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Children obeying parents


Rabbi David Sperling

Iyyar 13, 5773
Scripture says that children are to honour and obey their parents. What I want to know is when the Torah speaks of children, what age is considered a child and when is a child considered an adult? Is a child still classified a child after his/her BarBat mitzvah? If so, when does this change? According to scripture is a working, independent person of 19 still to obey all their parents say? Thank you Many thanks
Shalom, The laws of honoring one's parents, as commanded in the Ten Commandments, are discussed at length in the Talmud and Codes of Law (See Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, 240). Like any part of Jewish law, they are applied with great detail, and every situation has its own application. In general, though, I feel there are two major rules of honoring one's parents that are at the root of your question (perhaps "the good news, and the bad news" depending on how you see things). Firstly (you might see this as the "bad" news) - there is absolutely no age limit to this command. The opposite is true - once a child reaches Bar or Bat Mitzvah age, they become more obligated, as they are now responsible to fulfill all the commands. Also, as one's parents age and need more and more help to live honored lives, the children have a greater responsibility towards them. In fact the Torah does not say a "child" must honor their parents, but commands all of us with the language "Thou shalt honor thy father and mother". Secondly (here is what could be the "good" news) - we need to understand exactly what honoring parents entails. One never has to "obey all their parents say". Rather the command has two aspects. One needs to take care of the physical needs of their parents, including housing, food, and clothing. (Who has to pay for this is a different question - in general the parents must foot the bill). So when one's parents are bed-ridden, one must cook for them, feed them, help them get up and dressed and be able to be mobile to the extent they need. The other aspect is to treat them always with respect. This includes speaking nicely to them, not contradicting them, not sitting in their seat, and so on. What is not included in honoring one's parents is having to do things that they wish but are not directly related to them. For example, one may marry against their wishes, come to live in Israel even if they object [- if this will leave them without the physical help they need in their old age, a Rabbi should be consulted], or choose to learn a particular profession the parents do not approve of. The command of honoring one's parents does not nullify a person's own independent life. Though, as we wrote above, even when going against what the parents want, one is obligated to do so in a polite and respectful way. Of course, for a clear ruling of which things fall exactly into every case, we would need to examine each situation in detail. If you will permit me - it could be that behind your question lies a real conflict between a parent and child. If this is so, perhaps (if the situation warrants it) both the parents and child should seek the advice of a third party, such as the local Rabbi, who may be able to bring shalom to all. Usually in such cases, merely quoting the ruling of Jewish law does not help very much - and sometime even exasperates the situation. Blessings.
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