Abused by your father, and in essence, betrayed by your mother. What huge traumas from which to try to heal and deal. In Jewish bioethics we have a concept called l'faneynu, the answers depend on the exact situation of the person "who is before us." Someone abused as a child is not in the same precise halachic or ethical position with regard to the mitzvah of kibud av v'em, as one who was well-cared for in childhood.
An article in Olam Magainze (Summer 2001) by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin points out there is no commandment to love your parents. Yes, we are guided to: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18), 'And you shall love the Lord your God' (Deut. 6:5), And 'You shall love the stranger (Lev. 19:34). But not parents, they are only later analogized to God within Jewish tradition. Not a holy metaphor for your situation, it seems to me. Rabbi Telushkin explains Torah perhaps takes into consideration that love isn't something that's really possible to command in a human parent-child relationship, it may be present, absent or arise and then sometimes ebb and wane. And then, most pertinent to your question, he parenthetically notes: "In instances of parents who have physically or sexually abused their children, I believe that children do not owe the parents respect or anything else for that matter…” I wish to offer a slightly different take away from his important reasoning, in fact several different ways to possibly full the mitzvah of kibud av v'em without damaging yourself emotionally or spiritually. Ways of possible integrity.
In contemplating your situation it comes to me that there is a shared root meaning to the term kibbud, it is kaveid, "weight", to give weight to the existence or memory of a parent. That, perhaps you can do in fulfillment of this commandment. How? Maimonides, Talmudic sages and numerous other Jewish sources discuss situations such as yours and conclude a) you are not to subject yourself to further abuse and b) you might best see to your parents' physical needs from a second-hand distance. Yes, they conceived you and gave you life, so for this reason our tradition teaches a child isn't to completely abandon parents, sch as when they need to be cared for in illness, poverty or old age.
In several places in the Talmud including Kidushin 31b-32a the term honor is given a minimum set of criteria: “Honoring”: one must give him food and drink, one must dress him and cover/shelter him, and one must escort him in and out." Maimonides, as I understand him, allows for doing this by hiring someone with your parents' money first off, if this is what is needed to properly care for yourself. Today a child can hire an elder care attorney to also organize Medicare and/or Medicaid eligibility for parents, if that is something they can't do so themselves. Then, your own funds can be drawn upon, if you have sufficient to share, should other options fail.
And remember, save for in the privacy of therapeutic time with your closest friend or family members, a therapist or clergy person, maintaining careful ethics within your own personal life, which includes the mitzvah of refraining from maligning them to others outside of that small circle -- this will bring honor kavod to yourself, your family, teachers, many others and if you will, as the tradition would say, God.
But what about your role as a child in saying Kaddish when abusive parents die? Rising in their memory is intended to bring honor to their names. Is there a healthy way for you to do this? A book that I co-edited was just released this week titled Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Learning and within it is a story called "Honor" by Phil Cohen. In this story the inner thoughts of the main character are depicted during the season of his saying Kaddish for a father who was never emotionally accessible. By giving kavod, "weight" to his honest memories of his father, to the losses he mourns of needs never fulfilled in that relationship, by giving weight to what was withheld or impossible to give, he finds much more comes of the process of saying Kaddish than he might have anticipated. Reading the full story might be helpful to you and others.
Finally, an important way to give kavod to parents, is to donate to a charity in their names. You might do so, in this case, to charities that care for and work toward the prevention of child abuse, or research and treatment entities that seek to treat those who sexually abuse others. Judaism teaches the mitzvah of lo tikom, take no revenge, rather we have the option to do better than parents sometimes do, we can come up with create ways to partially address trauma by transforming this world through adding to the good.
Let's begin to approach this difficult and painful question by asking the following question: What was the greatest favor anyone ever did for you, or the greatest gift you ever received? I was once stranded on a remote road in Western Australia as the sun was setting (don't ask how I got there), when out of the blue a car came by and graciously gave me a ride back to civilization. You can imagine how grateful I was to that drive who picked me up. On another occasion, I was down in the dumps and worried about my future (yes, such things happen to rabbis, also) when a casual acquaintance was incredibly supportive and reassuring. I fondly remember that person's kindness to me until this day. At or certainly near the top of my personal list of 'greatest gifts and favors' received would have to be the children my wonderful wife has given to me.
Big and small, I'm sure that you have many gifts and favors bestowed that come to mind.
Jewish tradition teaches that the greatest gift that any of us has received is the gift of life. And it is for that reason (according to the classic source Sefer HaChinuch/ Book of Education) that the mitzva (commandment) of 'Honor your father and mother' is so important. To state this in a slightly different manner; we owe an unpayable debt of gratitude toward our parents if, for no other reason, they brought us into this world. Anything else they may have done for us during the course of our lifetime (you know, the little stuff -- diapers changed, food purchased, scraped knees bandaged, college tuition paid for) is gravy.
With this understanding, imagine the following scenario: A stranger gives you $1 billion, and then spits in your face. Do you still have an obligation of gratitude for the magnanimous and undeserved gift to your donor, despite the fact that he was otherwise insulting and unpleasant? Clearly, the answer is a resounding 'yes.'
