A few weeks ago, there was a run on flower stores across the country as mothers, including Yiddishe mamas, got their day in the sun. In just over a week, fathers everywhere will unwrap boxes with ties and open up new bottles of cologne. That means it’s time to give Yiddishe papas their due.
Long before Father’s Day was first observed, Jewish children were commanded to honour and fear their parents. Rabbi Michael Gold explains the importance of the well-known mitzvah of honouring your father. As to whether Judaism requires them to obey their parents, you’ll have to read the essay. [http://bit.ly/jdad01]
On the other hand, here are some responsibilities the rabbis have placed on the broad shoulders of Jewish fathers.
• A father should be careful to keep his son from lies, and he should always keep his word to his children. (Talmud Sukkah 46b)
• A father must provide his daughter with appropriate clothing and a dowry. (Code of Jewish Law, Even haEzer 71)
• A father once complained to the Baal Shem Tov that his son was forsaking Judaism and morality. He asked the rabbi what he could do. The Baal Shem Tov answered: “Love him more.” (Chassidic Tale) [http://bit.ly/jdad03]
Rabbi Bruce Dollin quotes the famous statement that a Jewish father is “bound regarding his son to circumcise him, redeem him, teach him Torah, take a wife for him and teach him a craft. Some say, to teach him to swim as well.” Nowadays, Jewish fathers have delegated most of those responsibilities to others. But Rabbi Dollin says the statement points to deeper truths. “Maybe teaching our children to swim is really a metaphor. Fathers are obligated to show their children how to swim, perhaps, in the sea of life. Fathers serve as a model of how to enjoy life’s blessings when the seas are calm, and how to work through the hard times when life’s inevitable storms arrive.” [http://bit.ly/jdad04]
I have come across several moving essays in which Jewish children remember their fathers. My recommendations follow.
• A Story of Jewish Fathers, Angels and Poinsettias by Sara Levinsky Rigler. [http://bit.ly/jdad05]
• A Face in the Window, in which Rabbi Yaakov Salomon remembers his teary father peering through the window of his summer camp bus just so that he could savour one more glimpse of his son. [http://bit.ly/jdad10]
• A look at two very different Jewish fathers of famous writers, Philip Roth and Calvin Trillin. [http://bit.ly/jdad02] (Free registration is required to read entire essay.)
In Honouring Our Fathers, Rabbi Daniel Brenner has these thoughts for observing Father’s Day Jewishly. “On Father’s Day, we honour our fathers not by comparing them to some ideal but by acknowledging them for who they really are. We pause to reflect on their history, remember the challenges they faced, and meditate on what they taught us along the way. In that, we truly live by the words, ‘Honour thy Father.’” [http://bit.ly/jdad08]
Every family has its own challenges, and sometimes work is needed to repair longstanding rifts. In a classic Simpsons episode, Krusty, the town’s (Jewish) clown, tells how he became estranged from his father, the rabbi, when the son didn’t go into the family business. (Think The Jazz Singer but with clowns.) By the end of the episode, Bart and Lisa successfully nudge father and son together when Krusty sings a classic song to his father. [http://bit.ly/jdad09]
Krusty: Oh Mein Papa, to me he was so wonderful, Oh Mein Papa, to me he was so good, no one could be, so gentle and so loveable, Oh Mein Papa he always understood!
Rabbi Krustofsky: Oh I love you son.
Krusty: I love you, too, daddy.
Whereupon, Bart hands Rabbi Krustofsky a cream pie that he throws in Krusty’s face. They embrace and laughter ensues.
Happy Father’s Day.
Mark Mietkiewicz is a Toronto-based Internet producer who writes, lectures and teaches about the Jewish Internet. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.