By Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin MA
Director: Jewish Professionals Institute. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Author: The Second World War and Jewish Education in America www.jpi.org/holocaust/
Over the past weeks a discussion has arisen about the new trend by Frum married children to “cut off” their own parents from their lives if they find the parents to be too meddlesome and difficult to deal with, as if all Mitzvos in the Torah are supposed to come easily and if it is difficult to perform that Mitzva, especially one of the Aseres Hadibros (Ten Commandments), then just “cut it off” from your list of obligations in Yiddishkeit. Only the modern age of psycho-babble could produce such a misbegotten happening.
All the sides in this serious debate with deadly consequences have sought to prove that Halacha is on their side. The pro-cut-off folks have relied on an article in a Jewish publication that has not cited one single known Halachic authority such as Rav Moshe Feinstein ZT”L or Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv ZT”L or any living Posek, Gadol, Chacham, Rosh Yeshiva or Chasidic Rebbe of that caliber to justify the radical step by Frum children of shutting down Kibbud Av Va’Em (honoring parents) forever for some adult children who face all sorts of other challenges in life in any case, who cannot take the heat.
While those opposing cutting off with parents and who deal with the challenges HKB”H has handed us, simply cite the many Pesukim (verses) in the Torah such as Exodus 20:12 & 21:17; Leviticus 18:7 & 19:3 & 20:9; Deuteronomy 5:16 & 27:16, and the Shulchan Aruch that make the obligations of Kibbud Av Va’Em the highest priority.
There is nothing in Halacha that transforms natural parental criticism into modern “verbal & emotional abuse” and grounds for an “uncontested divorce on demand” (in the symbolic sense) from one’s own flesh and blood parents. We are NOT talking of cases where there has been very serious extreme physical abuse often of an intimate nature and the core physical life of the child was in question. However the modern trend in psychology is to place emotional and verbal challenges on the same level as very excessive physical abuse.
The Halacha does have exceptions but they are just that, exceptions, and not of the kind advocated by the side promoting cutting parents out of one’s life on flimsy “verbal & emotional” excuses that the parents are not saying nice things and that, like spoiled children who have to get their way, it is not the children who are maybe at fault and should be “punished” but it’s the parents instead that get blamed for everything that went wrong, a real inversion of the natural and Halachic order of things.
So what does the Shulchan Oruch really say about honoring parents? There are many excellent resources that have clear translations and explanations. As that old song from my childhood goes: “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start, when you read you begin with A, B, C …” and the A, B, C in the Shulchan Oruch is very clear how it all begins and should be.
It would be worthwhile for everyone to brush up on the five pages in Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 240 & 241 that deal with the Halachos of Kibbud Av Va’Em that starts out by stating (my free translation):
“A) One should be exceedingly careful in honoring one’s father and mother and fearing them…B) An example of ‘fearing’ is not to stand in their place…and not to sit in their seat at home and not to contradict them…and must not call their father/mother by his/her given name neither when alive nor when dead…C) How far does ‘fearing’ them go? If the son/daughter was dressed immaculately and is sitting at the head of the congregation, and his/her father and mother came along and ripped his/her (their child’s) clothes and hit him/her (their grown child) on the head, and spit in his/her face he/she should not react to them but should rather remain silent and fear the King of Kings (God Himself) who has commanded him/her (to suffer the indignities) because one has been commanded (to accept and practice i.e. to keep the Mitzva of Kibbud Av Va’Em)…D) What is an example of ‘honoring’? that a child must give food and drink, dress and cover, take in and out his/her parents without fanfare…and should serve his/her parents like a servant serves his master…”
The above are from the “A, B, Cs” — the very premises and foundations of Kibbud Av Va’Em — that come first and foremost. Yes there are exceptions to them but first must come the absolute fulfillment of the fundamentals on the highest level. What can be more “abusive” than your parents ripping your nicest clothes in public, slapping you on the head and spitting in your face? all in public and certainly in private by enraged or even deranged parents in doing that according to the Shulchan Oruch and an adult child must just accept it and “suffer in silence” because this is what God wants from you. No modern mental health person would ever agree to this, but there you have it, it is Paskened in the Shulchan Oruch by Rav Yosef Karro ZT”L and Rav Moshe Iserelis ZT”L.
Recently I was with a Chabura (study group) of men who have mostly married off their children and I posed to them the question of if it is right for Frum married children to “cut off” with difficult parents? The leader of this Chabura, a distinguished Rabbi and professional person said that in his more than 30 years experience with adult children and elderly parents that Bnai Torah would NEVER act disrespectfully under any circumstances even to the most difficult and cranky of parents while those who may be Orthodox but are not Bnai Torah seem to have less inhibitions of mistreating their parents quite often.
This same Rabbi pointed out to me that it is not just Kibbud Av Va’Em in the Aseres Hadibros that is chucked aside but even the first of the Aseres Hadibros, the requirement to believe in HaShem is very sadly thrown away by some people who “hate” HaShem and fail to truly Love Him with All their hearts and souls and strengths.
May we merit to be among those who properly fulfill all the Mitzvos in the Torah and the Shulchan Oruch, Amen.