To return to the original question, then, let us clarify. The 'honor' toward parents that the Torah obligates us is not necessarily synonymous with 'listening to', 'obeying', or even, perhaps associating with them. Certainly, in a relationship that poses a present physical or emotional risk, one is obligated to protect ones self by whatever means may be necessary. And let us not mince words: abuse of a child by a parent is a horrific crime and moral outrage that knows few parallels in the realm of human experience. Yet, when a tragic situation of past parental abuse exists, one must walk the very narrow and delicate line of simultaneously protecting oneself from future harm, yet still to the best of one's ability, honor one's parents for the precious gift of life that was given. The specifics of how that honor should be expressed depend upon the nature of the current relationship one may have with their parents and the potential physical and emotional risk one may face through direct contact with them.
May the questioner and all others who have suffered the tragedy of parental abuse be blessed with a long, happy and healthy life. And may the Almighty grant each of them the spiritual and emotional strength to cope with their great challenge.
The Ten Commandments state: "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long on the soil that the Lord your God has given you" (Exodus 20:12).
The obligations of children towards their parents are eternal and cannot be abandoned. It is preferable that the child provide himself/herself for the physical and emotional needs of the parent but there are situation where that isn’t possible or feasible, i.e. geographic distance, specific illness or a history of violence and abuse that led to a toxic and hateful relationship.
How to deal with a parent(s) who have acted abusively and hatefully towards their children, perhaps inflicting great physical and emotional damage on them? In the Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 6b the Sages warn: "Rabbi Hisda said: A man should never impose excessive fear upon his household, or else he may be the cause of great tragedy. [...] Rabbi Judah said in the name of Rav: If a man imposes fear upon his household, he will eventually commit the three sins of illicit sexual relations, bloodshed, and the desecration of the Sabbath." The understanding of the gemarra is that the man’s violent behavior will lead to illicit sexual relations because his wife might neglect the laws of ritual purity being afraid to tell him that she is still in “niddah” (menstrual impurity) and hence forbidden from sexual relations with him, children might run away from home and become victims of crimes or commit crimes, and the Sabbath will be violated because the family might be inclined to rekindle an extinguished candle on Shabbat out of fear that the abusive father/husband might turn violent otherwise.
Despite this the Talmud (Kiddushin 31a) relates the story of a pious non-Jew, Dama son of Netina, whose mentally ill mother came and spat in his face and struck his head in public and yet he tolerated her behavior and continued to honor her.
How to reconcile these two? The mitzvah of kibud av v’em “honoring one’s father and mother” nevertheless cannot be abandoned. But the extent and the form in which it is practiced can/should be adjusted to the specific circumstances:
Maimonides in his Mamrin 6:10 wrote that if one’s parents have become mentally ill one should treat them according to the needs of their illness and make sure all their needs are met. But if one cannot stand being around them and seeing them in the state they are in it is permissible to hand-over the care to others, provided that the needs of the parents are met. This is also the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 240:10 stating clearly that one does not need to suffer physical or mental harm in performance of this mitzvah. But one is not allowed to degrade one’s parents or to show them contempt or disrespect. One cannot disown one’s parents but neither does one have to tolerate abuse or put oneself in a potentially dangerous situation.
The basic requirements are that a child has to provide for the needs of the parents, i.e. food, shelter, etc. If the parents have the means one is allowed to use their resources to cover the expenses before tapping into your own resources. One is also entitled to make someone else one’s agent to perform these actions on your behalf if one is not capable to do it.
On a different note: I just want to emphasize that under no circumstances is one obligated to tolerate abuse or to turn ones back when witnessing abuse. There is no issue of “lashon hara” (“slander”) in reporting abuse to the proper authorities, to protest against abuse (if it can be done without endangering oneself or others), and to seek help.
I don’t know if your feelings towards your parents are equally strong or if you would entertain the possibility of trying to build some sort of relationship with your mother who might have been a victim herself. You are the only one who can decide this. But I would recommend you to seek professional help of a therapist to assist you in this process should you decide to reach out to her.
Your question is terribly, terribly sad. For a parent to abuse a child is a tragic and disgusting thing.
If there is anything in the traditional literature about sexual abuse of parents and children, it is, at best, presented in coded language. However, there is one thing that I can point to.
The tradition is that when you father makes a mistake in the yeshiva, you should not correct him publicly but, rather, wait until after the lesson and do it privately. This is done so that one would 'honor one's father' and that embarassing him is not a good thing.
But, when we are talking abuse, all bets are off the table.
If the abuse is continuing, you tell the police. You confront your father - privately if necessary - with what you know and remember. You determine the course of the relationship and do not let threats deter him from the truth. Seek counseling for what he did from a rabbi whom you trust and/or a psychologist that specializes in abuse.
You do not need to defend your father in public. You do not need to agree with people who say what a lovely man he is. You do not owe him kavod. Remind him of that.
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