Jewish Parent/Child Relationships

A relationship that's commanded to be respectful.

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As with other human relationships, Jewish parents and their children (both adult and minor) are, in traditional Judaism, bound to each other by a series of commanded responsibilities and sacred practices. Most societies emphasize reverence for parents; post-biblical Judaism appears to have gone further than its contemporaries in mandating that parents provide for their children with very specific preparations for the future. Furthermore, Judaism sees parents and offspring as bound to each other not only for practical or humanistic reasons, but also as a way of honoring God.

Father and son on the beachParenting in the Torah

The Torah includes numerous mitzvot regarding parent-child interaction. Fathers must circumcise sons on their eighth day of life (Genesis 17:10-14). Parents may not sacrifice their children, neither to a foreign deity (Leviticus 20:1) nor to God. Incest is strictly forbidden (Leviticus 18:6-7). Parents are responsible for educating their children (Deuteronomy 11:19). First-born sons must be redeemed from the priesthood (Exodus 13:2,13). Insults to parents are subject to grave punishment (Leviticus 20:9).

Honoring parents (kibbud av va'em) is among the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16); the requirement to show them reverence appears in Leviticus (19:1-3). The language of these two commandments provides motivations for their observance. The wording in Exodus (nearly identical in Deuteronomy) states that one who honors parents will lengthen one's life and continue one's link to the land of Israel:

"Honor your father and your mother so that your days will be lengthened on the land Adonai your God gave to you." The motivation here is one of a promised reward.

In Leviticus, we find that reverence is part of participating in God's holy plan: "And Adonai spoke to Moses, saying: 'Speak to all the community of the Children of Israel, and say to them--'You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy. A man shall revere his mother and his father and observe my Sabbaths; I am Adonai your God.' "

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