Got a Stubborn & Rebellious Son? The Torah Says: Stone Him.


Think kids today have trouble with authority?

The Torah (Deuteronomy 21:18) tells the story of a ben sorer u’moreh, a “stubborn and rebellious son” who “doesn’t hearken to the voice of his father or mother.” Let’s just say that the Torah’s method of dealing with this son is more stringent than a slap on the wrist:

His parents shall say unto the elders of his city: ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he doth not hearken to our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.’ And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die; so shall you put away the evil from your midst.

It’s a reaction that seems out-of-hand at best; violently unreasonable at worst. According to the rabbis in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 71), this biblical passage is rhetorical, meant to encourage cooperative behavior; in actuality there never was such a stubborn and rebellious son in the past, nor will there ever be in the future. The Torah commentator Rashi encourages people to read the story of the rebellious son together with the two sections of the Torah that immediately precede it: one dealing with a (male) soldier who claims a female captive in war and subsequently marries her, the next about a father who loves one son more than another.

Together, Rashi says, the three sections tell a cautionary tale of a son who is conceived in a less-than-loving situation (by a soldier and a female captive), raised in a loveless environment (loved less than his brother), and as a result becomes rebellious and hateful, not knowing how to love.

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