By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com
There is a new sefer, purportedly written for children called Junior Chofetz Chaim. It has already sold out. The program is designed to be reviewed three times each year. The anonymous author agreed to be interviewed by Rabbi Yair Hoffman.
What inspired you to write a Sefer Chofetz Chaim for children?
Without a question – I did it for my kids! I have been looking for appropriate material for my kids for a long time. And I really like the original Sefer Chofetz Chaim, which I have done 2 halachos a day for a while. But how could I teach that to 10-12 year-olds? That is when I thought of simplifying the material into something user-friendly for kids. Of course, my first thought was, “This can’t possibly be done! – Can it??” But then I decided to give it a try….
It was done well – and brought the issue to life, making it interesting. It is often hard to take complex material and present it in a manner palatable to kids – have you had experience in this area before, and what?
Zero! I did gain experience in understanding Sefer Chafetz Chaim and writing it over when I worked on a different book, for adults – called “The Laws of Lashon Hara and Rechilus.” The truth is, that was also “born” because of my kids. But, it turned out to be way too complex for children. I read a lot as a kid…I guess I picked up writing a bit….
What other topics are in the pipeline?
Well, Junior Shemiras halashon is in the works. I am not a mechaber by nature. I am just a very plain guy. But now that Junior Chofetz Chaim appeared, I hope b’ezras Hashem to complete it with Shemiras halashon as well. After that, I have no plans to write. Any suggestions?
How about Taking on Ahavas Chessed next? Our girls do fantastic chessed – maybe our boys could use a few pointers too..
Have you gotten any feedback on it yet?
Not much directly but through my publisher -Israel Bookshop. Boruch Hashem, the book is going very nicely. I was surprised to hear that the first edition of over 2000 copies is almost sold out, they said they will run out before Rosh Hashanah. This is a huge surprise to me, I wasn’t expecting that. Some of the feedback I got were things like: “Stunning!” “A work of art!” “This is not Junior, this is for adults!” or, “I have been learning Chofetz Chaim for years, this is really a great review for me!” On the younger end, I have heard that some kids are really enjoying it. My own 11 year old daughter made this comment: “The examples are the best part.” 🙂
As an aside, I would not expect to get any real feedback until after Rosh Hashanah, when the calendar starts and people start learning from it. I hope they don’t find too many mistakes!
Which of the sub-sections was the most fun to work on?
AMAZING FACTS, hands-down.
Because I was amazed by the facts! I have found that, in all the Chafetz Chaim’s works, not only in Shemiras Halashon, he often weaves in massive chiddushim and very original peshatim “derech agav” into the text. When learning casually, one can miss these nuggets and go right over them. Especially now, when I was writing the book and had my eye out for unusual points, I found even more than before.
Which was the hardest one to work on and why?
WORDS OF WISDOM. These are usually quotes from Chazal, the sources that the Chofetz Chaim brings. The hardest to translate accurately while trying to make them understandable.
What would you improve or change in a second printing?
I am starting to think that the word “Junior” was a mistake and I communicated that to my publisher. More and more people have been saying that this book is suitable for adults and teenagers even more than kids. I suggested that we should change the name to “Chafetz Chaim for Dummies” but this was roundly rejected.
Have schools picked it up yet – to incorporate it in their curriculum?
Slowly. This time of year seems to be too busy for many schools to start new initiatives, especially when they are busy with COVID-19. But a supporter of shemiras halashon offered to subsidize schools that want to use it in the classroom with free or reduced-price copies, so I hope they will take up the offer. After Sukkos is a great opportunity to start because that is when the halacha portion of Sefer Chofetz Chaim begins.
Would you consider making a teacher’s edition version?
A Rebbi who started using the book thinks THIS is the teachers edition and we should make an easier student edition 🙂 The answer is, yes, if there was a demand for it. I am not a teacher but I would have to ask the publisher to get someone to help with that. I have over 350 questions and answers in my other book, some of which can be used for review questions here as well.
What are your thoughts on making a National Sefer Chofetz Chaim Bee?
What a great idea!! BUT, that is only if dozens of schools start using the book. Or learning shemiras halashon some other way.
I would like to see a lashon hara game show, where the moderator says a nasty-sounding sentence, and you have to quickly slam the buzzer if it is assur or muttar. Let’s see how many adults can do that!
I can picture an ad for the Sefer – Velvel Schwartz, 11, Accused of Cheating on National Sefer Chofetz Chaim Bee and then followed by an analysis of the underlying issues and then writing that people need to read the Junior Chofetz Chaim book in order to understand all of the underlying issues that such an ad would bring up. What are your thoughts on that?
I would rather just be dan l’kaf zechus that he didn’t cheat! 🙂
Will we ever find out your secret identity? Hello? Where did he go? And so, our anonymous author leaves us pondering as to who he is.. His remarkable work, however, continues to inspire..
The interviewer can be reached at [email protected]