May 17, 2011

Say "May I"


Two reasons for Restricted Refrigerator Access:

1) As related by Shaya Ostrov: A rosh yeshiva wanted to help his children understand that we don't "just exist."  Everything in life is a gift.  He told R' Ostrov that when his children were young, they were taught not to go to the refrigerator and take any food without first asking permission.  "We never refused them.  They just needed to remember to ask."  His reason was that a child needs to learn that nothing in life is a given.  Everything we have is a precious gift for which we need to experience gratitude.

R' Ostrov goes on to say: When a child is hungry, he says to himself, "I am hungry and therefore I will eat."  This translates into, "I am hungry and therefore entitled to eat -es kumt mir."  Of course, children need to feel secure in knowing that they will always be cared for, loved and fed.  However this rosh yeshiva did not want his children to confuse their need with the feeling of entitlement that leads to taking.  The rosh yeshiva was teaching his children that the gift of food can never be taken for granted, "I'm hungry, so I'm just eating what is rightfully mine."  The attitute of the child who believes that the food he is holding is his because, "I was hungry and I took it," is very different from that of the child who believes that the food was given as a gift from his parents because, "I was hungry and my parents understood this and they love and care for me."

2) As related by Rabbi MM Gluckowsky: "I remember when I was a child, we were not only not encouraged to be independent, we weren't allowed to be independent. We could not open the fridge without permission! We weren't considered mature enough to make decisions about what and when to eat without parental involvement, and we weren't! There were strongly enforced rules ...Somebody older and wiser was making decisions for us and we had to abide."

The emphasis here was on teaching obedience, rather than the currently very popular goal of encouraging independence.

It is likely that the parents in both these examples would be condemned by many as control freaks.  Perhaps we as a society wouldn't be suffering from obesity-compulsive eating and many other problems due to feelings of entitlement and/or lack of discipline if we were raised with some more control!


  1. I would say that parents do need to control the nutrition status of their children and do need to deny them food when they are overeating. There does need to be an awareness of when to stop eating.
    I am not sure that children learn non-entitlement though by having their food intake monitored. I think that there are many other things that children feel entitled to that parents have to take a stand on such as high-tech toys, designer clothes, expensive entertainment, restaurant meals, over-the-top bar and bat mitzvahs, cell phones, etc. At some point in their development they also need to be made aware that some of the things that they view as automatic, such as medical and dental care, is not provided as a free government entitlement to all citizens of the US. They should be taught to feel lucky that their parents can provide those vital necessities. They should be told about those children in other parts of the world who have to walk several miles a day to obtain clean water and because of that, they cannot attend school. They should be made to appreciate school, indoor plumbing, and child labor laws.

  2. I assume that a parent who gives such thought to raising their children would consider those other things too.

    I don't see indulgence in toys, clothes etc. going hand in hand with refrigerator rules.

  3. The problem with the feelings of entitlement are that they are usually associated with those things that no one is obligated to give their children, rather than with food. One should teach their child to appreciate all food and that is a problem when children are picky about foods.

  4. I would also say that Rebbitzen Kazen, may she live and be well to 120, has always taught that food should be given to the father first and then to the children. If there is only one piece of meat or chicken, it belongs to the father. Of course, babies are fed before the rest of the family but older children must serve the father before sitting down and eating. Rebbitzen Kazen also taught that children should be given only one portion of expensive meat and chicken and they should not be given seconds on those foods or be allowed to waste food. She teaches that refinement of the character comes from teaching self-restraint.
    Of course, in yeshiva dining rooms, the rules go out the window and lots of food goes in the trash.