Are Parents Responsible for a Child's Actions?

August 18, 2011 | by

I recently read about some children who were murdered in a rampage. The parents of the victims were blaming the parents of the shooter. I know that parents must teach their kids right and wrong, and are responsible for their actions, but does this responsibility go so far as to make parents responsible for their kids shooting others? If so, how could the parents have prevented it, when they knew nothing about what their child was up to? Or is that part of the problem? Thanks for clarifying this issue.

The Aish Rabbi Replies

According to the literal law, parents are responsible for their children until the age of Bar/Bat Mitzvah. That is why traditional Jewish parents say at their son's Bar Mitzvah: "Thank you God for releasing me from his punishment!"

That's the legal view. As for the philosophical view, parents are responsible for providing the best possible upbringing – but after that the child is free to choose right from wrong. Which means that the child of abusive parents cannot go out and be abusive and claim he's not responsible.

But does this mean that parents are then totally of the hook? No. They continue to be responsible – though it is separate from a concurrent responsibility that the child has. The Torah says referring to Yaakov (Jacob) and Esav (Esau): "And the lads grew up" (Genesis 25:27). The commentaries point out that this means that they were raised in the same fashion, with the same exact upbringing.

One became Yaakov the tzaddik, while the other became the evil Esav.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsh points out that since the personalities of Yaakov and Esav were so different, it was a mistake to raise them the same way. In truth, each one required an entirely different educational program to allow them to integrate their individual characters with Torah. As King Solomon says: "Educate the child according to his [own particular] way, and he will remain on the straight path" (Proverbs 22:6).


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