Parents, Honor of

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PARENTS, HONOR OF (Heb. כִּבּוּד אָב וָאֵם; lit. "the honoring of father and mother"), the fifth commandment in the *Decalogue. The importance attached by the Bible to this precept is apparent from the fact that the declared reward for its observance is the lengthening of "thy days … upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee" (Ex. 20:12). The rabbis also emphasized that the observer of this commandment would enjoy reward both in this world and in the next (Pe'ah 1:1). Viewing it as a reflection of the godliness in man, they declared that the Bible equated the honor due to parents with that due to God (Ex. 20:12; Prov. 3:9) since "there are three partners in man, the Holy One blessed be He, the father, and the mother." According to the rabbis, when a man honors his father and his mother, God declares, "I ascribe merit to them as though I had dwelt among them and they had honored Me" (Kid. 30b). Further, they stated that since a child intuitively honors his mother more than his father because she is usually kinder to him, the Pentateuch placed the honor of the father before that of the mother (Ex. 20:12). A child, however, fears his father more than his mother, and the Pentateuch accordingly placed the fear of the mother before that of the father (Lev. 19:3; Kid. 30b–31a).

If his parents are in need, the son fulfills the commandment by sustaining them with such items as food, drink, clothing, and blankets, and guides them in old age. Fear of parents is to be expressed in that the son must neither stand nor sit in their usual place, contradict them nor support their opponents in a scholarly dispute (Kid. 31b; Rashi ad loc.). During the first 12 months after his father's death, the son should say, "Thus said my father, my teacher, for whose resting place may I be an atonement." After the initial 12 months, the son says, "His memory be for a blessing, for the life of the world to come" (Kid. 31b). The rabbis differed concerning the monetary expenses to which the son was obliged to go in fulfillment of the fifth commandment. One viewpoint was that the father had to reimburse the son for his actual expenditure, but not for his loss of time. Another opinion was that it was always at the son's personal expense. The halakhah declared that the mitzvah must be fulfilled at the father's expense, the son, however, being obliged to utilize his own funds when his father was impoverished (Kid. 32a; Sh. Ar., yd 240:5). Receiving great emphasis is the gracious attitude which the son must display in discharging this obligation. It was stated that a son may give his father pheasants as food and yet this act, if performed begrudgingly, will cause the son to lose his portion in the world to come. Yet another may gain the world to come by requesting, in a spirit of kindness and respect, that his father undertake difficult work such as grinding flour in a mill (Kid. 32a; tj, Kid. 1:7, 61b). A father, however, could renounce the honor due to him and thereby relieve his son of his responsibilities (Kid. 32a). The rabbis held that this commandment had been revealed to the Jews at Marah (Ex. 15:25), before the revelation at Sinai (Sanh. 56b). Individuals, whether Jew or gentile, who excelled in the performance of this precept were praised. The heathen Dama, son of Netina of Ashkelon, refused to awaken his father although he needed the key that was lying under his father's pillow to conclude a transaction which would have brought him a profit of 600,000 gold coins (Kid. 31a). When R. Tarfon's mother wished to climb into bed, he would bend down to let her ascend by stepping upon him. R. Joseph, on hearing his mother's footsteps, would say, "I will arise before the approaching Shekhinah" (Kid. 31a–b). Married women were exempted from fulfilling this precept if it conflicted with their husband's wishes (Kid. 30b; Sh. Ar., yd 240:17). A child was obligated to honor his stepfather, stepmother, and eldest brother (Ket. 103a; Sh. Ar., yd 240:21, 22). It is not permitted for a child to transgress a prohibition at his father's request since both father and son are obligated to observe the divine commandments (Yev. 6a).

For legal obligations see *Parent and Child.


I. Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages (19322), 123f.; H. Loewe and C.G. Montefiore, A Rabbinic Anthology (1938, repr. 1960, 1963), cha. 22 and 24.

[Aaron Rothkoff]