Stubborn and Rebellious Son: The Fear of Fascism

In Ki Tetzei, this week’s Torah portion, we read about the strange case of the Stubborn and Rebellious Son. There we read:

18 If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, that will not hearken to the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and though they chasten him, will not hearken unto them; 19 then his father and his mother shall lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; 20 and they shall say unto the elders of his city: ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he does not hearken to our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.’ 21 And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die; so you shall put away the evil from your midst; and all Israel shall hear, and fear. (Deutoronomy 21:18-21)

There are many peculiar elements of this case. One aspect that stands out if the extra language around the voice of the father and the the voice of the mother. What is the significance of their voices?

On this topic the Talmud comments. There we read:

Rabbi Yehudah said: If his mother is not like his father in voice, appearance and stature, he does not become a rebellious son. Why so? — The Torah said, he will not obey our voice, and since they must be alike in voice, they must be also in appearance and stature. With whom does the following Baraisa agree: There never has been a ‘stubborn and rebellious son’,  and never will be. Why then was the law written? That you may study it and receive reward… Rabbi Yonatan said: ‘I saw him and sat on his grave’. (Sanhedrin 71a)

This seems to be the tipping point of their imagination of case ever being a real case. But, why is the unification of their voices the straw that broke the camel’s back?

In some ways this singular voice resonates with the story of the Tower of Babel. There we read:

Everyone on earth had the same language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there.They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them hard.”—Brick served them as stone, and bitumen served them as mortar.— And they said, “Come, let us build us a city, and a tower with its top in the sky, to make a name for ourselves; else we shall be scattered all over the world.” ( Genesis 11:1-4)

Pieter Bruegel the Elder - The Tower of Babel (Vienna) - Google Art Project.jpg

They all had the same language and for this their tower was toppled? Like the Stubborn and Rebellious Son they are judged on their ends. Both stories show the Torah’s fear of fascism. The diversity of humanity is the source of our richness. If we silence people and demand a uniformity of voices we are doomed. We need to stand watch at this critical moment in history to safeguard our democracy from falling like a Tower and our education system creating stubborn and rebellious children.

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