By Alan on Apr 16 in Blog tagged American Jews, circumcision, clothes, family values, Hasidic, honor parents, husband and wife, importance of marriage, Jewish roots of family values, jews, Judaism, Judaism rejected Homosexuality, Judaism rejects homosexuality, marriage before sex, Orthodox, parent and child, revere parents, sexual ethics, spen means of food, teach children, The Family, the foundation of family life is sexual morality, theFamily | Comments Off
The Family Research Council (a World Congress of Families Partner) has just published “The Jewish Roots of Family Values,” an issue brief by World Congress of Families Communications Director Don Feder.
In the publication, Feder discusses the foundation for family values in Jewish Scripture – Torah and Talmud – and the way these virtues are reflected in traditional Jewish life.
He calls Genesis (from Chapter 12 to the end) “the story of a Jewish family – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, and their children and grandchildren. Here the importance of marriage and procreation for human happiness is illuminated, as well as the relationships of husband and wife and parent and child.”
Feder says the importance of childbearing to traditional Judaism may be seen in the way birthrates rise among American Jews based on their level of observance – from 1.86 children per family among all Jews, to 3.3 for modern Orthodox, 6.6 for traditional Orthodox and 7.9 for Hasidic Jews.
Finally, Feder discusses the ways in which Jewish family values came to dominate the West through Christianity. The way this commandment is kept by observant Jews may be seen in the Jewish birthrate in the United States, which rises with the level of commitment to Jewish living-from 1.86 children per woman among all Jews to 3.3 for modern Orthodox, 6.6 for traditional Orthodox and 7.9 for Hasidim–approximately twice the Mormon birthrate. Along with marriage and procreation, Judaism emphasizes the relationship of parents and children and the sexual ethic that lies at the heart of Judeo-Christian morality. “Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee,” (Exodus 20:12) is uniquely placed in the Decalogue.
The first four commandments involve mankind’s obligations to God (know that the Lord is God, keep the Sabbath, etc.). The later commandments involve our responsibilities to our fellow man (don’t steal, don’t kill and so on). The fifth is often called the bridge commandment, in that it refers to our obligations to both God and man. By honoring our parents, we honor God as well. As transmitters of the Law, parents are God’s surrogates.
The sages tell us to “revere” our parents. The Torah contains a prohibition against cursing both God and our parents. The Bible prescribes the same penalty for both. In his essay, “The Family In Judaism: Past, Present and Future, Fears and Hopes,” Rabbi David Rosen notes: “That Talmudic texts also refers to Rabbi Joseph who, when he heard his Mother’s footsteps as she approached, would declare, ‘I rise before the Divine Presence which is approaching.’”
The Talmud also says there are three partners in the creation of a child–the mother, the father and God. Honor is due to parents in recognition of their role in generating life, because of their sacrifices in raising a child to maturity and for the part they play as teachers of the Law.
The Shema, Judaism’s quintessential affirmation of faith, begins: “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, with all thy might. And these words which I command thee this day shall be upon your heart. And you shall teach them diligently unto thy children…” (Deuteronomy 6:4-7).
Teach them to whom–to your neighbors, your friends, your siblings? Teach them to your children. In Judaism, learning (study) is a religious obligation More than rabbis, parents are given the primary responsibility for imparting Divine wisdom.
In the parent/child relationship, obligations flow in both directions. An old rabbinic adage holds: “A man should spend less than his means on food, up to his means on clothes, but beyond his means in honoring his wife and children, because they are dependent on him.”
Children honor their parents, and their father blesses them in turn. In traditional Jewish homes, as part of the Friday evening meal, the father gives a benediction to his sons (“May God make you like Ephraim and Menasseh,” Joseph’s sons adopted by Jacob) and his daughters (“May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah”). A husband also praises his wife by reciting “A Woman of Valor” (Proverbs 31). According to Jewish tradition, this was Abraham’s eulogy for his beloved wife, Sarah.
The foundation of family life is sexual morality, and here the role of Judaism was revolutionary in the ancient world.
In the pagan world into which Judaism came with its right-and-wrong, to speak of sexual morality was a non sequitur-like talking about “moral aerobics” today. Sex was about power relationships–the strong forcing themselves on the weak – and nothing else. There was no code of conduct, just a carnal law of the jungle.
By contrast, Judaism said the God of Israel is to be served by emulating Him–through righteousness and holiness. “I am the Lord who brought you out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:45). Thus did the Torah introduce the idea of sexual ethics.
