The Jewish people are first and foremost a family. Daily life, ritual and the passing on of our tradition all have the family at their core. It is through the Jewish family that our survival rests, both as a unique people and as a tradition. It is through the lens of family that we view the past, live the present and have hope for the future.
Within the Jewish tradition the family paradigm has been so dominant that it has cast a light on all that we perceive. When we address our God we beckon the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. It is not a God of concepts we cry out to, but rather the God of our Jewish family. We in return are referred to as the children of Israel. There is a total merging of Jewish identity and the family paradigm. Our most enduring rituals, including Shabbat, the Pesach seder and lifecycle events, such as brit, marriage and shiva, all are family oriented.
Judaism regards the family as the carrier of tradition and the agent for the perpetuation of our people. “Denying a child religious knowledge robs the child of an inheritance.” (Talmud, Kiddusha 29a) Most of the “important” lessons learned by a child are “caught, not taught”. It is from the daily lessons of observing the dynamics of their own family and listening to family stories, both from inside and outside Torah, which a child comes to learn how to be a Jew. “The parent who instructs by personal example rather than mere words, his/her audience will take his/her advice to heart. The parent who does not practice what he/she so eloquently preaches, his/her advice is rejected.” (Commentary to Ethics of Our Fathers)
The role of the Jewish family in the education of their children can not be overstated. To paraphrase Rabbi A. J. Heschel, to educate the child without including the entire family is like attempting to heat a home with all the windows open. It is with an eye towards the future well-being of our people that many Jewish institutions are including educational programming not only with the child in mind but rather creating inventive family inclusive experiences that rekindle the Jewish spark within the family life. Family is central to the education of a community, as it is written in Deuteronomy, “Impress them (G-d’s words) upon your children…”
According to Jewish thought, the relationship that most closely parallels the relationship between human beings and God is the marital union. “A man cannot live without a woman, a woman cannot live without a man, and the two of them cannot live without the presence of God.” (Berachot 9:1) And from this union comes the possibility to fulfill the first mitzvah, “Be fertile and increase…” (Gen. 1:18) The cornerstones of Jewish family life are kavod (respect/dignity), chessed (kindness), and a profound yearning for shalom bayit (peace within the home). It is with these Jewish values as the hearth warming their daily lives that Jewish families create sacred moments within their homes.