Academic journal article Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development

The Role of Judaism in Family Relationships

Academic journal article Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development

The Role of Judaism in Family Relationships

Article excerpt

This article explores the religious and social underpinnings of family as a central social structure to Jewish life. Torah and Talmudic sources, conceptual papers, and empirical research that address the relevance of family to Judaism are examined. Suggestions for working with Jewish families in a therapeutic setting are provided.

Este articulo explora los fundamentos religiosos y sociales de la familia como estructura social central en la vida judia. Se examinan fuentes de la Torah y el Talmud, ensayos conceptuales e investigaciones empiricas que tratan la relevancia de la familia en el judaismo. Se proporcionan sugerencias para trabajar con familias judias en un entorno terapeutico.


Goodkind (1994) defined family as "society's fundamental institution for socializing its next generation to act as it deems appropriate and in accordance with its values" (p. vii). If the purpose of family is to pass on a set of values to future generations, then this social structure should be essential for religion as a venue for teaching children morals, values, and expected behaviors. This article explores the intersection between Jewish principles and Jewish family dynamics. After providing a brief overview of the complexities and diversity within Judaism, I explore how family roles are defined by Jewish texts and how Jewish values and practices are embraced by individuals and shared between family members. The goal of this article is to provide clinicians insight into conflicts that Jewish families may bring to therapy and suggestions to help guide psychotherapeutic work.

similarities and differences between jews

According to the American Jewish Identity Survey of 2001 (Mayer, Kosmin, & Keysar, 2003), nearly 5.3 million people in the United States are Jewish (as measured by self-identification or by heritage). Jews are often referred to as one group; however, as with other ethnic groups, the Jewish people are diverse. Modern Jews have a shared history and common ancestry, leading back to the time of the Hebrew Bible, but they have since spread throughout the world.

The countries in which Jews have lived have influenced their culture. For instance, Indian Jews have incorporated the caste system into their daily lives, whereas Chinese Jews have incorporated Confucian ideas into their practices (Langman, 1999). Sephardi Jews (families of Spanish descent) have integrated Spanish culture into their foods and created a Hebrew-Spanish hybrid language known as Ladino (Langman, 1999). In this article, I focus on Ashkenazi Jews because they account for nearly 80% of world Jewry and represent the majority Jewish identity in the United States (Elazar, 1992; Langman, 1999). Ashkenazi Jews are those whose ancestors lived and emigrated from Eastern European countries and Russia. A History of the Jewish People (Ben-Sasson, 1976) provides a detailed history of Ashkenzi Jewish immigration into America.

Judaism is not easy to define. It is a combination of religion, ethnicity, and culture. Within these three categories,Jews identify themselves in numerous ways. Some identify by their "support of Israel or fighting anti-Semitism" (Langman, 1995, p. 226), some by their religious observances (e.g., synagogue they attend, type of head covering worn), and some by their cultures (e.g., foods, songs, traditions; Langman, 1995; Semans & Fish, 2000).

Within the categories of religion, ethnicity, and culture, even more divisions exist, increasing the difficulty of distinctly defining Judaism. For instance, on the basis of the degree to which they adhere to traditional views of religion,Jews might define themselves as being somewhere along a spectrum of religious beliefs. On the most conventional end of the spectrum falls what is known as Orthodox Judaism, which is identified as being the most concerned with following the written and oral laws transmitted by God to Moses, being most closely related to historical Judaism, and having the least interest in adjusting to modern day values. …

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