Thursday, November 2, 2006

Parental Liability, in English This Time

It has been pointed out that reading transliterated Yeshivish can be uncomfortable and distracting. To remedy that problem, here's another version of the Miriam bas Bilga discussion.

Regarding the story of Miriam the daughter of Bilga in the end of Tractate Sukkah. The Talmud says that during the time of the second Temple in Jerusalem, an apostate daughter of a Kohen approached the Altar, kicked it, and, addressing God, said “You wolf, you eat the money of the Jews and don’t stand up to protect them when they need you.” When the Jews regained control of the Temple, the girl’s family was publicly humiliated and permanently penalized in several ways, because her behavior was seen as a reflection of the attitude in her home as she was raised. "Shuto d’y’nuko b’shuko oh d’avuhei oh d’imei: the talk of a child in public is either from his father or his mother." If she had been raised properly, she never would have done what she did.

In the case of an adulterous bas Kohen, the Torah says (in Emor, Vayikra 21:9) “She has profaned her father.” Rashi there brings from Sanhedrin 52a "She profaned and disgraced his honor, for people say of him "cursed he that fathered her, cursed he that raised her.”

This has application in halacha. The Talmud Sanhedrin 52a brings a statement from R’ Meir and R’ Yishmoel that the community no longer should honor this father, and that the members of the community will say "cursed the one that fathered her, cursed the one that raised her, cursed the one from whose loins she sprung" (The Marsho says that these expressions refer to his/her mother, nursemaid, and father, respectively) and the Gemora there bring that R’ Ashi holds that this statement justifies the fact that we call a wicked person "wicked one, son of the wicked" even if his father is a righteous man (which, ironically, shows that the father really is a righteous man, but we call him wicked when talking about his son). In Orach Chaim 128 the Rema brings opinions that the community no longer has to give the father, a Kohen, precedence in being called to the Torah or for leading Grace After Meals. The Magen Avraham in s’k 62 says two things: first, that the profanation of the father’s honor is only when the daughter committed adultery, because the father could have and should have seen to it that she was never alone with someone else, and then he brings the Mordechai that applies this din to a child that abandons Judaism and embraces another religion. However, he then says that the Mordechai's application to a child apostate is based on the assumption that she was also adulterous, and although she left his household at her apostacy, the father could have instilled an aversion for promiscuity when the daughter was younger, as we find that Shmuel didn’t let his daughters sleep in bed with each other so that they would not get used to body contact as they sleep. The Mishneh Brurah, however, says that currently normative halachah does not allow penalization of a Kohen with daughter problems.

Note, too, that if the parents are blamed for bad children, they should take credit for good ones. See Talmud Yoma 86 where the righteousness of a son reflects on the father, and vice versa, at least in the way people see him, and the Mahrsho there that says that people ascribe the son’s behavior to whether the father taught him to learn Torah for pure or impure motives.

But the very serious issue here is this: How can you blame the father for the child's behavior? What evidence is there that the father is at fault for what the child does? Was Abraham responsible for Ishmael? Isaac for Esau? David for Amnon, Absalom, and Adoniahu? (Regarding Adoniahu, see Melochim I 1:6, "and his father never rebuked him, to say why are you doing this." Krasner in his Nachlas Shimon brings the Abarbenel that says that unlike Eli, whose sons were called evil, and who was considered at fault for not rebuking them, see beginning of Shmuel I, Adoniahu was not a sinner, but only expected to inherit his father’s throne. But he also brings Rashi who quotes the Sages as saying that from here we learn that "whoever refrains from rebuking his child delivers him to his death.")

And what about free will? Shouldn’t we take as given that everyone has a free range of choice, so this girl, too, had free will, and could have chosen to be good, but chose of her own free will and free choice to be bad, that choice having nothing to do with her father’s way of raising her? Does this prove that free will is narrowly restricted to the area around habituation, and the father is responsible for raising a daughter whose "range of choice" is at the bottom of the scale? What about the alleged statement of the Gaon of Vilna that a person is punished for not spending his time studying Torah during his baptism? Doesn’t a person also get reward for not going to get baptized while he is learning Torah?

See R’ Shternbuch’s Ta’am Voda’as here on 21:9, where he says, in his inimitable manner, that you shouldn’t think that Rashi’s "That people say cursed he who fathered..." means that people say it but it is not necessarily true– he says that it is really true. That is, that if a son goes off the straight path, "for sure the ruination and flaw stemmed from his father." And if a parent hasn’t implanted the love of Torah and the fear of God to the level sufficient to protect from the evil inclination, "Then it is clear that he himself is flawed in his level of appreciation and respect for a life of purity and holiness." I really would like to know what R’ Shternbuch would say about the great men of Torah and ethical teachings that had children that, may heaven protect us, went off the straight path.

But several things are clear: first, if a parent is told that he is absolutely responsible for the moral behavior of his child, that he is exclusively responsible for what his child does, that parent would be extremely serious about how he raises the child. And second, the fact that the parent is responsible does not diminish the child’s responsibility at all. The parent may have made it easier for the child to sin, but as long as the child is not an completely blameless, as in the case of a infant taken captive and raised outside contact with his Jewish roots, the child remains 100% responsible.

It is, however, very important to remember that the Talmud in Sukkah regarding Miriam Daughter of Bilga uses a very carefully crafted expression: "Shuto d’y’nuko b’shuko oh d’avuhei oh d’imei: the talk of a child in public is either from his father or his mother" limits itself in two very important aspects. First, it says "d’y’nuko," which means this is true only in the case of a young person. Second, it says "b’shuko," which means that this is true only when the child does so brazenly, in a public fashion, and not merely among his friends. Similarly, the law of an adulterous daughter of a Kohen is specific to a young woman of 12 years old who committed her adultery after a warning administered by two witnesses who remained present during her crime., which is basically in public, so this case too is"beshukoh," in public.

However, note that at the end of the Torah portion that discussed the daughter of a Kohen, the Torah brings the the story of Shlomis daughter of Divri’s son, who cursed the God of Israel, and there are numerous statements in the Sages that trace his behavior to his mother’s character and history.

And research on the relationship between parenting and youthful offending has found an association between lax parenting and youth crime (Humm, 1991). Loeber and Stoutbamer-Loeber (1986, cited in Goetting, 1992, p. 4) found that "lack of parental supervision, parental rejection and lack of parent-child involvement, were among the most powerful predictors of juvenile conduct problems and delinquency."

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