How to Show Respect for a Parent: A Jewish View

It's not only what you do for your parents that counts, but how you do it as well.

Print this page Print this page

The Talmud (BT Kiddushin 31a) also records that the mother of Rabbi Tarfon was willing to throw his (valuable) wallet in the ocean, and Rabbi Tarfon did not embarrass his mother, even though he would be obviously angry and embarrassed. This is cited as a Jewish law (Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah 240:8). Now we must address the question: Is a parent permitted to instruct a child to do anything he wishes and must the child obey as part of this mitzvah, or is there a limit to what a parent can ask a child to do?

This question has been thoroughly debated. The Midrash (Yalkut Shim'oni to Proverbs 23:22) simply states that a child should do all a parent asks. When the act is purposeful and to the benefit of the parent, most later authorities agree that a child should do it, even though it is not part of the specific required acts mentioned in the talmudic passage cited earlier. However, when the act is foolish, there is great disagreement as to whether the request need be followed.

In dealing with a specific parental request, one later authority (Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Braun, She'arim Metzuyyanim Bahalakhah, a commentary on the 19th-century Kitzur Shulhan Arukh,143:10) says if a parent asks a son to shave his beard, he need not listen. Similarly, if a parent tells a child not to speak to a certain person for a specific time limit, the child need not obey (Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah 240:16). If a father asks a child to serve him food that the doctor said should not be eaten, the child need not listen to this parental request. However, another authority disagrees and rules that a child should listen to a parent's request in this instance if the food poses no great danger to the father (She'arim Metzuyyanim Bahalakhah 143:4).

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Nachum Amsel earned his rabbinical ordination and a doctorate in education from Yeshiva University. He is Director of Education for Hillel in the Former Soviet Union.