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The Traditional Family Was a Business Enterprise

We have largely forgotten that the traditional family was usually a business enterprise. The average family was engaged in farming, commerce, light manufacture, or a profession; and the family business was usually conducted close to the home, if not within the home itself. Often both parents were deeply involved with the family business, a custom that is vividly described in the Bible. Parents taught their children their business, and children gained self-esteem as well as practical skills by contributing actively to the family livelihood. Where children went to school, this was balanced against responsibilities to the family business. The traditional family often consisted of three generations (or even four) in daily contact with one another. The bond between parents and children was not yet imagined as something that undergoes a rupture when a child turns 18 or 21, and so the relationship of parents to children continued throughout life. And where there is no rupture between adult children and their parents, grandchildren grow up with grandparents and perhaps great-grandparents. Thus young children were able to learn the skill of honouring their father and mother by watching their parents do it. It also meant that in raising children, grandparents were often a crucial presence, providing stores of wisdom and attention to children who learned to honour earlier generations as an integral part of growing up.The traditional family was part of a broader loyalty group — the clan, which in later versions became the community or congregation — with which it was concerned on a daily basis. Such communities or congregations often included adult siblings and cousins who had chosen to live in proximity to one another, assisting one another. But many members of the clan, community, or congregation were not kin relations in this sense. Rather, they were members of an alliance of families, who together formed a kind of adopted and extended family, which came together to celebrate sabbaths and festivals, to teach and train the community’s children, to provide relief to those in distress, to improve their communal economic assets, and, where needed, to establish security and justice as well. Of course, not every family was successful. Nevertheless, once these principles are examined together, it becomes clear that the traditional Jewish or Christian family was a far more active, extensive, and powerful organisation than the family as it exists today.
[Yoram Hazony (2022)]


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