Tribe and Family

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Writing in Tradition in 1965, Rabbi Isaiah Rackovsky explores the tension between the institution of the family, which serves as the foundation of the Jewish way of life, and modernity, its ideas and political institutions. Judaism sets the framework for cultural transmission by imparting a duty on parents to educate their children and commanding children to honor their parents. By linking the generations, the family imparts and carries on religious and cultural inheritance. And because the Jewish family has kept its moral traditions alive from generation to generation, it stands as a foundation stone for all of Western Civilization.

The modern state seeks to replace the family as the locus of identity, education, and loyalty. The modern state groups generations by age, separating the elderly from the young, and by offering up the services of the welfare state in place of traditional family support, the state evacuates the institutions that mediate between governments and individuals.  A reassertion of the primacy of the Jewish family has profound significance for moral education and traditional perpetuation, as well as for the dignity of a society that lives between the individual and the state.

What we witness today in the social development of humanity is a reversal of the family-integrating process through which the Jewish people has passed. Western civilizations have absorbed the Jewish institution of the family to a large extent. But things are changing, and the changes are basic. . . .

While this is a serious enough problem to our society in general, it is doubly difficult to the Jews. As a mobile minority in an unfriendly world, the Jewish people had only one method of keeping their cultural and religious entity alive: the way of family acculturation. The father was responsible for the training of his child. His very standing in the community depended in a large measure on the way he fulfilled this obligation. We are, therefore, faced with a problem which touches the very base of Jewish life and over which our control is very limited: how to maintain family cultural unity and influence in the face of changing conditions. The solution to this problem has not been achieved even theoretically. We must first delve and comprehend its magnitude, importance, and ramifications. Then we shall be able to begin to seek a solution.

Read the whole essay in Tradition.

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