Maya Lyubomirsky is a third year at UCI studying English with an emphasis in Creative Writing. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, and is open to other writing opportunities.
I was at Shabbat one night and one of the guests was going through a dilemma. She
wanted a second ear piercing, one of those small ones on the lobe right above her first, but was
torn because her mother didn’t want her to and she didn’t want to disobey the fifth commandment: “Honor your father and your mother.”
As most things tend to do, that got me thinking. Does “honoring” mean obeying
everything your parents say/prefer/want, even if it’s about something small and rather personal
like a piercing? According to Jewish law, do parents still have the right to forbid their child from
doing something well into adulthood?
Then, as usual, my mind carried me a step too far, and I began to wonder whether or not
this commandment compels religious kids to obey their parents regardless of the child’s own
interests, well-being, or even personal safety.
For example, what if your mother, and only living parent, is a psychotic drug addict and
alcoholic, like one of my friends’ mothers, who sent her child on errands to buy shrooms and
What about the more subtle cases? What if your parents are abusive, mean, or
well-meaning but simply wrong? What if they have their best interests in mind but not yours?
At what point does “honoring” move from obeying to a more detached respect?
According to Wikipedia (cross checked with other sources), honoring “requires one to
obey one’s parents when the command given by a parent is reasonable and permissible under
Jewish law.” This is because a parent isn’t the ultimate authority, but God. So, a child doesn’t
have to obey their parent if the commandment involves breaking Jewish law.
Interestingly enough, the law doesn’t allow parents to interfere with their children’s
marriages or religious beliefs. Granted that the marriage is permissible under Jewish law, parents
can’t command their children to marry or not marry someone because the marriage bond,
apparently, takes precedence.
Once the child becomes an adult, the law actually doesn’t even require you to obey their
every whim. Dennis Prager, blogger for the Jewish Journal, uses the example of President to
demonstrate what “honoring” really means.
“At every presidential press conference, all the members of the press rise from their seats
when the president enters the room. They do this even if they dislike the president. They,
therefore, do not stand because they feel like doing so. They do so because they honor the
presidency… In other words, “honor” means treating one’s parents with the gravity that their
So, “honoring” your parents doesn’t necessarily mean “obeying”. If it did, the Bible
would say that explicitly. Instead, it has come to be interpreted as genuine respect. If your parent
wants you to do something, deeply consider it. Ultimately, however, you are in charge of making
But when it comes to piercings? I don’t know, those are kind of expensive anyway.
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