Alice Miller, child abuse and mistreatment

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"I can't honor you"
Sunday December 18, 2005

Dear Alice,

My name is A. and I live inSydney Australia. I am an avid believer and reader of your books and am currently working with Jean Jenson over the phone. I have come a long way in my search for the truth and breaking away from the debilitating symptoms of depression and anxiety that have crippled my life

Each of your books has touched me in different ways and I think you are a very gifted and strong human being for discovering and sharing with the world the truth of the injustice and cruelty with which children have to grow.

Your most recent book “the body never lies” has been particularly moving and impacting for me and has given me motivation to take the next step in living my truth and not betraying my body in order to spare my parents.

I am an orthodox Jewish woman and your discussions about the fourth commandment have in particular been very thought provoking. However, please allow me to share my thoughts on the Jewish view on this commandment as well as the topic of “forgiveness” and what is really expected from the perspective of Jewish law.

I can certainly understand your perspective of the demands of the fourth commandment and its implications on society and the individual in extricating the parents for their “crimes” while stifling the feelings of the child. Unfortunately even in the religious circles I am familiar with this commandmentand believe it is misused and exploited by parents around to make all sorts of demands on the child and justifications and excuses for their actions against the child. (I have experienced this recently with my own mother who has used the fourth commandment against me to try to control me once again).

Notwithstanding the above, the fourth commandment is a Divine law and as such Judaism sees it as perfect and just. Man however is not perfect and not always just, hence the exploitation. However, in my knowledge what I AM About to outline is the true intention of “thou shall honour thy father and thy mother so that you may live long”

1. the commandment is to honour your parents, not to love them. There is a clear difference here. (G-d has commanded us to love Him, not our parents, which by the way is only for our benefit and what He is actually commanding here is not a feeling (because one cannot demand a feeling, but rather an action - to love, the verb). Regarding the 4th commandment there are many laws that come under this umbrella (for example not to sit in our parents seat when they are not present), hence these laws, to my understanding are demanding a certain amount of respect and decorum for the child who in all likelihood want to retailiate in a disrespectful manner. So yes, respect is
demanded of us ( for our benefit as human beings) despite what they may have done to us. There is no requirement to have any feelings for them, however, nor any prohibition to stiffle the negative ones.

2. the Divine promise that our “days may be lengthened” is a spiritual consequence of honouring ones parents, and specifically refers to a lengthening of the after life which Judaism believes in. Reward for honouring ones parents is therefore spiritual in nature and not literal ie a longer life in thisw world.

3. Judaism is a very dynamic religion and to my own relief and astonishment the advice I received from my Rabbi whom I consulted when I was having panic attacks and was severely depressed was to tell my mother I needed space and if need be raise the tone of my voice and speak in a very assertive manner if she tried to persuade, criticize or control me in any way. This my rabbi saw as what I needed for my development and for my well-being. He may have given someone else who presented with different problems and different parents a different path for them. Having said that this rabbi and his views are relatively rare. But in my opinion his understanding of the law is what G-d truly intended.

4. Your comment on /g-d’s neediness for our love and respect is also misrepresented. We see G-d’s demands of us are for our development and growth. Therefore if he asks something of us then it is for our benefit, contrary to when parents ask things of us in the guise of it being for “our own good”. When G-d asks something of us then it is truly for our own good.

5. I was once at a lecture given by (another) rare Rabbi who spoke briefly on the topic of forgiveness. He emphatically stated that Judaisms view on forgiveness when someone has wronged you is: a) it is for absolutely no-one to pass judgement whether the victim in question should forgive because no=one can stand in his shoes and only the person targeted is in that position. B) if someone has insincerely apologized to you and you have seen no evidence of the apology being real (ie the perpetrator hasn’t shown adequate reflection of his crime, repeats his crime, makes no effort to be different, doesn’t make an effort to understand the victim etc) then not
only does one not have to forgive, but one SHOULD not forgive. This according to (true) Jewish law would be wrong. He said that sometimes the way to peace is first war.

I thought I would enlighten you on the true intentions of the fourth commandment according to Jewish law.

With best wishes and much appreciation for your very valuable work and insights.

A. S.

AM: Your rabbis may be right, as far as the theory is concerned: God is perfect, the man is not. The commandment comes from God, but parents are human and their failures are understandable (one may ask: are they also understandable if children make them or must children be punished by beatings when they show that they are not perfect? Should parents also be beaten for their imperfection? Why not?)
I wonder if you have already tried to use these theories in a concrete case. Could you for instance tell your parents: "I can't honour you because when I was small and helpless you humiliated me by spanking and slapping me, you implanted fear and rage in my small body that caused me later panic attacks I am still suffering from"? Can you imagine speaking in this way with your parents? What kind of reaction are you expecting from your parents if you say the truth, that you cannot honour them? Loving understanding and apologies or rage and indignation in the name of God? I assume that your body knows very well why it produces panic attacks.
All religious families who spank their children are not only cruel but also highly confusing because they pretend to do it in the name of God. In this way they betray the children's confidence who will believe their whole lives what they so early had to believe. The Judaism is not an exception. You will hear from priests of other religions the same theories as your rabbis tell you. But none of them tackles the concrete fact that slapping and beating a small child is cruel, humiliating, stupid and damaging their brains, especially if it happens to a child before the age of three years old when the brain is being structured. The priests seem not to know (or not to care) that spanking and slapping children makes them to become violent or chronically scared, often for their whole lives. Above all, it teaches them to stay ignorant and to teach their own children the same absurdities they learned from their parents: that GOD NEEDS THEIR SUFFERING.
You write that you are orthodox. In my opinion orthodoxy is not about love, it is about obedience. Thus you may hate what I have written here. But I wrote it to the person who has panic attacks, who wants to know her true feelings, who tries to understand their meaning and wants to be honest, even if that means not to be obedient.

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