A Taste of Torah in Honor of Shabbat
by Rabbi Avi Weiss
Parshat Ki Tetze
14 Elul 5758/ September 4-5, 1998
This weeks portion speaks of the bein sorer u'moreh, the
stubborn and rebellious son, who is put to death. (Deuteronomy 21: 18-21) The
Talmud explains that the child is killed because of the expectation that in his adult
years he will be evil. In the Talmud's words: "A stubborn and rebellious son is tried
on account of his ultimate destiny; let him die innocent and let him not die guilty."
How is it possible that Jewish law would put to death a child who has not committed a
The Mishnah builds into the law many limitations rendering it virtually impossible for a
child to be declared stubborn and rebellious. These laws include the following
requirements: First of all, both parents must be willing to accuse their child of being
stubborn and rebellious. Second, mother and father must be well suited for each other.
Third, if either parent has a handicap, such as being blind or deaf the child cannot be
labeled stubborn and rebellious. (Sanhedrin 71a)
Dr. Samuel Belkin gleans from the Mishnah the following principle. "A son can be
condemned as stubborn and rebellious only if the entire blame can be thrown upon him and
only if the parents, in no way, either directly or indirectly, cause their son's
The Mishnah's requirements now become clear. Parents must be in agreement with each other
in declaring the child to be stubborn and rebellious. If they disagree it would reveal
different approaches to raising the child, which may have led to his misbehavior.
Moreover, father and mother must be compatible. An unsuccessful marriage may contribute to
a child's rebelliousness.
Finally, the law which states a child cannot be stubborn and rebellious if either parent
has a physical defect may also apply to a metaphysical condition. Indeed, some may be
physically blind or deaf, but can see and hear their child perfectly. But, if either
parent does not see their child's needs, or hear their words, and, in that sense are blind
or deaf --the child cannot be condemned. In all of these cases parents share the blame.
Thus, the Talmud states there will never be a stubborn and rebellious child as parents on
some level always contribute to a child's conduct. Still the Talmud concludes, "Study
it (the laws of bein sorer u'moreh) and receive a reward." (Sanhedrin 71a)
In other words review the laws to learn the responsibilities parents have to their
Appropriately, this portion is read as we near Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the days of
teshuvah ---repentance. But teshuvah can also mean return ---and, for our study this week,
the return of parents to children and children to parents.
Taste of Torah
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Rabbi Avi Weiss, Hebrew Institute of Riverdale
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