The Bible Says What? ‘A stubborn and rebellious child can be stoned to death’

The Bible Says What? ‘A stubborn and rebellious child can be stoned to death’

Rabbi Mark Goldsmith takes a controversial passage from the torah and applies a progressive response

This month, more than 250 sets of parents nationwide breathed a sigh of relief as their 16-year-olds set off for RSY-Netzer’s three-week Israel tour.

They joined hundreds of other teenagers in Israel as the Reform Jewish contingent of this annual rite of passage for the UK Jewish community.

Many of these 16-year-olds are a pleasure to have at home, but we can be reasonably certain that the words “stubborn and rebellious” could describe them well.

We encourage our teenagers to find new ways to do things, to experiment in their young lives, to push the boundaries.

But it can go too far. The Bible, in Deuteronomy chapter 21, seems to have a solution.

“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son, who will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and who, when they have chastened him, will not listen to them…” this son could be brought to the priest of the Temple and when evidence was presented of how bad his behaviour was, could be stoned to death as an example to others.

The Talmud, in Sanhedrin 68ff, essentially made it impossible for this extraordinary punishment to take place, yet kept the principle that a child on the cusp of adulthood needs to be responsible for how they behave towards others.

Equally, their parents and society around them are entitled to set limits on their behaviour, especially if it is dangerously self-destructive.

Summer youth camps and Israel tours help our young people become great, responsible people.  It gives parents quieter homes for
a little while, but it also gives them back young people who have truly grown.

Mark Goldsmith is rabbi at Alyth Synagogue

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