by Rabbi Zvi Solomons
Beattie, the PROUD Jewish mum played by Maureen Lipman in the iconic 1980s BT ads, made us kvell when she appeared on our screens. We recognised our own parents in her.
There is much halachic literature on honouring or respecting our parents. The issue is a serious matter for study. We are forbidden to address them by their first names, which is disrespectful. We must not sit in their seats at home. We must obey them and not dispute them in worldly matters.
We must not disadvantage them. The Talmud tells of Rabbi Tarfon, who respected his mother so much he made himself into a step so she could get into bed. He loved his mother, even lifting her into bed when she was frail. When her shoes wore out, he made his hands into sandals to protect her feet.
Ironically, another mother, Rabbi Yishma’el’s (Yerushalmi, pe’ah 1:1) wanted to wash his feet so she could drink the water to show how much she loved him. He refused, but the rabbis rebuked him. An anti-Semite would say this was parental abuse, but the incident is explained by the concept that he should not interfere with her wishes and honour her in that way.
Indeed, in practical Halacha, if a parent were to tell a child not to sit shiva and not to mourn, there are those who would say that they are only minimally obligated. It is notable that the Talmud in (Yerushalmi) Pesahim 1,1, talks of a gentile called Dama bar Netina who went well beyond the call of duty, not waking his father even for urgent profitable business.
This paradigm shows that our model for honouring parents extends throughout the world. The almighty rewarded him for his honour and his honesty (he did not accept a higher price gained through honouring his sleeping dad) by giving him a red heifer in his cattle – one of only 10 ever born.
Clearly, the financial consultant who charged his mother £400 a day for visiting her in her care home must have been made of different stuff. If we are supposed to honour parents a fortiori, we should never abuse or use them. Abuse of the elderly is a crime.
The Torah teaches us that striking a parent merits the death penalty. Even after their deaths we remember and honour our loved ones, particularly our parents.
We even have a service called Yizkor to do this on festivals. It may be trendy to be on first-name terms with our parents or to minimise respect due to parents or grandparents, but it is certainly not the way the Torah teaches us to behave.