A Six-Year-Old Orthodox Boy and His Barbie Dolls

From a Babysitter, Lessons on Gender and Judaism

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By Roz Warren

Published June 17, 2014, issue of June 20, 2014.
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The last time I took care of Hanina, the 6-year-old I baby-sit, we played Salon, a game in which Hanina’s Barbies visit the salon, otherwise known as the second-floor bathroom, and we peel off their clothes, do their hair, then dress them up.

You may wonder what a 6-year-old boy is doing with Barbies in the first place. They belonged to his mom. She’d hung on to them, no doubt hoping to pass them along to a daughter. But Hanina is her thirdthrough son and last child, so they ended up his.

Hanina’s Barbies participate in the same activities as his action figures: They explore. They fight battles. They act out Torah stories. After all, Hanina is an Orthodox Jew.

When my own son became a teenager who needed independence and space rather than moment-to-moment mothering, I filled the void this left in my heart by babysitting. Because I am a secular, atheist Jew and Hanina is religious, caring for him for the past six years has meant, among other things, learning what it means to live a Torah-centered life. Hanina, the son of an eminent Torah scholar, has always been happy to instruct me.

Today, Hanina informed me, the Barbies, once coifed and dressed, would take part in a contest in which Ken would choose “the most beautiful one” to marry. (Hanina, I‘m guessing, has been learning about Queen Esther at school.)

“Beauty isn’t everything,” I pointed out. “When it comes to getting married, you also want a partner who is nice, kind and intelligent.”

Hanina picked up Ken, who then addressed the prettiest Barbie. “You are beautiful,” Ken told her. “And you look nice and kind and intelligent. If you win the contest I will marry you.”

The winner, Hanina told me, would get an additional prize: “When she dies, she will get to be buried in this lovely coffin!” He showed me a beautiful hand-painted wooden box that his Aunt Nancy gave him recently.

Wedded bliss plus a lovely coffin? Weirdest “Bachelor” reality show ever.


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