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My 11-year-old is very interested in learning how to read Torah. His Hebrew school doesn’t start teaching this skill until the year before bar and bat mitzvah, and it’s not something that I know either. How can I support this interest without highlighting my own lack of knowledge or putting him too far ahead of his class going into next year?
Too little to leyn
The most important piece of advice I want to offer you here is to encourage your son’s interests. In this case, the interest is an important Jewish life skill and also something that he’ll already have to learn in the coming years. But in any case, if your child shows an inclination towards something (obviously within reason – skydiving, I’m looking at you), your job as a parent is to be supportive and create appropriate opportunities to pursue his interests.
And in this case, he wants to pursue Jewish knowledge! This is kind of a lot of parents’ dream come true, I gotta say. Rather than telling your son, “You’ll learn this next year,” or “Can’t you just wait?” tell him you’re going to help him make progress towards this goal. As for being ahead of his class, there’s always more to learn, and let the possibility of his being bored next year in Hebrew school be next year’s problem. Even if you can’t immediately tell him exactly how you’re going to help him pursue this interest, make sure he knows you’re on his side and you’re taking him seriously.
Then, take him seriously. Start by reaching out to your rabbi or Hebrew school director. Even if Torah reading isn’t part of his official curriculum until next year, they, like me, will likely be impressed with your son’s initiative. Maybe he can join the older grades for this part of their Hebrew school day, or stay 15 minutes after class to have some one-on-one time with the teacher to start learning trope, or maybe they can recommend one of several websites with audio and visual tutorials for people to learn Torah reading on their own.
As for your own skills, there’s a long precedent in human history of wanting our children to be better, smarter, and more well-equipped than we are, so if your son becomes proficient in a skill that you don’t have, you’re in good company. That said, it’s never too late to learn to read Torah, and maybe this is something you could tackle together. Maybe you can spend those 15 minutes with a Hebrew school teacher with your son, or spend some time at home together with an online tutorial. Some synagogues offer adult Torah reading classes. If it’s in your budget, you could even consider hiring a tutor to teach you and your son together.
And, on the flip side, you don’t have to be ashamed of what you don’t know, or force yourself into learning something because your son wants to know it. I still haven’t learned how to play Pokemon or solve a Rubik’s cube, and I’m accepting that I likely never will because those are my kids’ interests, not mine.
Maybe these conversations will help you realize that you don’t want to prioritize learning to read Torah, but you would really like to study Jewish texts in English or improve your challah baking skills or become more proficient at basic prayer book Hebrew. Maybe you had an interest as an 11-year-old that your parents didn’t help you pursue, and you can work on that now, alongside your child as he learns to read Torah. There are so many potential paths forward here for your son, for you, for your shared Jewish experiences, and for your parent-child relationship, and I hope you pursue them with love.