Choosing your own religious observances; operate on your parents

Can Jews pick and choose the mitzvas they wish to keep?

Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple

Judaism Shahak LeBnei Mitzvah program
Shahak LeBnei Mitzvah program


Q. A friend told me that Jews can choose their own mixture of religious observances. Is this correct?

A. In theory no, because every Jew should observe all the mitzvot.

But in practice we all do tend to have our own emphases.

Some people are more philosophical, some concentrate on the moral laws, some stress the details of the practical mitzvot, some make a great deal of the Jewish Friday night and the festivals (or some of them).

The real question is where we go from there… not whether we are good at this or that aspect of Jewish belief and practice, but whether our Judaism can become dynamic and what we can add to what we do at present.


Q. A friend told me that Judaism doesn’t allow a child who is a doctor to operate on or give an injection to his or her parents. Is this true?

A. The Torah lays down that it is a capital offence if a child strikes his or her parent (Ex. 21:15). According to the Talmud this applies if the child causes a wound (Sanh. 84b).

The rabbis discuss what happens if the child’s action is for the parent’s benefit, e.g. letting blood, which used to be a recognised medical procedure.

In theory this is allowed, though there is a preference for it to be done by someone else. The Shulchan Aruch does not permit a child even to remove a splinter from the parent’s hand (YD 241:1), but it is allowed if no-one else is available to do it.

A number of rabbinic responsa are lenient especially if the parent asks the child to treat him/her.

There is a psychological aspect to the problem in that the child may be scared to operate on a parent, but if the doctor is an expert at the particular procedure and is the best one available he/she is unlikely to carry out the task inefficiently.