Honour your father and your mother

כבד את אביך ואת אמיך - Honour your father and your mother

We are commanded to honour our parents, so that we may live a long life. What is a child who is abused by a parent supposed to do? This is the fifth of the TEN commandments, the most important laws that we have. It isn’t a law to sneeze at. But if a parent hurts and abuses and causes pain to that child, is a child still commanded to honour their parent? What does honour mean in this circumstance? Does it mean honour the fact that they brought you into this world? Does it mean that when they are old and sick and dying you have to take care of them? Does it mean that you need to make them a part of your life, a life you have struggled to live on your terms despite the abuse that made it difficult to strike out on your own?

I have often wondered about this, having known several people who had very tough childhoods riddled with abuse – physical and emotional and every shade in between. I also find it interesting that we are not commanded to love our parents.

So I pose this question to my JewCrew – how do you interpret this commandment when it comes to a parentally abused child?

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  1. Lady Lock and Load says:

    I think this is something one needs to speak to a Rav about.

  2. Frume Sarah says:

    The Halacha is clear that we must honour our parents. However, it opens the door for exceptions when we are taught that we must not listen (thereby not honour) to our parents who instruct us to violate one of the big three (murder, sexual depravity, and idolatry). So we know that there are exceptions to the mitzvah of honouring our parents.

    Abuse, whether physical, sexual, or emotional, is so abhorrent that within the Reform community (and I can’t speak to the other movements) we recognize that this is enough of a reason for a child (adult or otherwise) to be released from this obligation. A parent who abuses his or her position by inflicting physical and/or emotional harm on a child loses the right to demand honour from the victim.

    • Mark says:

      As a general rule, you do not obey your parents when they request that you do something forbidden. Not just the big 3 “yaharog velo ya’avor” (“die rather than commit the sin under duress”).

      However, there are some things (mitzvot) that are shades of gray and there may be cases in which you bend the rules to obey a parent (or to avoid embarrassing other, etc).

      But this example is really tough and I can’t think of a good answer other than “it depends”, perhaps on the the type of abuse, the damage caused, and the need/desire for a relationship.

  3. Lady Lock and Load says:

    I think that if a parent asks you to do something forbidden on Shabbos you aren’t supposed to do the forbidden act.

  4. Pearl says:

    I actually take a weekly women’s -only shiur with our rebbetzin and we’re dealing with the topic of kibbud av v’em. We actually touched on this question briefly before, but will no doubt delve into it. I can ask specifically tomorrow night the halachot about it.

  5. mike fox says:

    I once heard in the name of a current posek that one is only michuyev to give up 20% of ones money for a mitzvas asai. So he said that emotional distress on the more extreme levels are at least = to giving up of 20% and therefore one is patur

  6. mekubal says:

    It really does depend. It is a very complex issue, that can’t really be summed up into a simple yes or no question. Essentially if the observance of the commandment would put you or your own children in danger of further abuse than you are released from the obligation. Depending on which posek you follow, an abuser is either classed as a nezek or a rodef. Personally the poskim that I follow classify them as a Rodef. In such a case one is allowed to go to fairly extreme measures to prevent the person from further abusing. This includes the abrogation of the commandment. One should however consult a competent Rav.

  7. curious says:

    This is probably one of the most difficult and problematic philisophical questions in the jewish religion. I have never figured out how to reconcile it. Unfortunately, the community does not do enough to ensure that abuse (in any form) is addressed. Too often it is “hushed” up and continues. Maybe the law is there so that entire community becomes united and the safety of the children become paramount. Isn’t it said that it takes a community to raise a child.

    On a side note – isn’t it ironic that the luchos icon in your blog has “Roman” numerals derived from the same nation that tried to destroy us. Hebrew numbers would be more appropriate.

  8. underanne says:

    It’s not just a question of “the 5th commandment ” .
    In m an y cases, ab u s e d childer en are ambivalen t towards their parents: on the one hand, they love them, they wan t to please them, and on the other hand they only receive abuse in return . Or in other cases they are abused sometimes and other times are “good”, so this is also very difficult to man age.

  9. I was abused by all of my parents in every conceivable manner. My mother died when I was 20…that’s still very difficult because her abuse was one of neglect. My sperm donor…well, I am with Frume Sarah, I don’t feel that I am obligated after what he did to me. And my psychological father? We had a 15 year time out and an apology and now we’re very close. It’s amazing actually. I feel obligated to honor him basically by virtue of that apology which I was able to accept.

  10. Comment says:

    Here is a link that might clarify what it means to abide by the mitzvah. Hope it helps.


  11. YC says:

    Whole page is interesting but see red box at BOTTOM of the page

    One cannot say no to parents face but one does NOT have to listen.

    I agree with ppl that said safety first- physical and mental.

  12. YC says:

    re Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    Sorry you needed to do this but understand

  13. amhausman says:

    As an adult survivor of child abuse, I have thought of this and written about this extensively on my blog. I was happy to see that no one who commented went with the response I often get which is that honoring (and loving) one’s parents is important even when the parents are unspeakably abusive to the child.

    Here is a post I wrote about this and especially notable is a link to an article written by a frum therapist and the issues he mentions with dealing with this commandment in Orthodox circles are very interesting:


    I do not speak to my mentally unstable mother who physically, mentally and emotionally tortured me until I was 17 and finally able to run away. When I was 21, I fought for three years to get custody of one of my younger siblings after I kidnapped two of them.

    I do talk to my father who was and is for all intensive purposes a deadbeat dad. Don’t worry, he’d cop to this way of describing himself, too.

    I realize that whether or not I have any contact with them (no contact with my mother is safest), I honor them, whether or not I love them (and I don’t), every single day by being a good person, a good sister and someday, G-d willing, by being a much better parent than either of them were. Not that I’d have to try very hard in the latter to be better than they were. :)

  14. SR says:

    As a therapist, I have discussed this issue with frum therapists and have been told that they have brought specific situations of mentally unstable parents/abuse to a very big Posek who said that the person was not obligated to be respectful to their parents or have any relationship with their parents. It is important to discuss the matter with a competant frum therapist and/or a posek. Any competant professional or posek will not jeapordize your mental and emotional health or contribute to your pain by making you feel that you are still obligated in this Mitzvah.

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