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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
Patriarchal Family and Authority
The family includes either those who are descended from a common progenitor, as "bet Dawid," the house (dynasty) of David (1 Samuel 20:16); "bet Lewi," the house (tribe) of Levi (Numbers 17:8); "bet Yisrael," the house (nation) of Israel (Exodus 16:31); or a body of persons who form one household under one head and one domestic government, including parents, children, sons- and daughters-in-law, and dependents. While the principle of kinship was the basis of the family, clan, and nation, by a legal fiction persons not of the Hebrew blood were admitted into its union as members. Much stress is laid upon purity of race. Abraham sends Eliezer to his kindred in search of a wife for his son Isaac (Genesis 24:3 et seq.). In Judges 14 Samson's family is surprised that he does not wed one of his tribe; yet union by intermarriage with alien people was quite prevalent. The laws of the Mosaic code sought to restrict intermarriage, and the fulminations of the Prophets, as well as the great reformation under Ezra and Nehemiah, are all evidence of the prevalence of this custom.
Law and Prophets, Psalmists and Proverbs, Talmud and Midrash again and again dwell upon the importance of the family. Malachi (3:23 [A. V. 4:5] et seq.) tells of Yhwh sending the prophet Elijah before the coming of "the great day," that he may bring about perfect union between parents and children.
Importance of the Family.
The clan, "mishpaḥah" (Genesis 10:18-20; Numbers 1:2); the tribe, "maṭṭeh" (1 Kings 8:1) and "shebeṭ" (Exodus 28:21); and the nation, "'am" (Exodus 1:9), were considered as extensions of the family. In all these forms of development the underlying bond was the belief in a descent from a common ancestor, and the resulting kinship of all the persons constituting such a political division. The ties of blood were of absolute and undisputed strength (see see GO'EL). In the family is seen the patriarchal as distinct from the matriarchal system. The father is the head of the family, and through him the genealogy is traced. "The relationship on the father's side is a hereditary one, but that on the mother's side is not regarded as such " (B. B. 109b). This principle is based upon the section of the Mosaic law which provides that in case of a man dying without descendants and brothers, his father's brothers or kinsmen are the legal heirs. Hence the mother's father or brothers, or other kinsmen on the mother's side, are excluded from inheritance (Numbers 27:8-11).
The primitive family was a close corporation. This characteristic was retained to some extent down to the time of the Diaspora. The family determined right and wrong, made laws, administered justice, and maintained divine worship (Genesis 8:20; 13:4; 22:13,14; Job 1:5). This explains why among the ancient Hebrews the political state did not attain to the high development of Hellas and Rome. But the main reason for the solidarity of the family may be found in its religion. Not only is one born into a group of fellow citizens, but, as a matter of course, he embraces the gods of the family and of the state. These to the ancient mind were as much a part of the particular community as were the human members. Thus Yhwh appears to Jacob and tells him, "I am Yhwh, the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac" (Genesis 28:13); Rachel took with her the "teraphim" (images) of Laban, her father, and put them in "the camel's furniture" (ib. 31:33-35); Joshua and the Prophets speak of Yhwh as the God of Israel, as their inheritance (Joshua 13:33). In the days of Saul and David the tribes had long been united in the worship of Yhwh, and yet the clans maintained their annual sacra gentilicia, at which every member of the group was bound to be present (1 Samuel 20:6,29). Aaron, the high priest, on the Day of Atonement brings sacrifices to atone for the sins of his house, of his tribe, and of the people (Leviticus 16). That the change of nationality involves a change of cult may be clearly seen from the Book of Ruth. "Thy sister in-law," says Naomi to Ruth, "is gone back unto her people and unto her gods." Ruth replies, "Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God" (1:14 et seq.).
The father's authority over the child was almost supreme. Abraham is ready to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22); Jephthah sacrifices his daughter (Judges 11:39); the practise of sacrificing children to Molech rests on the same paternal authority (Leviticus 18:21, 20:2-5; 2 Kings 23:10). Judah orders Tamar, his daughter-in-law, to be burned for having broken the marriage-vow (Genesis 38:24). Children were regarded as the property of the father and could be seized for debt (2 Kings 4:1). The father could sell his daughter into marriage, though not into slavery (Exodus 21:7-11). Only at a tender age, while still a minor, could a maiden be sold by her father against her will; when she had arrived at the age of puberty his paternal authority over her ceased, and could be exercised only in a sort of surveillance until she was married. But under no circumstance was he allowed to cause her to become a prostitute (Leviticus 19:29). As the legal system developed, the courts enforced punishment for all manner of disobedience against father and mother. He that smote or cursed his father or his mother was put to death (Exodus 21:15,17; comp. Proverbs 20:20). Similarly the stubborn, rebellious, gluttonous, and disobedient son was stoned to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). Children are bidden to honor and respect their parents, to look upon them as God's representatives on earth, as their greatest benefactors (Exodus 20:12; Leviticus 19:3; Proverbs 1:8, 30:17). It is the duty of parents to instruct their children and to lead them in the ways of virtue and righteousness (Deuteronomy 6:6-7; comp. Exodus 12:26 et seq., 13:14-15).
