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Heather H. Kelley and Ashley B. LeBaron were also contributing authors on this piece.

The prophet Joseph Smith said, “One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.”[1] While we should cherish the guidance we receive from our own religious beliefs, scriptures, and church leaders, we may benefit from welcoming virtuous direction, inspiration, and comfort from many different sources.

Today it seems that “Change is the only constant in life.”[2] Progress can bring many blessings, but it also brings challenges. In a world that is rapidly changing, there is much that we can learn from one of oldest and longest surviving religions in the world. Judaism has survived for thousands of years, and there is much inspiration and insight from the examples our faithful Jewish brothers and sisters that can be helpful in our own lives and families.

Jewish sacred texts and laws emphasize the importance of marriage, childbearing, and childrearing responsibilities. Indeed, both the Torah (the Five books of Moses) and the Talmud (rabbinical teachings regarding Jewish law) teach of the importance and centrality of familial relationships. Through interviews with 30 Jewish families from the American Families of Faith project,[3] we were enlightened by the many ways that Judaism helped these families to nurture and enrich their lives, marriages, and parent-child relationships.[4]

Judaism Shapes Individuals’ View on Life – “Everything is holy”

First, many of the people we interviewed described Judaism as influencing and elevating the way they saw the world. One mother, Ziva[5], described how Judaism “enriched” her life and sustained her through challenges:

You don’t have to [wait until the] end of your life [to] suddenly be wise. If you use [Jewish] tradition[s] and the teachings early in your life, you can have wisdom . . . by just trusting the tradition. . . . It’s tradition [that] enrich[es] your life . . . and [teaches] how to make ordinary moments . . . holy [and] how to make dreadful moments bearable.

Ziva mentioned “trusting the tradition” (indeed, she mentioned tradition three times in four lines). For her, tradition is the “wisdom” that “make[s] dreadful moments bearable,” and transforms “ordinary moments [into something] holy.” A father named Abe similarly reflected on the “holy.”

I look at the world around me, and I look at the cosmos. . . . Everything . . . is holy. There is a holiness to the world, the grand world, that we have to look at through many different avenues. Some of it is science, some of it is faith. . . . Science tells us how things are happening. Faith tells us what we should do with [that information] and how we should make sure [to] enjoy the beauty of the world around us.

Abe’s account reflected how Judaism colors his holy view of the cosmos and “the beauty of the world.” According to Jewish tradition, celebrating times of joy and coping with difficulty, pain, and loss are examples of mitzvot, or commandments which include both the rituals and ethics of Judaism. Jewish family members often referred to specific rituals and tradition that offered both a template and sense of purpose for their lives and relationships.

Marriage is Sacred – “We help each other . . . ascend to a higher level”

Judaism also influences how the couples we interviewed considered marriage as being sacred and transcendent. A sacred and idealized view of marriage was described by Moriah who expressed how sharing a religious identity with one’s spouse can enrich marriage:

I believe that we’re supposed to try to find a partner . . . to share [life with] on the deepest level; [the] joyous things that life will bring us, and then the incredible challenges that will certainly come. . . . If you share the religious . . . if you have that . . . in common . . . a religious level, a spiritual level, the joys will be even more joyful and more enriching, and the really difficult times will be more bearable because you have each other.

This quote illustrates how Judaism enhanced her marital unity, in Moriah’s words, “on the deepest level.” Taking this idea further, some couples said that marriage not only deepened their marital relationship, but was also a transcendent experience in that it allowed them “to ascend to a higher level” of sanctity. Eli similarly described the importance and power of marriage, saying:

The purpose of marriage is to increase the holiness of human relationships. . . . We hope to have an emotional, intellectual, and spiritual dimension, where we help each other to try to ascend to a higher level, or at least become more what we should be.

Leah also expressed how she experienced holiness in her marriage:

I have . . . felt, metaphorically, the hand of G-d[6] at very pivotal moments in life. I . . . look at those times as [experiences] when [my husband] and I were connected more than usual, and those would be the times . . . that we were closer to G-d and each other, and we were moving toward being more holy individuals and as a couple. I think that those times, coincidentally, some of them definitely did come as a result of religious observance . . .

