Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mitzva to honor abusive parents?

Dr. Benzion Sorotzkin

As a clinical psychologist in the frum community I have frequently been asked by patients to address the question of the obligation to honor abusive parents. As a result, I have researched the issue and have discussed it with some prominent Rabbonim. I would like to share some of what I have learned with other clinicians and anyone else who needs to address this issue.

It goes without saying that kibbud av va'eim is a very important and complex mitzvah. Any particular situation will involve specific clinical and halachic issues that have to be evaluated by a knowledgeable Rov for specific guidance. It does help, however, if the questioner is as knowledgeable as possible about the issues involved. It is for that reason that I would like to share with the readers some interesting and not so well known dimensions of this issue. [...]


  1. That there is nomitzvah to to actually love a parent is understandable. Real and healthy love in any relationship must be earned and not coerced or extarcted from any sense of guilt.

    Kibud is another matter entirely because kibud extends beyond the immediate relationship and into the community. We must show respect to those with whom we have no emotional attachment because respect is a big part of the contract that is agreed to by civilized society. Respect that crosses all boundaries and not just for a privileged few is what distinguishes civilized society from more primitive cultures.

    If anyone breaches the contract, even a parent, kibud must go out the window. Communities are entitled to shun abusers for example and children cannot be forced to choose sides. If the transgression is one that endangers the compact we have with each other as a community, children must be free to stay with the community for the sake of continuity if nothing else.

  2. Anyone know what this proseltyzing effort is all about?:

  3. Dr. Sorotzkin could have been a tad clearer.

    He's confusing honoring with submitting.

    True, if a person's parent is weirdly abusing him he has to put up with it for the time its going on without attacking his parent back. But he can certainly leave as soon as he wants.

    No law of kibbud av requires a child to voluntarily submit himself to abuse, returning to the same torture chamber over and over again.

    In fact I think it's quite a straw man to pretend that's what the halacha requires.

    It's obviously wrong to force a child to submit to abuse from a parent. But it's right to tell the child that they still have many reasons to give honor--not to submit!--to that person.

    Kibud av is not the issue. The main issue is finding out about real abuse and treating it properly. And if it can't be treated, saving the child. With lots of kibud for the abusive parent; just no submission.

    Except in cases involving obviously illegal physical abuse, our hands are usually tied anyway. You can't fix the jerky father or mother. It's just a din shamayim on the poor victims. Like it is on the innocent wife or husband.

  4. Thank you. This is very useful. People who don't have abusive parents often don't understand how vast the damage an abusive childhood can be. Having to hang around such people, even in adulthood, and continuing in a perverse relationship with them can be life threatening, literally.

  5. @Anonymous 1 - The obligation to honor an abusive parent would depend on if they are wicked / rasha or not. R. Dovid Castle has an excellent treatment of this subject in his monumental opus "To Live Among Friends". Honoring a wicked person can actually increase evil in the world since it encourages more evil. On the other hand, spurning any mitzvah can be done for the wrong reason. So it's a very delicate line.

  6. This is all very nice, but the definition of an abusive parent is vague.

    Is an abusive parent one who hits? In the past, the adage of the day was, "Spare the rod, spoil the child".

    Is it a parent who repeatedly hurts a child in business or career because the parent wants to prove that he will always be the boss?

    Is it someone who yells? Throws things? What about a parent with an angry demeanor who holds it all in?

    What about cases where one parent sets up a child against another parent to cause tension? Is the parent who engages in constant arguments with a child (who refuses to recognize her as a parental figure) considered abusive? Is the seeming victim, the passive aggressive parent, considered abusive? What about if a psychologist confirms an unhealthy parental outlook by the child? What about multiple psychologists? What if one parent substitutes the child for the other parent in household matters? There are many pathologies possible that can cause hostility between parent and child.

    This article seems to give support to anyone who wants it, be they parent or child.


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