The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

The Emotions of Sons in Early Rabbinic Parables

The present paper will examine the emotions ascribed to sons in early rabbinic parables. These emotions range from distress to love to anger. Given that these emotions always appear in the context of father-son relationships, these emotions shed light on the way a son’s relationship with his father is experienced from a children’s perspective, at least as represented in early rabbinic parables. The diversity in filial emotions raises questions about the way they are a factor in constructing and giving expression to the social structure of the father-son relationship and the position of sons therein.

These early rabbinic parables, which are mostly found in the Halakhic Midrashim, consist of short narratives with realistic elements that convey a religious, often exegetical message in the application. Given that parent-child relationships (usually father-son relationships) are regularly portrayed in the narratives of these parables, they are a valuable source for studying the representation of children and childhood in late ancient Jewish sources. These father-son relationships generally represent the relationship between God and Israel in the application.

With its focus on the emotions of sons, the present paper aims to advance the as of yet limited research on Jewish children in late antiquity. When scholars discuss the role of emotions in the context of Jewish parent-child relationships, they focus predominantly on the love and grief of parents. The emotions of children are hardly analyzed at all. On the basis of selected early rabbinic parables, the present paper will demonstrate how Jewish sons are emotionally involved with their fathers. The emotions attributed to sons not only reinforce the bonds between father and son but also give expression to the growing independence of sons as “men in the making” and future household heads.