Religious Observance Facilitates Successful Marriage and Parent-Child Relationships  – “The Sabbath . . . is such a calming experience when tensions are high”

The quote above from Leah showed that not only did her religion shape how she viewed marriage, but it also taught her how such relationships can be achieved—through “religious observance.” Many other participants commented on how religious observance and rituals contributed to the success of their marriage, including Asha who discussed the role of ritual and sacred “routine”. In response to the question, “Are there ways that your religious beliefs or practices help you to avoid or reduce marital conflict?” Asha responded,

The first thing that comes to mind is the routine. And another thing that I’ve come to understand and believe is that religious belief and truly religious moments don’t just come from . . . nowhere. One has to be in the habit of religious practice and religious observance. . . .  If you wait for the mood to hit you, it never will. But if you go, if you observe, if you practice, on a regular . . . basis, then you’re open to G-d. . . . I think that our routine of going to synagogue every week, that it is something we do whether we really feel like it or not . . . it is what we chose to do. It’s about the Sabbath. It’s what you do on the Sabbath. It is such a calming experience when tensions are high, when frustration is high . . .

For Asha, the Sabbath is a “calming experience.” For Israel, “the rules” of Jewish tradition reportedly helped him and his wife avoid conflict. He explained,

Things that might have been conflicts before aren’t even issues because we know the rules. What are we doing on Saturday? Well, that’s not an issue. Where and what are we eating? It’s not an issue. . . . This is the way it is. I want to go [somewhere], we look at the calendar. “Oh no, we can’t go here because it’s Yom Tov, it’s a holiday,” [but] it’s . . . okay. It’s not a conflict [between us]. These are not issues because there’s a higher authority that we all are agreed with. That’s our priority.

As with marriage, religious observance also facilitated peaceful parent-child relationships. One mother, Lila, explained, “[Talking] about Jewish values as a family . . . Shabbat . . . pausing and coming together . . . [helps us] when conflict arises because we are all there . . . together as a family.” Other Jewish practices had a similar bonding effect between parents and children. When asked how her beliefs or practices had helped her avoid, reduce, or resolve conflict, one mother, Eija, responded:

There’s a big emphasis in our services on taking responsibility for [and] forgiving other people, on praying for forgiveness for yourself, praying for healing for other people. . . . It take[s] you out of yourself. And it works with the kids, too, because there’s prayers that the parents say to their children. . . . [It’s] a nice bonding thing. . . . [It] relax[es] all those tensions.

The relaxing of tension was also mentioned as a benefit of ritual in marriage. Here, similar language is used to describe relations between parent and child. Prayers for, forgiveness toward, and personal responsibility for her children helped Eija have less conflict with her children and helped them feel connected. Similarly, Pesha, a mother, felt closer with her children during weekly parent-child blessings:

Blessing the children on Friday night . . . is a special time when the parents bless the children. It is a beautifully wonderful and tender moment that we . . . do and our children have come to expect. [We don’t just] put our hands on their heads and we bless them . . .  we also each [say] something to each child about something that we’re proud of that they’ve done this week. It’s just a wonderful thing that . . . we didn’t make that up. . . . [I]f we just look at what our tradition teaches us, it was already there. Jewish parents have been doing that for thousands of years.

Fostering a Strong Marriage and Parent-Child Relationships is a Duty – “[Marriage] . . . should be upheld at all costs”

So far we have seen families express how Jewish tradition, ritual, and observance seemed to facilitate success and unity in their marriages and parent-child relationships by reducing, removing, or pre-empting potential “conflict” and “tensions.” In addition to preventing potential conflicts, Judaism also helped couples reduce and resolve marital conflict, as described by Tamara:

I think one of the strong points of Judaism is the sense of personal responsibility, and certainly in any conflict we’ve had it’s been really important to own up to whatever part we have in the conflict. And that’s something that comes straight from Judaism, that thought of, “Did I do something wrong? And if so, I need to fix it, and apologize for it”—as opposed to just, “Well, it’ll go away, forget about it.” And that’s one of the things that I really admire about Jerry. He will always apologize. He will always say, “I’m wrong.”  

Tamara spoke of the importance of “personal responsibility” in forgiving and resolving conflict. This feeling of responsibility was common, as many of the couples we interviewed considered having a strong marriage as not only a personal or relational desire but also as a sacred duty. One husband named Asher, expressed how marriage comes with a responsibility to work through difficulties and preserve the marriage “at all costs.” He shared,

[Marriage] is a sacred bond that should be upheld at all costs, if at all possible. I think from that perspective, [my wife] and I have worked a lot on [and are] continually working on the marriage—because of that [perspective]. It is not something that will come easy, so you need to continually work at it. It’s kind of like a second job . . . if you want it to continue [going well], you’ve got to keep on working on it.