Position of Women.
The family takes its character from the position of woman (Woman). The position of the wife in the family depended largely upon her having a son. Children, especially sons, were looked upon as a blessing from God (Psalms 127:3-5). Sons were regarded as the future supporters of God's kingdom (Psalms 8:3); they were to be the warriors who would defend the hearth (Deuteronomy 25:4-13), and be the mainstay and support of the home. As among the Greeks in Homeric times childlessness was looked upon as a dire misfortune, so also among the Hebrews it was considered in the light of a punishment from God: "And she [Rachel] conceived, and bare a son; and said, God hath taken away my reproach" (Genesis 30:23; comp. 1 Samuel 1:12 et seq.). Even the sons of concubines ranked as ancestors of tribes. The levirate shows how essential was the building up of the house. Thus, if a brother died without issue, it was the duty of one of the surviving brothers to marry the widow (Genesis 38:8; Deuteronomy 25:4-13).
Descent and Inheritance.
Primogeniture is recognized in the Mosaic code (Deuteronomy 21:16-17) and regulated in the Talmud. The first-born son receives two portions of the father's estate, but not two portions of the mother's estate (Bek. -). Where there are no sons the daughters inherit, as in the case of the daughters of Zelophehad. In the absence of both sons and daughters the property goes to the male relations in order of kinship as determined by the Mosaic code (Numbers 27:1-11). Besides the larger share of the inheritance, certain privileges belong to the first-born son (the first-born of the father, not of the mother, for in a polygamous state of society each wife may have had a son). A blessing from the father before he was about to pass away was a special privilege of the first-born son. Isaac wishes to bless Esau, his first-born son (Genesis 27). Joseph calls the attention of his father Jacob to Manasseh as his first-born son, for Jacob had placed his right hand in blessing upon the head of Ephraim (Genesis 48:13 et seq.; comp. 49:3; Exodus 22:29). The privilege that belonged to the first-born son could be sold, as in the case of Esau, who sold his birth-right to Jacob (Genesis 25:32 et seq.); or it could be bestowed by the father as a mark of favor upon a younger son. Thus Jacob withdraws from Reuben, his first-born son, the double portion that by right he should have received after his father's demise, and bestows it upon Joseph and his two sons (Genesis 48:21 et seq., 49:3 et seq.).
The instinct of solidarity in ancient Israel and the high regard for the chastity of woman explain the sanctity and purity of the Jewish family life. Patriarchal history abounds in pictures of beautiful home life. The filial obedience of Isaac; the love of Jacob for Rachel; the forgiveness by Joseph of his brethren; the death-bed scene of Jacob, where he blesses his sons and grandsons; the strong bond between Ruth and Naomi; and the passionate grief of David for his erring son Absalom—these and many other instances give evidence of the beauty and of the strength of the family affection (Genesis 22,; Ruth; 2 Samuel 18:33). That the Bible laid great stress upon the power of the home is shown by the closing verses of Malachi: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse."
The Mosaic code guards the chastity of the mother, the sanctity of the home, the blessedness of the household, the preservation of society, and the upbuilding of mankind. The crime of adultery is punished with death (Deuteronomy 22:21 et seq.; comp. Malachi 2:14-15). Though the purity of family life was at times sullied, as for instance at Gibeah (Judges 19:20 et seq.), and by David (2 Samuel 11), yet it remains true that through good and evil times the high ideals of home life were maintained. Cases of sensual excess or of unfilial conduct are rare among the Jews down to modern times.
In Talmudical times the purity and sanctity of the home were regarded with equal respect. "God dwells in a pure and loving home" (Ḳid. 71). "Marriages are made in heaven" (Shab. 22a, b). But the power for good is specially apparent in the Jewish home during the Middle Ages. Throughout those centuries of persecution and migration the moral atmosphere of the home was rarely contaminated, and it became a bulwark of moral and social strength, impregnable by reason of the religious spirit that permeated it. The observances of the faith are so entwined with the every-day customs of the home as to make the Jewish religion and the family life one, a bond in sanctity. Most of the religious ceremonies are to be celebrated in the bosom of the family; the observances of the dietary laws are an especially prominent nature in the daily routine. The Seder, the Sukkah, the lighting of the candles on Ḥanukkah, grace before and after meals, these help to unite the members of the family. But most valuable is the celebration of the SABBATH. The Sabbath lamp, kindled on Friday evening, is a symbol of the home influence of woman as the inspirer of a pure family life.
- Nahida Remy, Das Jüdische Weib;
- Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages;
- Schechter, Studies in Judaism.
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Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Patriarchal Family and Authority'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/p/patriarchal-family-and-authority.html. 1901.