Jewish Spiritual Parenting

Q&A with the Authors

An Interview with Authors Rabbi Paul Kipnes and Michelle November, MSSW


What is Jewish spiritual parenting?

Jewish means that we write for Jews, Jewish families, people raising Jewish kids, people working with Jewish parents and anyone who wants to understand how Jewish values can guide parenting.

Spiritual means that our lives are connected to something deeper, higher and more real than we might ever have imagined. Rabbi Micah Greenstein of Memphis, Tennessee, teaches that Jewish spirituality is “a matter of seeing the holy in the everyday, and invites us to wake up and open our eyes to the holy things happening all around us every day.” Being spiritual means living a life that is connected more deeply to everything else, being grateful and compassionate, and opening our eyes to the blessings around us.

Parenting is a process of intentionally acting to nurture and raise children with a certain set of values and perspectives on life.

Thus, Jewish spiritual parenting is about intentionally acting so that our children and families embrace a connection, infused with Jewish values, that nurtures their sense of peace and wholeness.

Do you have to believe in God to be spiritual?

You might also ask, Do you need to believe in God to be a good Jew? The answer to both questions is no. Judaism never had a catechism, a set of beliefs that serve as a litmus test to determine if you are a good Jew. Various rabbis including Maimonides wrote their own lists, but these lists were never fully embraced by the Jewish community. Spirituality is about connecting to something deeper, something bigger than oneself. While some people might understand God as that which connects everything to everything else, spirituality could also be a connection to a presence, to the universe, to the ideals of goodness or to humanity. That said, we believe that Judaism offers so many diverse “kosher” God-concepts that if people were to explore them, they might discover a Jewish spirituality that mirrors their own.

How fitting to have a husband and wife write a parenting book together! What was the process of writing like for you as a couple?

We are raising our three kids together so it was natural to write together about raising children. Plus, Michelle has been editing Paul’s sermons and articles for years, so we had already built up a writing partnership. Still, as with parenting in partnership, writing as partners required that we affirm that each of us has unique wisdom to share, that where our visions diverge each speaks important truths nonetheless and that our book—like our babies—would benefit from the insights of both of us. We pushed each other toward clarity and challenged each other to universalize our messages to reach all kinds of readers.

Your book weaves together wisdom, rituals and prayers, as well as Jewish values, personal stories and “Try This” activities. How did you come to include each component?

Jewish spiritual parenting acknowledges that, just like the four children of Passover, each of us—including those raising children and the children themselves—learns in unique ways. Some of us learn from examples, others from intellectual engagement with ideas and still others by practicing skills toward mastery. We honor each of these learning styles (and others) by including these and other learning modalities within the book.

Kipnes November familyYour family stories are quite personal. Are your children comfortable with the stories being shared?

Central to our commitment to the Jewish value of mishpacha, the Jewish value of family, is our commitment to honor the uniqueness and privacy of each of our children. We were challenged to ensure that we introduce our children to our readers as multifaceted individuals. Before publication, we sent each of our kids a draft for their review and critique. We are pleased that the book has their blessing.

In the book, you write about shutafut, the parenting partnership that can enrich the process of raising children. Who participates in this parenting partnership?

In the introduction, we hint at a foundational assumption: that it is sometimes easier to raise children in partnership with another person (or other people). Our parenting can thrive when we have others to bounce ideas off of and to share the responsibility. Note that we do not necessarily point to a spouse, because parenting partnerships might include either another parent or a collection of adults. Parenting partnerships might be formed by parents and step-parents in a blended family, by a single parent with an ex-spouse or with the biological donor, by two men or two women, or by the involvement of grandparents, close friends. We view single parents raising children on their own as being in partnership with the Holy One. All parents –  single, as couples, foster and step – can raise emotionally balanced and spiritually whole children.

Among the most poignant parts of your book are your letters to your daughter as she went off to college and to your sons about becoming men. You also wrote a very moving ethical will. When do you recommend parents begin writing letters like these to their children?

Jewish spiritual parenting expects us to act with intentionality. We identify the values and wisdom that will guide our parenting and instill within our children a sense of who they are and who they can be. Then we try to saturate our interactions with these values. These writings are in essence letters to our children about what we believe to be most important in life. It is never too early to put pen to paper. By sitting down early and articulating our own emet (truths), parents can be more focused in raising our children.

Grandparenting figures prominently in your book. What do we do if we don’t have living grandparents or if the relationship with them is strained?

Grandparents are incredible resources for passing values and traditions down l’dor vador (from generation to generation). Because most grandparents do not have daily responsibility for their grandchildren they often have additional emotional and spiritual space to guide them with love. When grandparents are not available, other older relatives or even older adults in the community (from temple, the JCC or the neighborhood) can be adopted to fit that role. Our book suggests a number of “Try This” activities to help grandparents or other older adults to be positive and meaningful partners of Jewish spirituality.

Your book delineates eleven Jewish values to guide parenting. It concludes by focusing on simcha (joy). Did you have a purpose in the book culminating with simcha?

Absolutely. We believe that at its root Judaism is about joy. Judaism offers at least fourteen different words to describe joy, because joy should infuse our daily actions. We find more success in fostering spirituality and nurturing gratefulness when it is imbued with happiness, fun and meaningfulness. Just as most parents instinctively create joyous secular experiences—like birthday celebrations or Thanksgiving dinners—so too should we use those same principles to infuse every significant (and non-sorrowful) moment in our lives with the same kind of joyfulness.