Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the best-selling author of 14 books. Recently named by Talkers magazine as one of America's 100 most important talk-radio hosts, his newest book is The Private Adam: Becoming a Hero in a Selfish Age(HarperCollins). Visit his website at: www.shmuley.com.
Michael Jackson's Troubled Kids: A Plea to the Troubled Superstar to Raise His Kids to Know Their Jewish Heritage
This article is reprinted from Beliefnet.com with permission of the author. Visit www.beliefnet.com.
The news that at least two of Michael Jackson's children are Jewish came as a complete shock to me, as it did to many of those who know him. In the face of Michael's rumored flirtation with joining the Nation of Islam, his concerned ex-wife Debbie Rowe has revealed that she--and consequently their children, Prince and Paris--are Jewish, since Judaism is passed on through the maternal line.
When Michael Jackson and I were close and I served as a spiritual confidante, I was criticized by some people who believed that I was pushing him toward embracing Judaism. Michael more than anyone knows how false that charge is. On the contrary--I did the exact opposite. I pushed Michael constantly to reconnect with his Christian roots. I repeatedly encouraged Michael to return to church for much-needed strength and stability. Judaism, virtually alone among the religions of the world, is not a proselytizing faith and we actively discourage those who seek to join because we do not believe they upgrade their existence by doing so. I never pushed Michael toward Judaism, despite his enormous need for a spiritual foundation in his life, based on my profound belief that all religions that believe in God and goodness are authentic. My desire was to reunite him with, rather than pull him away from, the Christianity he was raised in.
But as inappropriate as it would have been for me to get in the way of Michael's Christian faith, it is equally inappropriate for me not to speak out in support of allowing his children to connect with their Jewish roots, now that they have been revealed.
Many of Michael's fans have attacked me vociferously of late for daring to criticize the pop legend. But since my concern for Michael is genuine, I cannot help speaking out against the tragic direction his life has taken--as I fear that he may, God forbid, end up like his one-time father-in-law and fellow pop superstar, Elvis. I have repeatedly said that I do not believe that Michael Jackson is a child molester. But to hold one's tongue at this most critical juncture in Michael's life, where he seems to have detached himself from any semblance of normality, is to be the real villain. I was only 11 years-old when Elvis Presley died, yet I remember every detail. The biggest question asked at the time was, "How could the people around him have allowed it to happen?" Michael must be prodded by all who care about him to radically restructure his life.
It is in the spirit of that mandatory reorganization that I put to Michael the following request: Michael, do the right thing and make sure your children are raised as Jews. Keep them far away from Nation of Islam. Do not raise them in a tradition that is not only alien to them, but hostile to their congenital faith. The leader of Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, has said that "Hitler was a very great man" and has characterized Judaism as "a gutter religion." Even your worst detractors, Michael, would never say that you're a racist or a bigot. On the contrary, you always told me how you pride yourself on being open to all. So please get away from these intolerant people. More importantly, please make sure they have no influence over your children.
The fact is, you have Jewish children, and you have an obligation to raise them in the traditions of Abraham and Moses. Just as your children are heir to your musical genius--you told me several times that Prince is already exhibiting musical talent--they are also heir to the harp and lyre of King David's Psalms. You related to me many times your sense of the injustices that have been heaped upon you through false press reports. Then allow your children to connect with a people who heard in God's Ten Commandments at Sinai, "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." How many times did you tell me that throughout your life you hungered for your father's approval? Then connect your children with a tradition that has always maintained that one's children are one's foremost treasures.
The fifth commandment obligates children to honor their father and mother. Win over America by reaching out to your children's Jewish mother and inviting her to be part of their lives. Hire a Jewish tutor who can teach Prince and Paris the Hebrew scriptures and the beauty of the Sabbath. Two years ago you wrote a piece about the Sabbath, in which you described how as a Jehovah's Witness you went door to door every Sunday spreading the faith. As you were taught by your own mother, a devout and pious woman, the importance of God's day, see to it that your children can be taught this lesson by a learned Jewish teacher.
Many were the times you honored me and my family by ordering kosher food at your home so that we could eat, and even made a Hanukkah party for us at your hotel suite entirely catered by a kosher restaurant. Do the same now for two people who are infinitely closer to you.
You often told me that you attribute your professional success to the talent God showered upon you. When I gave you a mezuzah as a gift--the Hebrew scroll of parchment containing the Shema, the fundamental prayer of Judaism, that is affixed to the door--you told me that you would cherish it because it would honor God's place in your life. Please see to it that your children's bedrooms have that mezuzah up now, so that they too can feel that God watches over them at every instant.
Amid my criticism of your recent actions, all said out of a desire to see you successfully rehabilitate your life, there is one thing that I have always maintained that--with the exception of not having Prince and Paris's mother as part of their lives, and with the exception of that unfortunate baby-dangling incident--you are a loving and involved father. Watching the infinite affection you gave those two beautiful children, to whom my family and I became very attached, taught me much about how to be a more patient and available parent.
Now go the extra step. Make sure that Prince and Paris are afforded the opportunity to make Jewish choices in their lives.
Hebrew for "fit" (as in, "fit for consumption"), the Jewish dietary laws. Hebrew for "hear," the first word and name of the central Jewish prayer and statement of faith.