For Tamara, marriage involves deep “personal responsibility.” For Asher, it is “a sacred bond.” This does not mean that the relationship will be easy; rather, it means that there is a great deal of work required to honor and preserve that bond. These ideals did not imply that families avoided all conflict, but that they expected themselves to work through conflict in a healthy way. One husband, Uriel, explained how the Jewish teaching and aspiration of shalom bayis helped him and his wife resolve conflict:

The Jewish version of domestic tranquility, of amity in the home, what Jews call shalom bayis, peace in the home, is a very big concept in Jewish thinking. It is not the notion of a compliant wife who will go along with everything a guy says, and therefore they have peace. . . . It’s quite the opposite. They both know how to argue, they both hold their own. I think it’s precisely because we can argue that we can do well. . . That’s the secret.

Uriel’s reflection shows that while couples have a responsibility to maintain peace in their home, this does not mean that they should completely avoid conflict. Rather, they have a responsibility to maintain peace by effectively working through the conflicts that arise—by “holding their own” and by “arguing well.” This approach of healthy debate held true not only for marriage, but also (to some degree) in connection with parent-child relationships.

Families explained that high-quality parent-child relationships were not a luxury but rather a duty within Judaism. Aaron, a father, stated, “There needs to be a bonding between a man and his son or a son and his mother.” Many participants, including parents and children, said that in Judaism parent-child relational success is a shared responsibility. Benjamin, a 20-year-old son; Deborah, his 17-year-old sister; Hannah, their mother; and Eli, their father, discussed this idea:

Benjamin (son): [My family] argue[s] over little things all the time, of course, like anybody. But we’ve never had any serious, emotional arguments that disrupted general family life. I’m sure that Judaism has a lot to do with that . . . because you have laws governing how you’re supposed to act towards your parents and towards your children. And when you have a legal system, almost, [that prescribes] in what ways you can respond, you aren’t so totally at sea, as many people are.

Deborah (daughter): On how to . . . interact with your parents.

Benjamin (son): And your children. It goes both ways.

Hannah (mother): [We have] mutual respect.

Eli (father): We’re very wise and loving parents. [kidding]

Benjamin (son): Yeah. . . . Having . . . respect for your parents is something that is not generally a common trait in this society, but . . . it’s impossible to be Halakhically observant and not have respect for your parents.

For this family, Judaism provided a context for, and expectation of, mutual responsibility for relational success and for mutual respect between parents and children.

Important Take-aways

These interviews painted a beautiful picture of how Judaism can be applied in families in a way that blesses individuals, marriages, and parent-child relationships. In sum, we learned or were reminded that:

  1. The power and importance of searching for and seeing holiness and beauty in our world. This can help usmake ordinary moments . . . holy [and] . . . dreadful moments bearable.”
  2. Remembering the sanctity of marriage can have many benefits for our marriages and can enable usto share [life with each other] on the deepest level” making “the joys . . . even more joyful and more enriching, and the really difficult times . . . more bearable because you have each other.”
  3. Religious observance, rituals, and traditions can help facilitate successful marriage and parent-child relationships. They provide time for “bonding” and can help “relax all those tensions” that are so common in our everyday lives.
  4. The belief that fostering a strong marriage and parent-child relationships is a duty influences how you act and how you treat each other and can help fostermutual respect” within families.

In reference to those of different faiths, President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “Look for their strengths and their virtues, and you will find strength and virtues that will be helpful in your own life.”[7] In striving to live a good, faithful life and foster loving family relationships in an ever-changing world, there is indeed much strength and virtue that we can gain from our Jewish friends and their examples.


[2] Quote often attributed to the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus


[4] Kelley, H. H., LeBaron, A. B., Sussman, L. J., Fagan, J., Dollahite, D. C., & Marks, L. D. (2018). Shalom Bayit—peace of the home: Ritual and tradition in American Jewish Families. Marriage & Family Review, 54(7), 706-718.

[5] All participant names have been replaced with pseudonyms to protect identity.

[6] When Orthodox Jews write the Divine Name, they typically write it “G-d” out of respect. When using quote from these families, we follow this practice.

[7] Go Forward with Faith: The Biography of Gordon B. Hinckley, by Sheri L. Dew, Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1996, p. 576