When a Child Should Disobey a Parent

Jewish law recognizes several categories of actions that should be avoided even if one is directed to do them by one's mother or father.

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Rashi (the 11th century Northern French Torah commentator, commenting on Genesis 11:32) explains that the reason the death of Terah, Abraham's father, was mentioned in the wrong chronological place in the Torah (much earlier) is that the reader should not be upset at Abraham for leaving his elderly father in order to obey God's word and settle in the land. If Terah's death had been mentioned in its proper chronological place, Abraham's absence would have been more noticeable, which the Torah tried to avoid.

Choosing a Marriage Partner

The final area where a child need not listen to his parents is in the area of choosing a spouse. If parents disapprove of a potential husband or wife and the child wishes to marry anyway, it is his or her right to do so (Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah 240:25--Moshe Isserles's gloss). However, later commentaries discuss [whether] it makes a difference or not if the parent points out a specific reason why he or she objects. A child is certainly encouraged to hear the parent out, since the parent does have more experience, is not "blinded" by love, and may have a better perspective. But the final decision remains in the hands of the child.

But in each case where a child may disobey, as well as in all the day-to-day conversations with parents, the dignity of the parents must be upheld. The child should also try to convey to the parents a sense of general gratitude and appreciation for being parents. Such a demeanor may go far to avoid and minimize many of the fights and disagreements so commonly found in families.

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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.