Parental Responsibilities

A Selection From My Favorite Jewish Sources
By Rabbi Mordechai Levin

Midrash Mishlei 22:6
“Train up a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6). Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Joshua differed.
Rabbi Eliezer said: The verse means that if you train your son with words of Torah until he becomes a young man, he will continue growing in allegiance to them, as the verse concludes, “Even when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
But Rabbi Joshua said: The child may be compared to a heifer–if she is not taught to plow when young, it will be difficult for her to do so in the end; or to a wine branch– if you do not bend it when it is full of sap, once it hardens, you can do nothing with it.

Talmud, Sukkah 42a
If he knows how to speak, his father must teach him the Shema, Torah, and the holy tongue (Hebrew).

Talmud, Sotah 20a
Ben Azzai said: A man is required to teach his daughter Torah.

Talmud, Kidushin 29a, 30b
Our sages taught: With regard to his son, a father is obligated to circumcise him, to redeem him [if he is the firstborn], to teach him Torah, to teach him a craft, and to get him married. Some say: Also to teach him how to swim. Rabbi Judah said: When a man does not teach his son a craft, it is as though he taught him brigandage.
Some say: Also to teach him how to swim. The reason? His life may depend on it. Rabbi Judah I, the Patriarch said: A father is also required to teach his son civic obligations.
Whatever a father is required to do for his son, should he fail to do it, the son must do it on his own.

Shemot Rabbah 43:7
Rabbi Huna, in the name of Rabbi Yohanan, told the parable of a certain man who opened a perfume shop for his son in the street of harlots. The street plied its trade, the perfume business plied its trade, and the lad, like any young male, plied his natural inclination–he strayed into depraved ways.
When the father came and caught him with a harlot, he began to shout, “I’ll kill you!”
But the father’s friend was there, and he spoke up. “You yourself ruined your son, and now you are yelling at him! You ignored all other occupations and taught him to be a perfumer; you ignored all other streets and deliberately opened a shop for him in the street of harlots!”

Talmud, Gittin 6b
A man should never impose an overpowering fear upon his household.

Talmud, Sukkah 46b
One should not promise a child something, and then not give it to him, because as a result, the child will learn to lie.

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Rabbi Levin is the rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in Munster, IN. He received his rabbinic ordination from the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary, and is a member of the Rabbinical Assembly. In 2010, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City for his years of dedicated service to the Conservative movement and the Jewish community...Full bio