Reprinted with permission from The Jewish Encyclopedia of Moral and Ethical Issues (Jason Aronson).
One area in which all authorities agree a child must not listen to a parental request is when a parent asks a child to violate a Torah law. If a child is asked by a parent to become intentionally ritually impure, for example, he or she need not listen (BT Yevamot 6a). The basis for this concept is the Torah verse about morah, which ends off with the command to observe the Sabbath.
The Talmud (BT Bava Metzia 32a) asks why were these two concepts put in the same verse and answers that it teaches us that though a parent must be listened to, this does not include any Torah precept that both the child and the parent are commanded to obey. Maimonides (Laws of Rebels 6:12) extends this idea even to a rabbinic law, which a child should not violate at the parent’s request. It should be stressed, once again, that even in disobeying a parent in this instance, it must be done in a way that preserves the parent’s dignity and not in a disrespectful manner.
Contesting a Parent’s Knowledge
Another area in which a child may disagree with a parent is in Torah learning. The Talmud (BT Megillah 16b) and the Shulhan Arukh (Yoreh Deah 240:13) state that learning Torah is more important than respecting one’s parents. Therefore, if a child feels that he can better learn Torah elsewhere and a parent asks the child to remain at home to learn, the child may leave home in order to learn Torah (Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 240:25).
This is also seen in Rashi’s commentary to Genesis 28:9, where he explains that Jacob was away from home working for Laban for 22 years. Later on in his life, his own son Joseph also was away from Jacob’s house for 22 years as a punishment to Jacob for abandoning his father’s house and for not keeping the commandment to honor (dignify) his parents. However, we know through simple calculation that Jacob was away from home an additional 14 years [which, according to rabbinic tradition, he spent] learning Torah. Why was he not punished for these years away from home? Because one is not punished when one learns Torah even when neglecting the mitzvah of honoring (dignifying) one’s parents.