By Ezekiel Isaac Malekar
Children are regarded as the hope of the future, in every society. In Judaism, children are seen as a divine trust and guarantors of the future. Psalm 127 verse 3 declares, “Children are an inheritance from the Lord.” Judaism views childhood as a period of purity, joy and beauty to be valued and cherished. The Talmud states that “Childhood is a garland of roses” and that the very breath of children is free from sin.
According to Judaism, there is no such term as ‘rights’ in the Bible (Old Testament) that sees human beings as part of a Divine Design. Accordingly, the expectation of a person is one of responsibilities and duties rather than ‘rights’. As Judaism recognises that a child does not have the cognitive ability to fully distinguish good from evil, the parent has the ultimate responsibility of guiding the child in keeping with the words in Deuteronomy, “And you shall teach them – the words of God – to your children in order that you may lengthen your days and your children’s days upon the earth.” Similarly, a proverb says, “Listen my child to the instruction of your parents.” Thus the sacredness of human life is applied to the infant as soon as he is born. As a logical consequence of this conception, each child is entitled to be loved and cared for in order that he develops to his maximum potential.
Jewish Law specifies the rights of children which are the primary obligation of the natural parents, but which in the latter’s absence, incapacity or failure, become the responsibility of the community. These include not only the right to life, dignity and freedom but also to be provided with the skills to survive natural dangers as well as to earn a living and be self-sustaining. They also include the right to establish an independent marital home upon reaching maturity as well as property rights.
The Talmud says that while the most basic needs that parents and the community must provide for children are those of food, clothing and protection, education is necessary, that teaches moral and ethical values by which children learn to live a holy, spiritual and moral life and subsequently pass on the heritage to future generations. In Judaism, the abuse of children is prohibited even to parents and teachers with good intention. “One must not hurt them physically with hard toil, nor their feelings with hard speech. Whoever irritates them, provokes them to anger, pains them, persecutes them, or causes them loss of money is guilty of serious transgression, and all the more if one beats them.”
Parents are morally bound to impart holistic education to their children because holistic education is the integration of our physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual personality, achieved by inculcating the purity of heart and serenity of mind to perceive the world in the right perspective.
Judaism recognises that the wellbeing of society as a whole is determined by how it treats its children. Judaism obliges us to ensure that all children enjoy physical and spiritual health, a sense of worth and identity, educational development and opportunity. Judaism makes it very clear that the extent to which we respond to a child’s needs is the extent to which we are loyal to our own religious identities.
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DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.