By Rabbi Mordechai Levin
Published by the Omaha World Herald – April 9, 2011
The commandment to honor parents is one of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:12): “Honor your father and mother.” To honor parents does not mean that we have to obey everything they say. For instance, even if parents object to their child’s prospective spouse, they cannot take away his or her right to marry that person. However, when the child disagrees with a parent, the dignity of and respect for the parents must be maintained.
Adult children are required to take care of their elderly parents, seeing to it that their needs are met. Sometimes, however, this is not possible, as in the case of parents who need considerable care, but their children live far away. If children cannot realistically care for their parents, then moving them to an assisted-living residence is not only permissible but possibly the most desirable solution, provided that this arrangement is made with honor, respect, and ideally, even love.
The Hebrew Bible commands: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18); “Love the stranger as yourself” (Leviticus 19:34); and “Love God with all your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:5), but it does not command us to love our parents. It commands that we honor them. It recognizes that there are people who, for different reasons, do not love their parents, but whether or not we love our parents is beside the point. Although mothers and fathers fulfill their parental responsibilities with varying degrees of skill and love, Jewish values state that they are to be treated with honor and respect.