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Family Rules, According to the Torah

It isn't surprising that the Torah places great value on the family unit; after all, the Jewish people as a whole are considered to be a family, as implied by the phrase "the Children of Israel." Even though a few million people stood at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, the entire group knew itself to be one large family, with all descended from Jacob, the patriarch. In a sense, the entire Torah is really the rules and history of one large family, but within the Torah you find many specific commandments designed to regulate the individual family unit.

Be fruitful and multiply

The Torah contains 613 commandments, and the first one found in the first chapter of the first book is the commandment to have children: "And God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the land and conquer it, and you shall rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky, and all the animals that move upon the earth'" (Genesis 1:28).

Honor your father and mother

Honoring your father and your mother is known in Hebrew as kibbud av v'em (kih-bood ahv vah-eem). It's one of the Ten Commandments, but there are other verses in the Torah that also concern themselves with how to treat your parents. They are as follows:

  • "Honor your father and your mother in order that your days shall be lengthened upon this land that the Lord your God has given you." (Exodus 20:12)
  • "He who smites his father or his mother shall surely be put to death." (Exodus 21:15)
  • "He who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death." (Exodus 21:17)
  • "A man, his mother and his father shall he fear, and my Sabbaths shall he guard, I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 19:3)

Just married? Take a year off

An unusual set of commandments in the Torah pertains to a newly married couple. The Torah teaches that a newly married husband shall be free for one year to rejoice with his wife: "When a man takes a new wife, he shall not enter military service, nor shall he be charged with any business; he shall be free for his house one year, and shall cheer his wife whom he has taken" (Deuteronomy 24:5).

The wife's rights are just as important as the husband's

The Torah protects the rights of wives in many ways. To mention just one example, Jewish law states that if a husband wants to change careers, his wife can forbid him to do so if it means that he will be away from home more often and therefore will not be able to make love as often as the wife would like. The Torah states, "If he takes a wife, her food, her clothing, and her conjugal rights, he shall not diminish" (Exodus 21:10).

Steer clear of forbidden relationships

According to the Torah, sexual relations are confined to being between a husband and wife. It's forbidden to have sex with another person outside of the marriage as well as to have sex with an animal. Here are the relevant verses:

  • "And you shall not lie carnally with your neighbor's wife, to defile yourself with her" (Leviticus 18:20). Note that although the technical definition of adultery according to the Torah only pertains to the wife, tradition also forbids extramarital relations by the husband because, at one time, polygamy was a common practice.
  • "And you shall not lie with any beast to defile yourself with it; neither shall any woman stand before a beast, to lie down with it; it is perversion." (Leviticus 18:23)
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