|Mitzvah Kinder (Photo by Amudart)|
Why is it that Christian Fundamentalists have had better kitsch than Charedi Jews? Will this always be the case? To answer this question, I turn to one segment of American kitsch industry, the religious toy. Childhood in general and toys in particular can enhance our understanding of what is "American" about in American religion. In a recent post on gender, the family, and modern evangelicalism, Randall Stephens noted, "the story of Christianity in America has often centered on childhood as well as parenting and the family." In this post I look at recent Charedi engagements with the toy industry and consider how concerns about the relationship between American life and religion are played out in the world of toys. In addressing the intersection of religion and toys, I return to a question raised by Randall Stephens, but in slightly modified form: What does the study of family life, parenting, and children add to our understanding of American Religion?
|Child's chair from Plimoth|
Plantation, Indian Converts
Collection. Photo L. Leibman, 2005
|"The Mansion to Happiness" |
(W. & S.B. Ives, Co., 1843).
(The Board Game Craze)
|Tales of Glory Galilee Boat 15pc Set|
"Imagine what it would have been like to sail
the Sea of Galilee with Jesus and his disciples!"
|"Finally there is a Christian toy manufacturer that is brave enough to save Christian children from the pagan influences of secular and worldly toys. Below we have a prime example of this in the new 'Faith Works Tool Set.' We've put the Faith Works Tool Set next to the standard pagan tool set that sells at Toys R Us so that you can see the stark difference between these two products. Aren't you blown away by the difference?! Imagine how many children the Faith Works Tool Set will save from becoming pagans!" (http://www.alittleleaven.com)|
|"Here’s a fashion doll you can feel good about! ...|
She loves dancing and praising God.
Recommended for ages 4 to 8."
|"Your child will remember the discussions |
of water buffalo in Shulchan Aruch (YD 28:4).
Some say buffaloes are the “meri” of II Samuel 6:13
and I Kings 1:9,19 or the “t’oh” Deuteronomy 14:5
or even the “re’em” of Numbers 23:22, 24:8,
Deuteronomy 33:17 and Job 39:9-12"
|Binyan Blocks Large Shul Set|
Although previously mainstream toy companies have occasionally produced "Jewish" lines like the Hannukah set for Fischer Price's Little People, Mitzvah Kinder and Binyan Blocks represent a specifically Charedi vision of Judaism. As the New York Daily News notes, Mitzvah Kinder and similar toys are "aimed at religious parents who want to keep mainstream toys like Angry Birds, Rockin’ Elmo and Battlefield 3 away from their kids." Mitzvah Kinder creator Toby Horowitz runs the company out of her living room in Borough Park (a Charedi neighborhood) and designed the series because "We want to keep our children entertained without the street influence” (Simone Weichselbaum Daily News, 12.22.11).
|Women of the Fischer Price Little|
People Hannukah Set
|"The Mitzvah Kinder Mommies Daven in shul and then throw pecklech at a Mitzvah Kinder aufruf!!" [Translation: the Mitzah Kinder Mothers Pray in Synagogue and then throw candies at a at the groom when he is called up to the Torah in the Mitzvah Kinder synagogue the Shabbat before his wedding.] (http://www.toys4usa.com) Note head coverings.|
|Large Shul Set of Binyan Blocks: "Large shul building block set with over 750 pieces, including 10 Heimishe [friendly] people. Shul has many benches, a bimah, seforim shank [book case] and an aron kodesh [torah ark] with 2 sifrei torah [torah scrolls]! Set includes special stickers that are reusable. Beautiful step by step instructions are included. Will keep kids entertained for hours on end." (binyanblocks.com)|
|"The Mitzvah Kinder toy collection has been designed to represent a yiddishe lifestyle in the world of children's play and imagination. This set includes: Chesky from Chaveirim Hershel from Hatzolah [Emergency Medical Service], Pinchus the Postman, Mendy the Fire-man, Esty from Oseh Chesed [a Charity Organization], [and] Brucha from Bikur Cholim [a group that visits and aids the sick]." (http://www.toys4usa.com)|
|Male Binyan Block|
|"The Mitzvah Kinder Totties [Fathers] daven in shul and dance in shul on Simchas Torah!" (http://www.toys4usa.com)|
- Binyan Blocks
- Calvert, Karin Lee Fishbeck. Children in the House: the Material Culture of Early Childhood, 1600-1900. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1992.
- GodBricks: Blogging at the intersection between LEGO and religion
- Leibman, Laura. "The Child's World and Image," Indian Converts Collection.
- Mitzvah Kinder