I have heard that in Jewish tradition, parents are responsible for teaching their children to swim. Is that true?

Answered by
Rabbi Victor S. Appell

The Talmud (Kiddushin 29a) outlines fathers’ responsibilities to their sons. According to the text, fathers are obligated to circumcise their sons, redeem them if they are the firstborn, teach them Torah, find them a wife, and teach them a trade. Talmudic scholars added a sixth obligation: fathers must also teach their sons to swim. Today, we think of these instructions as incumbent upon all parents and guardians and applicable to children of all genders.

These directives are intended to help children grow into successful and independent adults who will be part of the Jewish community, establish a household, and find meaningful work. While teaching children to swim may seem less important than other items on this list, the sages understood this to be an essential survival skill.

Many modern Jews no longer feel obligated to help find a spouse for their children, though parental meddling is a tradition that seems to endure.