Sunday, May 09, 2010

Judaism and Mother’s Day

Honor your father and your mother. This Halacha is literally written in stone. It is a 24/7/obligation every single day of the year.

Unfortunately I often hear this Halacha misused with respect to Mother’s Day. Which this year falls out – today, May 9th. The argument goes something like this, Why should we Jews single out a special day to honor our mothers? Every day is Mother’s Day in Judaism! There’s no ‘special day!!! And so with a wave of the hand and a reference to the Halacha that requires us to honor our parents, Mother’s Day is whisked away as an un-Jewish activity!

But is it? Is it wrong to single out a day to pay special attention to our parents? Is it against Halacha? I would argue that this is far from true. There is nothing wrong and everything right with taking a day to celebrate what our mothers mean to us. It is not a lessening of Kibud Av V’Em to do so. It is an enhancement of it .

In most cases a mother who feels perfectly fine about how her children treat her on a day to day basis will appreciate the extra attention on that day. To therefore characterize Mother’s Day as un-Jewish is wrong in my view. It completely misses the point of the day. In no way does it suggest that parents should not be honored to the fullest every single other day of the year. Yet throughout my life I have come across numerous instances where Mechanchim and Rabbanim have made this comparison and tried to minimize or completely eliminate Mother’s Day from our lives.

I will concede that it was probably created by one or all of the following the greeting card industry, the floral industry, or retail merchants eager to drum up business. They in fact have done very well with this innovation. I am not being cynical just factual. But that does not ascribe any evil content to the day itself. Just because it was motivated by dollars doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any moral value. I would argue that this is a perfect example of how a MiToch SheLo L’Shma, Bah L’Shma. Dollars have created a situation where the entire country is made more aware of how much our mothers sacrifice for us. What can possibly be wrong with that?

Many of the Mechanchim and Rabbanim have nonetheless disparaged that day. I can’t help but think that they are motivated by other concerns. They cannot really belive that Mother’s Day is a bad day. I suspect that that is is more about the prohintion in the Torah of B’Chukoseihem Lo Selechu (Vayikra 18:3) …better known as Chukas HaGoy.

I can’t say that for sure but if that’s their motivation they ought to come out and say so. Either way it is wrong headed. To disparage a day that honor’s a parent is counterproductive and might even be a Chilul HaShem. They are in essence saying that we should go out of our way to do nothing special for a mother on a day that everyone else is treating special. That might be in effect an actual disparagement to parent and a public violation of Halacha! It might be a bit of a stretch to say that it is a Chilul HaShem, but not by much.

It is not Chukas haGoy to pay special attention to a parent on a day that is nationally recognized to do so. Chukas HaGoy is the Torah prohibition to participate in things that Non Jews have established for themselves.

This prohibition is very much misunderstood. The prohibition is against those things which they have established that are inherently abhorrent to us and that could lead us to sexual promiscuity or idol worship. That is extended to any non Jewish behavior that might lead to us to behave in that way.

Tosephos (a group of medieval commentators on the Talmud) on the Gemarah in Sanhedrin (52b) clearly distinguishes between those activities that are done for idol worshipping purposes and those which are not - and holds that It is completely permissible to do the latter. The Darkei Moshe on the Shulchan Aruch (YD 172) cites the Maharik in saying that only if there is no purpose given for a non Jewish custom should it in any way be considered Chukas HaGoy. If there is a purpose and there is no connection to sexually inappropriate behavior or idol worship it is not forbidden.

Certainly Mother’s Day has a positive purpose and is not no way related to anything which is Halachicly forbidden.

There is no reason then to not celebrate this day and pay special attention to one’s mother. What better show of Hakoras HaTov for what a mother does than to recognize it in some special way – on a day that is nationally recognized for that purpose.

So to all the Jewish mothers out there – Happy Mother’s Day!