Jewish parents are not required to teach their children how to ride bike, fly a plane or drive stick-shift. They also are not required to teach their children how to sail a boat, operate a submarine or ride a jet-ski. (As an aside, “jet-ski” sort of sounds like a Jewish last name, e.g., "For this particular job, which requires delicate diplomacy, I cannot recommend the hiring of Rabbi Jetski. He tends to make waves.") It is incumbent on all Jewish parents, however, to teach their offspring one particular skill: swimming.

For example: How to choose a seat in shul.

The Talmud states: "A father is obligated with regard to his son to circumcise him, and to redeem him if he is a firstborn son who must be redeemed by payment to a Cohen, and to teach him Torah, and to marry him to a woman, and to teach him a trade. And some say: A father is also obligated to teach his son to swim. (Kiddushin 29a) The Talmud does not specify whether children should be taught the backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly or freestyle. The reason is that the Talmudic swimming requirement is not about qualifying for the Olympics or even competing in a local meet. The rationale for the swimming mandate actually is spelled out elsewhere in the Talmud: "And some say that a father is also obligated to teach his son to swim in a river. The Gemara asks: What is the reason for this? It is necessary for his life, i.e., this is potentially a lifesaving skill." (Kiddushin 30b)

Swimming certainly is a life-saving skill, at least if you are immersed in water that is too deep to stand in. Swimming, however, is not a necessary skill in every watery instance. Typically, you can cross a creek, stream or brook without knowing how to swim. Swimming also is not required in the bathtub, shower or when running through a backyard sprinkler. Swimming also is not necessary when washing your hands before meals.

In addition to swimming, there are many other skills that a parent should teach a child. These skills are not necessarily life-saving survival skills but they nevertheless will help a child survive in the Jewish world and society at large. Some of these skills are taught through words while others are conveyed through action or imbued via osmosis. These skills include:

  • How to choose a seat in shul: This can be a very complicated calculation as you assess the best spot, one that ideally is near your friends but far enough from nudniks who might disrupt your davening.

  • How to navigate a synagogue kiddush: This requires (i) jousting for herring using only a toothpick and instinct, (ii) positioning yourself in close proximity to the cholent, (iii) grabbing a clean fork before all of the plastic utensils are gone, (iv) greeting someone without losing your place in line and (iv) leaving enough room for lunch, especially if your spouse or host has warned you not to ruin your appetite at kiddush.

  • How to participate in a school carpool: Ideally, team up with those who live closest to you. In addition, find families with twins and then convince them that based purely on the numbers, they have to do carpool twice as many times as those without twins.

  • How to choose a brisket: Ask the butcher but, if the butcher is not available, don’t fret. It’s hard to buy a bad brisket.

  • How to invite shabbos company: Do not wait until Friday afternoon and do not reveal that someone else cancelled, thus freeing up a spot for a second choice candidate. If you slip and divulge this fact, do not refer to the newly-invited as a second choice. Instead, use the less pejorative "first alternate."

  • How to create a guest list for a simcha: Invite family, friends and anyone who has ever invited you to anything. Otherwise, you will inevitably insult someone. If this means inviting more people than you can possibly afford, then host the event in your backyard and serve only bread and water. That is still better than leaving someone out.

  • How to seat guests at a simcha: Find out who is feuding and seat them on opposite sides of the room or at least on opposite sides of a table centerpiece.

  • How to make friends in a new community: Cholent, cholent, cholent.

  • How to make a quality cholent: Never add an ingredient that you would not eat separately on its own.

  • How to keep a secret: Solitary confinement.

  • How to handle parent/teacher conferences: In the event of positive feedback, take all of the credit. When faced with negative reports, blame the grandparents.

Final thought: In what type of pool is swimming not required? A carpool.