A Jewish circumcision, performed eight days after birth, is referred to as the covenant of circumcision. Removal of the foreskin is called a sign of the covenant sealed in the flesh. But who actually sees this “sign”? The answer is that it’s a sign for the individual himself.
In “Being Jewish: the Spiritual and Cultural Practice of Judaism Today,” Ari L. Goldman alludes to this when he writes of the Brit Milah (Jewish ritual circumcision, performed on the eighth day say after birth), “Some see in the act a message of sexual restraint.”
The rabbis said the reason the skin is removed from the male appendage (rather than another part of the anatomy, where the sign would be visible to others) is because it is with this organ that the male is most likely to sin. When a Jewish man sees the mark, he should remember the covenant and keep the law, including the mandate to “be holy.“
In his monograph “Judaism’s Sexual Revolution: Why Judaism Rejected Homosexuality,” author and Jewish lay scholar Dennis Prager explains: “Judaism placed controls on sexual activity. It could no longer dominate religion and social life. It was to be sanctified — which in Hebrew means ‘separated’ — from the world and placed in the home, in the bed of husband and wife. Judaism’s restricting of sexual behavior was one of the essential elements that enabled society to progress (by allowing the family to flourish). Along with ethical monotheism, the revolution begun by the Torah when it declared war on the sexual practices of the world, wrought the most far-reaching change in history.”
In “Kosher Sex,” available online at Judaism 101, author Tracey R. Rich observes: “Sex is permissible only within the context of a marriage. In Judaism, sex is not merely a way of experiencing physical pleasure. It is an act of immense significance, which requires commitment and responsibility. The requirement of marriage before sex ensures that sense of commitment and responsibility.”
Leviticus sets forth a series of prohibited sex acts, including incestuous liaisons, rape, bestiality and homosexuality. Again, Prager says, “The one continuous exception [to the acceptance of same-sex relations in the ancient world] was Jewish civilization–and a thousand years later, Christian civilization. Other than the Jews, ‘none of the archaic civilizations prohibited homosexuality per se,’ Dr. David E. Greenberg notes. It was Judaism alone that about 3,000 years ago declared homosexuality wrong.”
Not just wrong, but an “abomination” (or “detestable,” depending on the translation)–a term of censure the Torah reserves for the most severe transgressions, including the ritual prostitution practiced in pagan temples and child sacrifice. Moreover, the Jewish Bible identifies homosexuality as a Canaanite practice and one reason the land was taken from them. Unlike many of the Torah’s laws, the prohibition on sexual immorality, including homosexuality, applies to all of humanity, through the Noahide Code. 4
Prager goes on to say, “Judaism cannot make peace with homosexuality because homosexuality denies many of Judaism’s most fundamental principles. It denies life (not life but death comes from sodomy), it denies God’s expressed desire that men and women cohabit, and it denies the root structure that Judaism wishes for all mankind, the family.“
Some fail to appreciate how profoundly Christianity was influenced by Jewish morality. Judeo-Christian ethics is more than a catch phrase. It denotes the Jewish roots of Christian morality, which became the foundation of Western civilization.
In her Newsweek story (“He Made Us All Jews,” December 18, 2006), Lisa Miller wrote: “The Jewish family values that were prevalent in first-century Judea, the values of Mary and Joseph and the young Jesus, became the values of Christianity, and of the regions of the world in which Christianity has long been a critical force…. . And so the growing Jesus would have come of age in a world that cherished procreation, family ties and the history and theology of Israel, including immersion in the Scriptures (with their emphasis on sexual morality and holiness) and the ancient stories of God’s deliverance of his people.”
Thus did the Jewish worldview come to dominate the West.
I suppose one could say that the traditional (or natural) family is a Jewish invention. Except, it was the God of Israel, not Israel itself, who ordained the family. Here, Jews, and later the Christians, served as the Divine transmission belt.
This is one of the ways in which all of the families of the earth have been blessed through the Jews.
World Congress of Families Managing Director Larry Jacobs observes: “Don’s monograph reflects the diversity of World Congress of Families. As our International Secretary, Dr. Allan Carlson, likes to say, the Congress is a coalition of orthodox believers – who don’t necessarily believe in the same thing. The WCF leadership includes Catholics, Evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Mormons, Jews, Russian Orthodox and other adherents to traditional faiths who are united in their recognition of the role of the family in the divine scheme and its centrality to civilization.”