “Tell them stories about princesses, let them be kids a little.”

    Anyway, those of you in Israel, NY and in-town can have one opinion — but those of us who have to live in outside towns with small Jewish communities, need to take a lot of other things into account when making big decisions like these.

  18. Bracha Goetz

    I loved picture books as a child, and when I became a BT, I wanted my children to read books that would fill them with the same wonder about the world that I had gotten from my favorite picture books – sans non-Jewish values. That’s how I began writing children’s books for Jewish children.

  19. It is very interesting that I also recently read in another source the importance of having Jewish books, music, games and toys for our children. This Shabbos, my daughter demonstrated to me, that it isn’t just the actual toys she plays with, but what goes on in her own home that shapes her play.

    As a Baalas Teshuva who lives “out of town,” I very rarely have ready access to Jewish toys and books. When I do have the rare opportunity to be in a Judaica store, I have to think very carefully what will be the best investment for my daughter in the long run. For example: should I get that toy Shabbos set with candles and challah, kiddush cup? Will it still be special as the pieces all get mixed up with the rest of her kitchen toys (all made up of several “sets” now all mixed up)? Should I take into account that creates her own Shabbos candles out of Lego when she wants to play lighting candles and that she lights her her own candle on Friday night? Should I instead invest in a series of books about the Parsha, or all the holidays that I know we can enjoy for years to come? What about some aleph beis puzzles?

    Many toys that I have for my daughter are not necessarily what I would chose. Many are gifts from grandparents, or other relatives. Usually, I am asked first if something is okay, so we have lots of building type of toys, kitchen toys, dolls, crayons, play dough and other neutral “basics.” Some toys I receive as hand – me downs, and I didn’t have a choice as to what they would be. Some, I have quietly given away, because I thought they were inappropriate. Some I kept.

    It so happens that one hand me down I kept was a collection of Dora the Explorer dolls and dollhouse type of structures. My daughter has never seen the cartoon (and neither have I), but once in a while, she enjoys playing with those dolls. This Shabbos I overheard her playing with her dolls. Specifically, I overheard her play that her Dora dolls were sitting in a Succah and eating a seduah. While she may know that these dolls are called Dora the Explorer, she has made it into a Jewishly themed toy. To her, the “dollhouse/ treehouse?” was a Succah.

    Now, had we not been given these dolls, would we have purchased something like Mitzvah Kinder dolls in a past shopping trip. Probably. Does this mean that we will never purchase Jewishly themed toys? Not necessarily. We have purchased a little bit and will probably purchase others in the future. I think it’s wonderful that these toys exist. However, for me, they are not the make or break of my daughter’s chinuch.

  20. Chana Jenny
    could you ask the rebbetzin Yemima Mizrahi what she does think about it??
    it would be interesting…

    • I have a feeling that rabbanit yemima does NOT think that winnie the pooh endangers our children. But I’ll ask her when I have a chance…

  21. I’m the original commenter who said that I read my kids the Berenstain bears. It’s true that Papa Bear’s good-heartedness is at sometimes at the expense of his good-sense, but he certainly has his good qualities that make him a lovable father. If you ask kids which is their favorite parent – they would certainly say Papa Bear.
    A plea to Jewish authors: please unleash your over-the-top silliness and fantasy world and give us the Jewish Berenstein bears (or Shapiro Sheep!) My kids and I have talked about how we’d love to read “The Berenstein Bears Clean for Pesach” and “The Berenstein Bears Visit Eretz Yisroel”

  22. Bracha Goetz

    Go for it, Naomi! “The Shapiro Sheep Clean for Pesach” – we can baaaaaarely wait!

  23. about the berenstain bears, growing up in a Conservative home, we were allowed to read and watch anything and everything. The only book that was banned, as far as I can remember, was the Berenstain bears, since my parents felt that it promoted disrespect of fathers.

    • Amanda Elkohen

      I had a friend (not Jewish) growing up who wasn’t allowed to read Ramona books because her mom thought they made kids act defiant. My mom didn’t let us watch things like He-man or anything with witches and wizards (like the smurfs). Now I find out that Smurfs are occasionally shown at our religious city gan. oh well.

  24. Can I point out this whole discussion of quality is moot? If kids are used to a particular style from day 1, they will have nothing to compare it to. Once upon a time, kids didn’t even have anything on the level of the frum books we have today. It seems to me that it’s really the mothers who are snubbing the frum books here, not the kids.
    Although my husband and I do hold by Rav Pinkus, we consider him “the city” (as Rav Pinkus describes in one of his seforim). The City is our destination, and he draws us a map how to get there. It just so happens that we are way out in the country, walking along a dirt road. But we’re in the right direction.
    On that note, my favorite kids’ book is Dr. Seuss’ The Sneetches. At one point when the whole elitism issue hit an all-time high over here in Eretz Yisrael, I felt like translating it and desseminating it in my daughters’ school. There is much to be learned from the book’s messages, and I have seen no frum equivalent to it.

  25. Tamar, I love your comments. Thank you.
    Chana Jenny, I love the way you bring important things up for us to discuss. Thank you.
    My challenge: Please show me one frum author of children’s books that compare in quality to the non-frum classics. I have not found them.

  26. I find Menucha Beckerman’s books to have great lessons, but I read them in hebrew. The vocabulary is great in hebrew.

    • my favorites are by the Eema shel Leah’le, also in Hebrew. So gorgeously beautiful and touching.

  27. sorry, I should have said “show me one frum author of children’s books IN ENGLISH that compare in quality to the non-frum classics”

  28. even as a child i never had patience for what adults deemed to be “childrens books”, so my opinion is not necessarily useful. i found the brothers grimm way too grim, and fairy tales seemed totally unrealistic with scary messages.
    i never liked poetry, except for russel burgess’ kind, and i liked the idea of winnie-the-pooh, but found the cartoon made it more memorable.
    as an adult, i fell in love with dina rosenfeld’s labels for laibel and other stories. even me, the poetry-pooer likes her rhymes, messages, and characters.
    i have been in search of children’s books for early readers in yiddish. that’s been very difficult, until the Matzlichim series showed up.
    if we present our children with stories told in short sentences with simple words, nicely illustrated, they will be encouraged to read. and for me, getting me kids to want to read is the goal, not admiring the art of the book.

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