The word denotes primarily the begetter or genitor of an individual. In a looser sense it is used to designate the grandfather or remoter progenitor in general; also the head of the household, family, or clan; or the originator or patron of a class, profession, or art; or the benefactor or protector. Hence arises the employment of this term as a title of respect and honor. When used of God it generally refers to the covenant relation between Him and Israel (compare Murray's "Eng. Dict." s.v.). Moses is called "the father of wisdom" and "the father of the Prophets" (Lev. R. i.). Rabbi Hoshaya is called "the father of the Mishnah" (Yer. Yeb. 4d). The one next in authority to the NASI in the court of justice was called "father of the bet din" (Ḥag. xvi. 6; compare Rapoport, "'Erek Millin," p. 2); and in the Middle Ages the head of the academy was called "father of the yeshibah" (see Schechter, "Saadyana," p. 82; Büchler, "Das Synedrion in Jerusalem," p. 173, and Index, s.v. "Ab-Bet-Din"). In the plural the word is used in the sense of famous men, celebrities in Israel's history, especially of the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ecclus. [Sirach] xliv., heading). In Mishnah 'Eduyot, Shammai and Hillel are called "the fathers of the world," a title which was also accorded to Akiba and Ishmael (Yer. R. H. 56d).
The father was supreme over his children. His power of life and death is attested by the proposed sacrifice of Isaac (Gen. xxii.), the case of Jephthah's daughter (Judges xi.), and the practise of sacrificing children to Molech (Lev. xviii. 21, xx. 2-5; II Kings xxiii. 10; Jer. xxxii. 35). A later limitation of that right is the requirement in the case of a stubborn and rebellious son, a glutton, or a drunkard, to bring the matter before the elders. It was only by their decision that the son was stoned to death by his fellow citizens (Deut. xxi. 18-21). The father could dispose of his daughter in marriage (Gen. xxix.) and arrange his son's marriage (Gen. xxiv.), or sell his children as slaves (Ex. xxi. 7; Neh. v. 5), a law which was modified by the Rabbis so as to make it almost ineffective (see Slaves and Slavery). He had the right to chastise his children (Deut. viii. 5, xxi. 18; Prov. xiii. 24), and could insist on the utmost respect and obedience from them (Ex. xx. 12; Lev. xix. 3: Deut. v. 16; Prov. i. 8; vi. 26; xxiii. 22; xxviii. 24; xxx. 11, 17; compare Ezek. xxii. 7; Micah vii. 6). Smiting or cursing him was punished by death (Ex. xxi. 15, 17; Lev. xx. 9).Deut. xxvii. 16 invokes a curse on any one who is disrespectful to his father.
The vow made by an unmarried daughter (Num. xxx. 6) could be disallowed by her father. He was not allowed to sell her in slavery to a foreigner (Ex. xxi. 8). To this the Halakah adds the further restriction that the buyer must not be related to her in any of the degrees in which intermarriage is forbidden (Maimonides, "Yad," 'Abadim, iv. 4).
The father's right to punish his children was restricted by rabbinical authorities to minor children. For the beating of a grown-up son he is liable to be put under the ban (M.Ḳ. 17a). Even minor children must not be chastised in a manner or degree so as to deaden their self-respect ("Yad," Mamrim, vi. 8). The father may not exact obedience from his children if he thereby requires them to do anything which is against the law (B. M. ii. 10).Duties.
It is the duty of the father to support his children after they have been weaned by the mother—according to the decision of the Synod of Usha (2d century) at least up to the third year; but according to a later ruling, up to the sixth year, even if they have property. From that age on the father can be held to support them only in the same manner as he could be held to contribute to charity (Ket. 49b, 65b; Shulhan 'Aruk, Eben ha-'Ezer, 71; ib. Yoreh De'ah, 250). The father is also obliged to circumcise and redeem his son, to give him an education, to teach him a trade (according to some, even the art of swimming), to secure him a wife, etc. (Tosef., Ḳid. i. 11; Mek. to Ex. xiii. 11; Ḳid. 29a, b; Yoreh De'ah, 245, 260, 305). See Abba In Theology; Adoption; Child; Daughter in Jewish Law; Education; Family and Family Life; Marriage; Mother; Parents; Vows.