According to the book of Deuteronomy (21:18-21), the “wayward and rebellious son” is to be punished with death for his gluttony, drunkenness, and filial disobedience. The Talmud, in analyzing the passage, raises the bar for conviction so high that, the rabbis assert, no one has ever been executed for this crime and ever will be. Nonetheless, writes Jeffrey Saks, there is something to be learned from the Talmud’s discussion of this case:
[The talmudic sage] Rabbi Yehudah determines that the parents must be of “equal voice,” so that if one of them called on the phone, for example, the [son] wouldn’t be able to tell from the voice alone if it belonged to mom or dad. Since they must be of equal voice, he adds the requirement that the two parents must be equal in height and in appearance. Without these highly unlikely conditions being met, even the most rebellious child in the world would not meet the conditions [for receiving] the death penalty.
What is the meaning of Rabbi Yehudah’s odd requirements? . . . When two parents sound absolutely identical, their message becomes muted—like two sounds of equal wavelength which cancel each other out (as the physicists tell us). Parents must act in tandem, and surely their worldviews and values are best communicated when there is harmony—but rigid ideological uniformity, to the extent that the child cannot differentiate between mother and father, [places the child on] the path to rebellion. . . .
[W]e need a certain degree of parental variety—within a framework of [general] consensus—to avoid the dangers and defects of the wayward and rebellious son. Rabbi Yehudah’s principles point to parental harmony as a middle path between discord and the sounds of silence produced by two parents attempting to educate with only one voice.