Before answering the question, what of the Jewish home, before discussing the problem to what extent does the irrepressible conflict take place therein, it is needful to place the Jewish home in its proper setting. In truth, the historical glory of the Jewish home, let Jews remember and non-Jews learn, is the most beautiful and honorable chapter in Jewish history. Nothing can dim the brightness of its one-time splendor. If nothing else of Israel were to survive, the memory of the home would honor and glorify Israel for all time. Truly there is nothing in world history quite comparable thereto.
Somehow the world without has been touched to awe at the beauty and radiance of the home in Israel. It has felt that the reverent love within the Jewish home was more than love and reverence, that these were touched by that beauty of holiness which gave to them their exalted quality. The Jewish home blended two ideals, patriarchal and matriarchal. It was never patriarchate alone, nor yet solely matriarchate. It was a home governed by a joint sovereignty. It rested no more truly upon tender love for the mother than upon real reverence for the father. In a sense, it might be thought that herein the Jewish home was not unique, for Plato had said: "After the gods and demi-gods, parents ought to have the most honor." And Aristotle had added: "It is proper to give them honor such as is given to the gods." But the God whom Israel honored stood infinitely higher than the gods whom the Greeks honored before parents. Canon Driver points out in the Cambridge Bible that duty to parents stands next to duties toward God: the penalty for cursing them is death even as the penalty for blaspheming God. Ibn Ezra held that, if Israel keep this commandment,—Honor thy father and thy mother,—it will not be exiled from the promised land. Exiled it was from the promised land, but obedience to the fifth Commandment did much to make the life of Israel despite exile one of the beauty of promise fulfilled.
The grace and glory of the Jewish home were twofold. The selflessness of parents evoked such filial tenderness and self-forgetfulness as to bring about the perfect understanding of togetherness. The reverence of the Jewish child for parents continued even beyond death. The passing of the visible presence of a parent little lessened and often greatened the revering love of the Jewish child. This accounts for the pathos and romance associated with the "Kaddish" chant of the Hebrew liturgy, forerunner of the Mass, and perhaps in the mind of Jesus when he bade, Do this in remembrance of Me. This glorification of the Author of death as well as life, is not to be viewed as a symbol of ancestor-worship but rather as a sign of the tenderest of human pieties.
What the child was in the Jewish home it became because of what its parents were toward it. To say that the Jewish mother has been unsurpassed in the history of men because she dreamed that a child by her borne might become a Messiah of its people does not quite touch the roots of the unbelievable tenderness and beauty of maternal dedication in the Jewish home. Neither is the relation of the Jewish father and child wholly to be explained by the fact of his involuntary aloofness from the world and his dependence upon the home for whatsoever of peace and joy this world could give him. It is not too much to say that the Messianic ideal of the Jewish mother and the fact of the Jew's exclusion from the world without may have tended to deepen and to hallow parental love, but the mystery abides not less wondrous in some ways than the mystery of Israel's survival.
Certain perils, it might be imagined, were the inevitable accompaniment of or sequel to this wonderful love and reverence within the Jewish home,—the peril of repression of the inner life of the child chiefly and also of the parent. But students of Jewish history would hardly aver that the intellectual and spiritual nature of the child was really stifled or stunted by reason of the illimitable filial reverence. And if at times there was intellectual self-repression and spiritual self-surrender, who can measure the inmost and invisible gains which accrued to and rewarded the child?
It is a happy thought of Renan that all the joys of Israel are in reality an enlargement of the family life; their feast is a repast in common, the natural eucharist to which the poor is admitted, a thanksgiving for life as it is with its limits, which do not prevent it from being present under the eye of Jahweh who dispenses good and evil. The Fifth Commandment bade more than obedience on the part of children to parents; by indirection it enjoined parents and children alike to magnify the home, to make it the centre and core of Israel's life, so that it became the very salvation of Israel when no other salvation was at hand.
The very name that is given to Israel, the house of Israel, seems to have been prophetic of what the family life of Israel was destined to be. The house of Israel and the life of the Jewish home became interchangeable terms. That the Jewish home safeguarded and perpetuated Israel through ages of darkness and tears and tragedy is true beyond peradventure. Whether this home-life in all its dignity and grandeur was the result of the ghetto is rather doubtful. The ghetto, which was the environment of the exile in its narrowest terms, gave to Israel an unique opportunity for the development of what might be called its genius for home-life. But if opportunity and genius conjoined to create the result, this genius was inspired and fortified from generation to generation by willing, even eager, obedience to the Fifth Commandment of the Decalogue.
One might search far and wide without finding a finer illustration of the character of the Jewish parental-filial relation than the immemorial service in the Jewish home, commonly known as the Seder or service of the Passover eve. That Seder with its family symposium has been the glory of Israel throughout the ages. Ofttimes its serene joy and august peace have been marred by brutal attack and onslaught, but even this, the invasion by the world's hosts, has but served to lend a new dignity and pathos to its beauty. Precious and historic memories revolve about this family-scene, the children turning to the parents for counsel and teaching and parents turning to their children and giving these of their best by bringing God and the recognition of His wonderful leading to the life of the child.
That Seder of the Passover eve in the Jewish home reminds one of the Biblical parable,—for parable it is though the chronicler know it not,—that even in slave-ridden Egypt the angel of death could not touch the Jewish home. It was exempt from the ravages of death, because within it was something of immortal quality, something immune to the challenge of destruction. The Jew who knows something of the history of his people, over and beyond the list of boarding-schools so Christian as to shut out Jewish children, knows that this was prefigured by the prophet when he announced in the unforgettable word of the Hebrew Bible: And He shall turn the heart of the parents to the children and the heart of the children to the parents. That is exactly what the Jewish home did, turning the hearts of parent and child to each other, knitting them together in one indissoluble tie, so that the home become as naught else the very soul of Israel.